Is that your festival alone? How much?

Holi was celebrated in Moghul palaces; Diwali’s lighting is borrowed from Christmas; gunpowder for patakas came from China; Children of all faiths wait for Santa Claus….oh but the bigots!

Is that your festival alone? How much?

Sujata Anandan

My gods are kind and benign. They destroy evil but are not themselves evil. They annihilate the rakshasas who preach evil and today’s demons dressing in saffron and spouting genocide from every orifice. Today’s Satans pose as saints but are bloodthirsty asuras. There is nothing holy or pure about them. They are the agents of the devil, and there is nothing godly about them. I hereby pledge to rid my country of these devils and restore it to its old order of peace, non-violence and brotherhood.

My leaders are statesmen and nation builders. They do not kill their fellow citizens or loot the nation for personal gain. They are revered the world over and not looked down upon in contempt or opprobrium. I want the statesmen back and pledge to rid my nation of the charlatans and shysters forever.

My nation was always harmonious and secular bar a few rogues and villains who always sullied the atmosphere for ulterior motives. I want to pledge to return them to the boondocks where they belong.

My neighbourhood was always an oasis of amity and friendship where we celebrated Diwali, Eid and Christmas with equal abandon and gaiety. I pledge to light as many candles at Christmas as I do diyas at Diwali and eat as much sewai at Eid as I do cake at Christmas.

My friends were always secular and fair-minded. I pledge to win over those who have had their heads turned by communal propaganda and minds numbed with hate by pointing them in the direction of the lies that mask the truth and if they are still unable to see the wood for the trees, I pledge to leave them alone to make their peace with their gods who if they are the same as mine can only be all-seeing and pervading.

My religion was always non-intrusive and unobtrusive. I pledge never to violate its tenets of peace and non-violence by compelling non-believers to take my gods’ names in vain.

The girls of my generation always had the freedom of choice. I pledge to restore those choices to the younger generation under attack by the interfering neighbourhood busybodies.

My anthropology books always told us there were always more rich Hindu and Jains with more than one wife in this country than Muslim men. I pledge to bring those texts to common knowledge.

My country always allowed people to believe in their own philosophies so I pledge to resolve that it should be returned to its original tenet of Sarva Dharma Sambhava.

I take all these pledges not just because I was disturbed by the call for genocide by some saffron-clad devils and Satans but because I was badly shaken by what happened when I called someone I have known all my life to wish her on Christmas. I did not even say 'Merry Christmas'.

My greetings to friends who grew up together in the defence services always is, ‘Meri Kishmish'. It is a joke only we understand for our fathers inherited a lot of stuff from the British officers and one particular khansama would turn out the most beautiful and crisply iced delicious cakes and bring it in to us, happily sing-songing, “Meri Kishmish Sahib, Memsahib!”

Those khansamas have disappeared along with their wonderful culinary skills (roasts, bakes, special custards, desserts, ginger men etc) but the Meri Kishmish greeting is a tradition that has endured.

But no longer, as I discovered to my sheer horror. When I greeted my friend, she bit my head off with a very angry, ‘Don't you dare wish me a merry Christmas. It is not my festival or tradition. I am born a Hindu and will die a Hindu. I celebrate only Holi and Diwali.”

I could have told her Holi is a festival that was also celebrated in Moghul palaces and that there are many exquisite miniature paintings from that era standing testimony to that fact. As for Diwali, my friend loves her patakas and has been grumbling about the government ban on firecrackers- she thinks it is an anti-Hindu move rather than in the interest of environment.

I have tried to reason that gunpowder was a Chinese invention and that patakas were first burst in Moghul palaces to celebrate births and coronations but to no avail.

As for Diwali lighting, it is a concept borrowed from the British and Christmas. We did have earthen lamps but that's about all. I remember VS Naipaul stating that he had lost his cool when he came to India in the 1960s and found almost all Indian homes lit up their homes with candles and electric bulbs whereas his mother, who followed the traditions of indentured labourers taken to the Caribbean by the British in an earlier century spent hours preparing and lighting earthen lamps during Diwali.

I switched to earthen lamps after that but my friend does not realise that irony of her convenient waxen lamps that are less messy. In the absence of electricity, the British had lit up their homes with hundreds of beeswax candles and flaming torches at Christmas. And our Diwali lanterns or stars are a straight lift from the star atop their Christmas trees, which in turn comes straight from the one that led the three wise men to Bethlehem at the birth of Christ. The irony is that my friend's Diwali lighting, star and all, is better than any Christmas lights in the society.

So I would like to leave historical resentments where they belong in the dustbin and take my final pledge in the interest of my nation.

India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters, I love my country and am proud of its rich and varied heritage and shall always strive to be worthy of it...

Meri Kishmish, everyone!

(Sujata Anandan is Consulting Editor, National Herald. Views expressed are personal)

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