As I write this, another Kolkata Christmas has drawn to a close. The city was gaiety incarnate, people and places togged out in red-and-green and the tiniest eateries boasting their version of roast duck. Park Street, the city’s famously festive heart, was jammed with people in silly hats and queues snaked in front of restaurants, Omicron be damned. Attending midnight mass in one of Kolkata’s picturesque churches has always been a de rigueur December ritual, like pandal -hopping in October, and onlookers often outnumber worshippers, but nobody seems to mind.
Like Diwali and Holi, there’s something very welcoming about Christmas. Like those two, it hasn’t got too many strictly religious markers and dissolves into easy-going, agnostic celebration. Everyone buys gifts, decorates trees, drinks punch, and parties till dawn. While believers worship the birth of Jesus, fun-lovers make merry, and everyone is happy.
Or so we thought.
Enter the party poopers. And New India has seen the blossoming of quite a few of those. In Agra, they burned an effigy of Santa Claus; in Karnataka, they stopped Christmas programmes in two schools; in Gurugram, right-wing intruders disrupted mass in at least two places; in Punjab, they vandalised a statue of Jesus Christ; in Assam, a group identifying itself as Bajrang Dal stopped Christmas service claiming there were Hindus in the church.
In each of these places, the bogey of conversion was raised. In fact, this myth has become so popular that while everyone else is happily mulling wine, the Karnataka government is mulling an anti-conversion bill. Mind you, the Christian population has remained at around 2.3% of India’s population for the last decade now, but let facts not dim the spirit of the challenge.
In New India, competition between festivals is heating up as much as when two superstar rivals release their big-budget Diwali movies. A suitable plant to compete with the Christmas conifer has been introduced into the picture. December 25, it has been decreed, will be Tulsi Pujan Divas , set aside to worship the tulsi plant. This has made life easier for all those who want to celebrate Christmas but avoid the wrath of the right-wing. They can now pot a basil on the 25th, decorate it with baubles and lights, and then party — this way, they get to have their tree and keep it too.
The new festival even has its own old man origin story. Asaram might be a bit shop-soiled, what with being jailed for rape and all, but he has the requisite white beard and is a gift that keeps on giving. He gave us this unique Holy Basil ( not basilica) Day. And soon it will be February and we will be made to remember (sometimes with the aid of a baton) that it was Asaram who had decreed that February 14 should be Matru-Pitru Pujan Divas . If the Decadent West celebrates love (oh the horror), the Enlightened East will celebrate parents instead. Never mind if said parent one day takes a selfie with your decapitated head because you eloped. So long as head is still attached to body, parents will be worshipped. On Valentine’s Day.
Then April will come and bring Easter and that unmentionable ovoid food item with a yellow centre. The Easter Bunny might have had an early start, but a little bird tells me the Tandoori Terrier is close on its heels. Come April 17, and we will match equinox to equinox with Tamatar Divas . Instead of chocolate-filled white ovoids, we will distribute round red tomatoes. To celebrate the coming of spring rolls.
July will see the dawn of Bakr-id. On that day, everyone will suddenly become best friends with PETA and celebrate World Capra Rights Day with zeal and piety. The festivities will mostly consist of doing things aimed to get your neighbour’s goat.
As the year unwinds, there’ll be pandals to ban in October and prayers to disrupt on Fridays. Meanwhile, another December 31 just went by, and everyone partied to bring in a new year that is shockingly not even Indian but Gregorian.
Fear not. Even as we speak, the Department of Alternative Festival Terminology (DAFT) is working. Early indications are that the day will henceforth be called Dhaniya Patta Pujan Divas . It will be on top of everything.
Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.