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Round and roly-poly? Make spirits bright

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Santa assignments come calling for men with the right physique during the Christmas season

Some 30 years ago, our club in Mumbai organised a Christmas party for children by the poolside lawn. With my rotund torso and pot belly, I was the automatic choice to play Santa Claus.

“We won’t need to stuff the red flannel costume with pillows,” an organiser said, patting my stomach. “Cute roly-poly Santa, be on time at 1 p.m. We’ll dress you up and you start your ‘ho ho ho’ and jingle bells by the pool...,” he trailed off.

Each club member was to bring a gift with his or her child’s name written on a tag, and so 120 gift boxes were stacked up on the table with a rigged-up mike.

In Mumbai, the winter is almost as hot and humid as at other times. So the minute I slipped into the flannel costume, I started sweating. The white whiskers of Santa hid the beads of perspiration, but the welts of moisture on the red flannels were visible along my shoulders and forearms. I was sweating rivers.

Ho ho ho

A stuffy Santa emerged from the dressing room ringing the bell and going “ho ho ho” as the children yelled and cheered him by the pool.

I would call “Chunnu Chatterjee” or “Munnu Merchant”, and the parents would direct Chunnu and Munnu to receive the gifts from me.

Through eyes misty with perspiration, I watched the children’s expressions: Chunnu was familiar with the concept of Father Christmas, while Munnu, scared stiff at the sight of a huge white- bearded red giant, burst into tears as I went “ho ho ho” and handed over the box.

A cheeky fellow asked: “Remember what I wrote you? I wanted a choo choo train. But you can’t put a whole toy train in this little parcel. Nah! I don’t want it. You keep it.” The mother hastily took the item and dragged the brat away.

My nephew (then four years old) didn’t recognise me in the get-up and I could hear him telling my sister-in-law in our mother tongue Kutchi that Santa had invited him to his house.

Playing along, she said: “Yes we will go to Santa’s house.” The boy asked, “Are we going to the North Pole?”

I had to handle 120 different situations, and back in the dressing room, getting out of the stuffy costume, with a tall, iced lemonade in hand, I was glad that it was over.

I was wrong. It wasn’t over yet. My young neighbour with her seven-year-old daughter was riding home with me. The mother had convinced the child to wait till they were in the car before opening the gift. Now, the girl undid the ribbon, took off the wrapping paper, opened the box, and said: “That old man can’t read, or he must be knowing our dentist. I had asked for a box of chocolates… he got me this paint kit instead. Uncle, did you see the old man in the red suit? Didn’t he look stupid?

Today, in Bengaluru, I still boast the round belly and so, still get the occasional Santa assignment.

These days I actually feel stupid having no idea what the children are asking for when they say a tablet or other such new-fangled things. I give my standard answer, “ho ho ho”, and feel relieved that the parents are the ones buying the gift.

Once, I played Santa at a prominent five-star hotel and was thus permitted to eat anything from the lavish Christmas buffet spread. Except that they made this offer after my make-up was done. Ever tried eating anything through white hair stuck with smelly glue across your lips and chin? Take it from me, it can’t be done. I had to forgo the feast.

There were no children partaking of the goodies at that expensive venue. So I had to hand out the toys and lollipops from my sack to rich, old ladies visiting from the U.S. and Australia. “Have you been a good girl and well behaved all year,” I asked. Their giggles were my reward.

Since Bengaluru is much cooler than Mumbai, I didn’t sweat in the red suit either.

Merry Christmas!

arundewdrop@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:04:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/round-and-roly-poly-make-spirits-bright/article30367975.ece

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