Meri Christmas! Oye, Teri Bhi Christmas. (My Christmas! Oye, Your Christmas Too!)
A once upon a time foggy memory of Christmas jokes around Merry Christmas. Merry sounds pretty similar to Meri (trans. – Mine).
Christmas was co-opted well into the Delhi culture way before East India Company landed here bag and baggage. Jesus is an important prophet in Islam as well, and references to this boy born of one virgin are intricately woven into popular Islamic motifs. Within Hinduism, you will find families who think of him as an avataar of Vishnu, Buddhists may even think in terms of Boddhisatva. But this much is sure – He didn’t have blue eyes. Or at least I don’t think he did.
You can imagine what the Bada Din (as Christmas is known in Hindi) would be like in Delhi when the Raj sat squat near the old churches of Delhi. The city of Djinns is most accomodating towards Bethlehem-born. From the ornate RC Church that had the most gorgeous nativity painting, to school children who at 4 were made Joseph and Mary, and held a doll – in the all well-remembered nativity school play – with three very confused Kings. Carols – All over Old Delhi. Karol Bagh – the very pulse of Punjabiyat, Refugee families and a hidden Smugglers’ Market – temporarily would become Carol Gardens. Some of Delhi’s most famous schools till ten years back were those run by Missionaries and Brothers. Christmas was a part of homework and hidden gifts.
When we were growing up – we had our share of Santa Claus. Our parents would do a quiet survey on what we needed. Eventually, most of our board games were found in the early hours of Christmas. The huge government house had ample space for hiding. On one occassion, Santa had managed to wedge badminton rackets on the branch of a Mango tree. RV Smith, the wonderful Delhi-lover in an article in The Hindu writes:
The Delhi tradition has it that Santa Claus comes over the mountains from Tibet, and not Iceland. So for local Catholic families his address is not Santa Claus, Main Post Office 96930, Arctic Circle, Finland, but the outskirts of Lhasa. The animal he travelled on therefore, was the yak and not the reindeer. There is historical evidence to suggest that Christmas was observed (not celebrated) secretly in Tibet in the 16th Century.
In 1581, when the first Jesuit missionaries were at Agra and Lahore, it was decided to send a mission across the Himalayas to establish contact with the Christians there. Father Monserrate, when he was with Akbar in Punjab, obtained some interesting particulars regarding the Tibetans (presumably of that group which in the early years after Christ had accepted Christianity).
Today, you also want to think about Nagapattinam – where last year Christmas would have been celebrated with much gusto at the Shrine of Vailankanni. The town with this Gothic church was one of the worst-hit during the Tsunami last year. This history of the Church is well intertwined with the colourful, semi-European, mostly spicy past of South India.
As a token of gratitude to Mother Mary, Portuguese sailors who escaped from a severe cyclone, built the chapel 24 feet to 12 feet with a dome overhead. In their possible subsequent visits, perhaps they brought porcelain plates, which could be seen even now illustrating bible scenes and other cultural arts of the time, to beautify the Church they had built earlier. The main statue that they had brought to the altar of the Shrine was Our Lady holding the Baby Jesus, standing majestically on the globe.
They say this year that the Church isn’t as full of the faithful flock. Faith and water don’t always mix. The year hasn’t been very kind anyway. St Botolph without Bishopsgate that was quite close to the site of bomb blasts in London, wore flowers for most of this year. In fear, and in memory. And now, to celebrate the birth of a prophet, (or son of God if you prefer) who was born quite a while back. But London shops like crazy. They shop till they drop. All over Oxford Street, you see dropping shoppers eyeing silvery pods and warm cardigans with beady eyes and blackberrying wishlists. But unlike Delhi – where a festival means that shops stay open longer, Christmas spells shut-down in London.
While we remember the many Christmas(Es) all over the world. Remember : Meri Bhi Christmas, Oye Teri Bhi Christmas!
PS – The one thing you might end up doing – But shouldn’t – is listen to Joni Mitchell’s River.