Reading through Akku’s letter to Santa in Paromeeta’s post, I am reminded of the many Christmases where Santa brought many gifts. For a long part of my childhood I spent most of my holidays in my mother’s home that was populated by five uncles with two children each and two as yet unwed aunts who lavished gifts on us. Christmas was a time when Bachi, that’s what I called my mother’s older sister used to be our Santa. We never ever got to know how she managed to read our secret letters that we invariably left at the base of a pomegranate tree at the back of the house for she never step her foot inside it. When I grew up I did ask Bachi about how she did her Santa act, but she has never let the secret out. No, not even now when I am 50 and she 75.
When Bachi got married my stint at my mamabari ended. I “returned” home and my paternal grandfather was my Santa. He could never keep a secret and though I never saw him dropping off gifts on the roof of my mosquito net, I knew, through his own unguarded speech that it indeed he. Christmas, Santa, letters and gifts were so much a part of my normal life that I never noticed that in my home in Dover Lane, I was the only child who ever got gifts from Santa. My neighbours had no idea of what this system was and looked quite puzzled imagining that Dadu might have been a Christian, a small surprise given his acutely westernized ways. I was also the only child in my locality to have possessed an egg cup for eating half boiled eggs from. I never realized that Christmas, Santa, egg cup and the plum cake had huge class implications; Christmas was a culture that was specific to a social class of a certain kind. This culture of the Santa was not the same as attending the midnight mass in St Paul’s Church. While the latter was the participation in Christmas celebrations as a public event, the Santa cult was an internalization of Christmas as a ritual that had to be followed as a part of a family praying together and wishing all close friends and relatives Merry Christmas just like Shubho Bijoya. We had no idea of what Santa stood for and why he brought gifts for us, but that was just the way one led one’s normal routine everyday life with certain kinds of rituals built into it.
Along with this cult of the Santa, Christmas also had another ritual and that was among the Bihari and UP migrants who worked as street sweepers in Kolkata, or as Coolies in the Howrah Station or as vendors selling fruits. For them it was “bara din”, a great day, or a big day. There was no bakshish, nor was there food, nor clothes, but it was a day that they counted. Much later in my life I realized that Christianity had a big role to play in the lives of the poor all along the basin of the mighty Indian River, the Ganges, precisely because All along the “Ganga Kinara”, the Dalits have celebrated Christmas in their own way. Not all are Christians but they are poor and ignored, marginalized and oppressed by the reprehensible caste system that make life a living Hell for them. For these people, Jesus lives on, not always in the Church or through baptisms but often as a secret religion, a secret assurance that one day a savior like the Son of God will appear again as the messiah of the poor and take them under His wings of mercy. Many moons ago in the aeons of time, it is rumoured that while Jesus still lived, a sect in India started following his teachings even before that was formalized as Christianity. This sect is called the Naths, or the Nath panthis, or the followers of the Lord unspecified as Rama or Krishna or Shiva or Vishnu. One does not know how Jesus reached the poor people along the Ganges, whether the missionaries worked hard, or whether some secret mantra from the Naths trickled down here. My mother construed that bara din may have been called so because the Winter Solistice was assumed to be on the 25th December and from that time the day turns in to become longer than nights. May be, this is baradin. Whatever it may be but for my driver, domestic help, sweeper, cleaner, and my parents’ helpers in Kolkata, Christmas is a “bara din”; no nothing really is done on that day, no special food, or special prayer, but that’s just a day when they say that they just feel good and get a distinct feeling as the day turning into a longer sunshine, a newness which is beginning.
Well, happiness to all. Merry Christmas and a very happy bara din.