For our generation a standard annual gift was limited to a new pair of dress during Onam. The type and style were decided by the parents, not on demand by the kids. But times have changed. Right from age four, my daughter would ask Santa Claus to bring her a Barbie doll, while my son, six years later at the same age, opted for a fighter plane. Mostly, Santa would oblige.

Clement Clarke Moore was a professor of Oriental and Greek studies at Columbia University. His close association with the church made him a teacher of great respect at the General Theological seminary in New York. In 1823, he wrote an “anonymous” poem under the name ‘A visit from St. Nicholas.’ It described a chubby, bearded man in red robes on a sleigh driven by reindeers, delivering gifts in socks to children on the eve of Christmas. St. Nicholas over time transformed into Santa Claus.

Every year, I make it a point to surprise my children with some gifts on Christmas Eve and this year it was no different. My son wanted that game CD and my daughter, a funky laptop cover.

I squeezed some time out — during a meeting sponsored by the European Cardiologists was being held in Mumbai, where I happened to be an Indian faculty — to make sure that I bought the gifts, got them gift-wrapped, ready to surprise my children on Christmas Eve. The venue was Grand Hyatt. My one month’s salary would be just good enough for a five-day stay, provided the meals were complimentary.

Just before the flyover at the Santa Cruz traffic signal, I saw them. Not one but half a dozen. They swarmed in as the signal turned red. Armed with plastic flowers, table-calendars, photo frames and other cheap Christmas gifts, they ran from car to car trying to sell their wares to every driver and passenger. Kids of my children’s age. Hardly anyone budged, nor did the Mumbai traffic.

An SUV cut in from the left at high speed, barely missing a kid who was coaxing a woman driver for a possible sale. I closed my eyes, fearing the worst and gasped. My driver understood my predicament and said: “Sir, don’t worry, they are used to it, nothing will happen.”

He was right. Nothing happened to him, but something happened to me. Inside the air-conditioned car, suddenly the knot of the tie felt too uncomfortable and the jacket too warm. The gift packs in my handbag poked painfully on my flanks.

In the U.S. and Canada, children can write to Santa Claus, his address being North Pole, 4141, Postmark Drive, Anchorage. The postal department makes sure that all letters posted prior to a cut-off date are answered, just not to dishearten the children, just to keep them happy. After all, it is these sparks of happiness in receiving that make a child grow up into an adult. At a time when children worldwide receive toys, these street kids sell them for food. I thought of my own children. As the car picked up speed, I put on my dark glasses.

(The writer is Head, Department of Cardiology, PRS Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. Email ID: tinynair@gmail.com)

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