On Christmas Eve our Colony held the Christmas Carnival that went on until half-past Ten in the night. A cacophonic public address system and an overexcited and over-accessorized Madame of Ceremonies with her loud, jarring presentation robbed us of peace and pleasure.
The Carnival was just like any other Fete, with the usual suspects put up as attractions – rides and raffles, food and fun games and stall after stall of people selling their wares – from crafts to clothes and jewellery to sundry junk. The hullabaloo took the sheen off the nearby Church with its gentle carol-singing and the classy depiction of the Nativity Scene.
As a countdown to Christmas Day and New Year, we will continue to come across an overdose of glitz and glitter in our markets and malls. Running up to the 31st, the traffic light peddlers will don the mandatory red cap with their white plumes. The hotels and the restaurants, in their game of one-upmanship, will put out their own themes ranging from white to red to gold to green, the last with its eco-friendly accent.
But what is sadly missing is the spirit and soul of the Season. With everyone and everything trying hard to be different, yet staying just the same, I wonder what are the lasting memories we are creating for our children, who will grow up to propagate the same level of crassness that they see us glorify.
Growing up in Dehradun, one of the earliest memories I have of Christmas and New Year is the Big Children’s Party organized by the Cultural Committee at the Golden Keys Institute, the Army Club that was usually the hub for all commonly observed festivals. There were the typical trappings of balloons and festoons, a huge table of themed party food and drinks, music, games and dance and the star attraction – the rotund Santa with his customary Ho, Ho, Ho and the sack of goodies.
There were bedtime stories being told at home, plays around the central plot of Jesus and his supreme sacrifice for mankind being enacted at the Annual Day and interesting lessons from the Bible being shared in the Moral Science classes at School.
As far as I remember, no one was trying to convert anyone, no one was pushing his or her culture and religious practices on to the other, there was just the overriding sense of joy and oneness, of collective fun and unity under the large umbrella of peace and harmony. This was the major take away from the jubilant culmination of the end of one year and the beginning of another. That and those lovely toys that Santa gifted us, chiefly among them the exquisite grey van that lit up while cruising and the blue-eyed speaking doll.
We knew that chimney or no chimney, the Santa had tip-toed into our rooms while we roamed about in dreamland to leave those splendorous gifts.
Then there was the ritual of hanging stockings by the bedside that we observed and still do. We slept with so much excitement and anticipation that our little hearts could hold. We knew that chimney or no chimney, the Santa had tip-toed into our rooms while we roamed about in dreamland to leave those splendorous gifts. Moreover, the Santa was also a clairvoyant, for he always knew just what we’d wished for. The doe-eyed belief carried on well into our teens and dropped only when it came to be mocked at. The revelation by Ma that Dad paid in advance for all those goodies that the generous, astral Santa doled out and the chance meeting with the Santa, who turned out to be a retired Major, took off our blinkers permanently.
Somewhere between the Missionary nuns at school and overly philanthropic parents at home, we learned about the good Karma from giving and sharing. We were engaged in charity initiatives helmed by the Sisters of our school, giving away toiletries and other essentials to earmarked village folk on the sidelines of the Cantonment we resided in through the Christmas-New Year week. At home, we were making little tuck packs of sandwiches, cakes and fruit, wrapping up sweaters and blankets to be given to not only the home staff but also a large group of needy people living in clusters nearby.
This brought in a special feeling of happiness to us, of having done something special. Today, in the clutter and crowd of promotions and offers, we seem to be tantalized only to serve our own greed and insatiable wants. We ourselves and those who tempt us with their wares, sorely miss the bus named “Joy of life and giving.” And that is such an abysmal example to set before our wards that pick up the penchant for unabashed self-feeding from us and learn to ignore those around.
The finest thing about being brought up by open-minded, open-hearted, cosmopolitan parents was that we learned to be inclusive early in life; even if it was through things that spelled pleasure and fun.
There was as much excitement about observing Eid, as there was about Christmas or Holi and Diwali. What was there not to like and love about them, when they all meant rejoicing with friends, feasting on such divine goodies as Seviyaan, Gujiya, Biryani, Kachoris, Sweets, Cakes and Mince Pies! And yes, there was always that new dress, worked upon the night before by Ma and Sis, to be donned on the D-day.
Celebrations were ingrained in our very way of life. They were less laboured, far less commercial and completely non-competitive. We just could not be bothered about such inanities as who threw the biggest pre-Diwali bash or the largest Holi party or boasted the tallest Christmas Tree. These were superlatives that just did not exist. There only existed a string of celebrations to be reveled in, starting with our kiddie jamborees, onto the ones planned by parents at home and finally scaled up to the giant get-togethers hosted commonly by the Army Cantonment Body.
And nobody asked us what colour we stood for – white, green or saffron, who we worshipped, what we stored in our refrigerator or ate. Bans, protests, lynchings, self-styled executions, online trolling, offline bullying, ostracization, heated arguments and polarizing Television debates were not part of the way we lived and let others live.
Having returned to our Doon Farmhouse after my father’s demise, I saw a new routine added to my weekends. The Pastor from the Protestant Church across our house visited Ma one day and requested her to let me attend the Sunday School. She didn’t even bat an eyelid before giving her consent. So, for one hour or two every Sunday, I would hop across and join the melee of kids – children of civilian Christians in our Hood, those from the neighbouring barracks of Army officers and a group of hijab-wearing young Muslim girls from villages that dot the periphery of the Cantonment. Undoubtedly, the year-end, week-long schedule of fun activities planned by the Church to ring in the Yuletide and welcome the New Year was the best part of attending Sunday School.
The other was finding a common ground for fun, laughter, and mirth, and the occasions were plenty. Each time the resident Pastor raised his arms up in the air and boomed out to sing Halleluiah and Praise the Lord, we unrelenting kids – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, even Buddhist Tibetans – found it to be so funny that we laughed the laughter that originates in the gut and doubles up the intestines, falling just short of ‘rolling on the floor’ with the chord that connected us.
So, next time a political group or a religious sect or an ungainly group of people with a vested interest, tell you what you can celebrate and what you cannot, do just that – laugh in their face with uncontrollable joviality and continue believing in your beliefs of humanity, oneness, and inclusiveness.
Yes, have a Happy New Year and make it Merry for everybody around!