Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jungle Bells and Hoppy Christmas


It’s that time of the year again, the later half of December. Across most of India, the weather’s rather pleasant – even Bombay is reasonably tolerable as against being oppressively hot. In many of our work places, “Head Offices”, variously located across Europe and North America have come to a grinding halt – practically every second or third email pings back with an OOO auto-reply. Many here too have plans of long weekend getaways secured by appending a couple of days off from work to the Christmas weekend.

English movie cable television channels are awash with red and white ‘ho ho hos’, and as if to replicate said TV channels, 5 Star Hotels and Malls across the city sport illumination of the “Christmas lights” variety, have in their lobbies grotesque artificial fir trees festooned with baubles, often smattered with fluffed up cotton wool in an attempt to give it the appearance of snow.

Hmmm, nice. But why though? Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Christmas. I wouldn’t touch those foaming at the mouth, Happy-Holidays-NOT-Merry-Christmas-opinionated, Letter-to-a-Christian-Nation thumping, rabidly evangelical atheists with a barge pole. But I cannot help wonder, who are all those hotels and malls pitching Christmas at? Do Christians in India throng to hotels and malls every December instead of celebrating with their families in the traditional way? And even if they do, is the Christian population of the country, at a little over 2%, a sizeable enough market to attract which all these hotels and malls deck themselves up so? Or are they angling for foreigners – tourists from Europe and North America who want to expend their holidays in ‘Incredible India’? May be they are – but I have not really noticed a visible increase in the number of foreign tourists at these hotels and malls around Christmas. And even if we assume that there indeed is a surge in the number of European and North American tourists around this time, do they really want to see fake Christmas trees and snow standing awkwardly in the midst of throngs of guests and shoppers milling around minding their own business? (On a very recent occasion when we were out for dinner, HRH was the only person in the otherwise busy hotel lobby who was paying any attention to the Christmas decorations.)

That Diwali is celebrated with great zeal – hotels, malls, shops and bazaars, all getting into celebratory frenzies – should come as no surprise. Other religious minorities in the country – Muslims, Sikhs, and even Buddhists are probably far more numerous than Christians; and as aggregates are a bigger target market – and yet we don’t see hotels, malls and shops decorated for Eid, Nanak Jayanti or Buddha Pournima! Even such minority groups as the Jains and Parsis, who can pack a financial punch way above their numbers, do not seem to have the privilege of having their main holiday celebrated by the temples of consumerism. That honour is reserved only for Christmas.

And that is precisely why these Christmas decorations irk me so – they have nothing to do with religion, they are far far removed from the Gandhian secular ideal of sarv-dharm-samabhav. I suspect they are hooked to Christmas because of its “life-style” associations. I fear that Christmas, by now, is intricately meshed with the Global Cosmopolitan Consumerist milieu, which wannabes across the developing world aspire for with acute longing. And I don’t think this near blind longing is a good thing for the developing world, I don’t think it is a good thing for Christmas either to be reduced and trivialised as a symbol of western consumerism.

And for this reason, I don’t quite like that Christmas tree, standing in that hotel lobby.

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