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Mumbai's Tallest X’Mas Tree Stands Testimony To Prayer Power

By Gajanan Khergamker

Today, Douglas Saldanha watches his by-now 69-feet-tall Christmas tree, at his family home at Adarsh Nagar in Prabhadevi, Mumbai with a Star right on top, at Christmas, with distinct pride. After all, besides his sister Twila who promised to watch over him from heaven before succumbing to Cancer, she has been joined by his father and, now, mother.

“I don’t feel alone at all,” says Doughas Saldana just a wee wistful during this season, the first alone at home. “After Dad went on 17 March 2017 at the age of 88, Mum passed on 23 March 2022 at the age of 87,” he recalls. And the Christmas tree, which has been growing from strength to strength over the years, towers tall by his side, till date.

Adorned with over 50,000 lights, the tree is the cynosure of all eyes during Christmas. It symbolises the power, prayer and perseverance of a family that stood together amidst the worst of trials and tribulations bonding with a love for family and the divine.

Douglas Saldanha with his father Henry and mother Grace in 2011, and the tree in the background
CUT TO 2011 

“No…this can’t happen. I have so many things left to tell him, to do with him. God can’t be doing this to me,” felt Douglas Saldanha when told his father had a left ventricular failure and was drifting in and out of consciousness. Out on a business trip to Bangkok in October, Douglas had left his cancer survivor dad in the care of his highly-diabetic mother back at home.

“I couldn’t lose him…not this way,” felt Douglas who then made a fervent wish straight from his heart to the Lord, “Take away all I have just for that one extra day with him.” And, the Lord complied. When Douglas returned home, within the next 48 hours, his father Henry aka Miracle Man among medical circles was back on his feet surviving a ‘fourth heart attack’ after having survived two cancers.

For Miracle Man back on his feet, this Christmas, Douglas bought a 40-inch HD TV so that he watches his favourite cricket matches live and, in style, back home. Younger Uncle Terence too is over to help manage Henry at home.

…A YEAR EARLIER, IN 2010

True to his promise to a departed sister, Douglas Saldanha, has literally put everything on a personal front on the backburner, to spend quality time with his father Henry, who he calls his ‘baby’ and mom Grace. 

“The tree was bought over 30 years ago from a neighbour who found it too tall in his verandah for a paltry Rs 200,” and since both siblings would decorate the tree every Christmas, till Twila left for the US in 1990. Douglas continued with the tradition of tastefully decorating the tree every Christmas.

The family was dealt a deadly blow when Twila was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. Henry prayed to God that his daughter’s cancer be cured and he be given the cancer instead, and that’s exactly what happened. Twila, with all the aggressive treatment, went into remission and Henry was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma of the bladder. 

In late 2003, Twila got a relapse. “We just did not know what to do. We had two family members with cancer, one in US and another here. Dad put things to rest telling mom to go to the US to look after their daughter. “Should I die in the meantime, don’t come back. Douglas will look after me here,” he says.

In 2005, when Twila was told that she had little time left she was keen on having a family reunion. Meanwhile, Henry had just completed a major surgery in January 2005. In April, when the doctor gave them the go ahead, they travelled to the US to spend quality time with Twila. The very next day after arrival, Henry was hospitalised for dehydration. “After seven operations within just two years, from a strapping 85 kg, my dad had become 41 kgs. So many of our friends in the US couldn’t even recognise him,” recalls Douglas.

A much-younger Douglas Saldanha with his family - Mum, Dad and Twila (extreme left) on a Christmas they celebrated together
On 5 June 2005, Twila passed away peacefully. Her last wish was, “Keep decorating the tree. It’s so tall that I’ll be able to see it from the heavens.” And, Douglas cutting down on work drastically to stay with his ailing father and mother spares nothing to ensure her wish comes true, year after year. “Every year, we decorate it like no other tree, in and around the vicinity,” says Douglas, “Twila’s seeing it from the heavens and I’ve got to keep the promise.” 

“Doctors had given Dad just a few years way back in 2003 and till date he’s alive and kicking,” says Douglas. Come Christmas, year after year, the family gets their annual dose of strength to overcome personal tragedy and partake in the spirit of the season. 

So, even after a third attack in January 2010 and a heart functioning to a paltry 20 per cent, he played cards with an oxygen mask strapped on!

AND TODAY!

Douglas sips on a glass of  wine, this Christmas, going through reams and reams of images and footage he has collected of his parents, sister and the tree…as it grew to a formidable height from where his family could see it now together from the skies.

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