My first experience of the Kolkata Christmas was in the 1980’s when I as a 5year old dazed eyed kid entered the hallowed portals of Kolkata’s New Market to do our Christmas shopping. The city then still lived a quiet existence unlike its present state when every occasion calls for a blast. In my childhood, Christmas was restricted to the Central Kolkata area (mostly New Market, and Park Street) and the rest of the city, other than a few household like ours slept peacefully through the Christmas carols being played in the Cathedrals and churches dotting the city’s skylines.
Christmas shopping consisted of a miniature Christmas tree mostly made of stiff paper and the usual tree decorations. To my dazed eyes, the place felt like a fairyland. The whole façade was decorated with streamers and bells and pretty little tinsel balls and all the standard Christmas decorations which dressed it up like a new bride. I still remember the excitement I felt when my mother bought us a box of crackers. It was supposed to be pulled from both sides and once it burst it would reveal a little toy from within.
Exhausted with excitement we fell asleep to wake up next morning to find our poor stockings bursting at the seams with gifts from Santa. We believed every story our parents told us about Santa visiting us at night to fulfill our wishes. We believed that life would always be as good as it seemed.
As we grew up, Christmas in Kolkata became grander and more elaborate. Park Street today is dressed up in lights. The whole place takes on a festive look and people are happy on their way to work and back. Christmas trees have become more lifelike, though we still don’t have real trees to dress up, but the fake ones work just as fine. Every hotel and mall is decked up in Christmas fever. Shops offer discounts and people party all night. Nightclubs offer special theme events in tune with the Christmas mood.
Just as I was getting into the mood to celebrate this coming of age of my city and almost feeling happy about it, my 6 year old daughter came up to me and asked me with an exasperated tone “Come on Mom, tell me once and for all is there any Santa Claus at all or are you the one who gets us the gifts?”
For the first time in my life, I had no answer for her. Though I agreed with her right to know, however, I wasn’t sure whether she had a right to lose her childhood. To me Santa Claus was part of some of the best moments of my life – my childhood. What was happening to all that now. Did the innocent joys of ignorance have no value in the pragmatic world of my daughter and her peers? Was it so important to analyse the existential potential of Santa Claus instead of being regaled about his ride on his red nosed reindeer to give gifts to little children around the world.
This Christmas along with the growing up of my city I also discovered the growing up of my daughter’s childhood. While one was joyful, the other surprised and depressed me. Perhaps that was Santa’s gift for me telling me that I should now grow up too. Well, may be will or maybe I won’t after all I too have a right to my own life…Don’t I? Till then let the music roll and let the party flow.