'Indian Christmas' review: Care to see Santa in a lungi?

Anthologies call for skillful orchestration, and Pinto, Liddle make fine conductors


I thought only Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan had to keep proving their bonafides every now and again, and confirm that India is indeed very dear to them. Now, it looks as if Santa Claus, too, will have to pass that test. If he flunks, we may well see the red suit replaced by pyjama-kurta and achkan or, if he ventures south, a lungi. Okay, things have not gone quite that far yet, but we certainly have got on to the slippery slope.

That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when Jerry Pinto and Madhulika Liddle mustered a group of people of whom most (but not all) are Christians to give us Indian Christmas. If it didn’t look like a book, I could have sworn it was an application for anticipatory bail lest someone discovers that putting up a Christmas tree is a nefarious, anti-Indian activity.

I will come back to the probable ideological reasons behind the book a little later. First, the book itself: it is like Christmas cake, rich in plums and assorted goodies, with a charming, home-baked air about it. Obviously, it’s been made by bakers who had a walloping time on the job, and hope their bubbling delight would become contagious. The anthology takes you from the dimly lit but enchanting nooks and crannies of the northeast to the more familiar stomping grounds of Kerala and Goa. I didn’t know there were so many Christmases, and the best part is that there is no SOP. If you are doing it with gaiety, you are doing it right.

Anthologies call for skillful orchestration, and Pinto and Liddle make fine conductors. Pinto is Mumbai’s ex-officio poet laureate, a poet even when he is writing prose. His disarming, friend-next-door tone is a delightful sleight of hand. The felicity is, I suspect, the product of painstaking effort. (On a larger canvas, and possibly at a higher level, I can think of only Khushwant Singh who would wear his erudition so lightly.)

Liddle has established herself as one of the country’s leading women writers. There are other too - like Mudar Pathereya – Kolkata do-gooder, advertising maven, and most relevant here, a buster of the Muslim stereotype. There is a choir maestro, unflagging and inspirational, students, housewives, poets … all of them chip in with a level of enthusiasm that moves even a card-carrying cynic like me to sentiment.

Much of the book consists of reminiscences – with the inevitable undertone of melancholy, as if looking back at a golden age that is lost forever. But surely that’s not what festivals are all about. This festival is supposed to be about miraculous birth, joy, magic and infinite possibilities. What then explains a sense of foreboding? It’s possibly the ‘patriotism test’ casting its dark shadow over the Christmas party.

That is sad, because it strikes at the heart of what makes our country special, and unravels our much-wonted unity in diversity. I see communalism, provincialism and other ‘isms’ as the first steps to an unstoppable ‘othering’. To stop the virus in its tracks, we need to celebrate our differences, not cancel them. So, while I deplore the political and social circumstance that seems to have occasioned such a work, I applaud the effort. Read this gentle and lovely book to reboot the Christmas spirit and stretch it deep into the new year.

Title: Indian Christmas

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Pages: 242

Price: Rs 699

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