Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas for a Muslim child in India: 20 years ago

Christmas was always an important festival but when I walk down memory lane, I feel it hardly made any impression on my mind in the childhood, of course except the images of Santa Claus in comics and book.

Living in a colony of dozen-odd apartments, having ten flats that formed a mini-India of over 100 families from all over the country, I did have a few Christian neighbours--mainly from Kerala.

There was a family of South Indian near my building. Every year a big illuminated star was hung outside their verandah during Christmas. I liked the sight of that star which remained there for months until the rains arrived reducing it to mere frame.

I used to wonder why Muslims never put a crescent on Id. The Christian family was dark, brash and tall--fitted into the image of Christians that comes to us from movies of 70s and 80s--the Villains or the vagabond occasional do-gooders.

The two sons were elder to me and the daughter was young. She was beautiful--unlike the dark family members she looked stunning and at the age of ten or eleven was quite grown up, knew how to carry herself and was the cynosure of all teenagers' eyes in the colony.

And what great myths were spread about the family though no one dared spoke in front of the tall youngsters. It was said that there were no rats because of the cats in the locality and where were the cats? All cats went into their stomachs!

'Woh to billi khate hain', that was rumoured. I remember once I ventured into their house, it was to watch a cricket match because I had no television then. There were few televisions then. I sat silently watching Dilip Vengsarkar and Kapil score their 50s against New Zealand under flood light to win a match in 1985 Benson and Hedges.

The group of youngsters almost double my age ( I was 9-10 then) making a few obscene gestures and some non-vegetarian talk. I was feeling more and more uncomfortable and thought they were trying to make fun of me but sat silently as if understanding nothing of their talk and came out soon after the match. That was my only visit.

Oh yes Christmas! I could never celebrate with anyone except the customary Happy Christmas greeting to a couple of class mates with whom I was never too friendly. As it used to fall during winter vacations, by the time we went back to school the fervour of the festival would have been replaced by New Year.

During my teenage I met many Christian boys but I had come to know that everything prepated during Christmas has either wine or rum in it. Even the cake has it. I was caught up in the dilemma.

I thought it would be improper to go and then express my inability to eat and spoil the festive mood of the family. At times I went and after handing over Christmas card, came out in a hurry, almost unnoticed.

Though lot of Hindu friends never ate at our place clearly saying that it was Mangalwar or Brihaspatiwar or some other day of fasting, would say that particular thing they wouldn't eat. There were some Brahmin women who said it in our face that they won't eat at our house.

In a society extremely conscious of caste, creed and communal identities and obsessed with dissecting the 'other' in which I was also a minority, things often become too complex for a child. Among the upper class Christmas was a festival celebrated by all but in middle-class Id was more Indian than Christmas.

I remember children in schools talking about Christians in hushed tones. Of course, the circumcision of Muslims evoked equal contempt, laughter and intrigue. But then Christians were more different.

Despite the fact that for Muslims, Jesus is a prophet and venerable, his respect being integral to Muslim faith. As a minority you felt their unease as they were less acceptable unless they came from well-to-do families. But then the Christian girls, they looked so composed and carried themselves like queens.

I was 13 that a Christian girl probably started liking me. I could not reciprocate, I was shy and probably girls grow earlier than boys so I was not absolutely sure of what was happening.

I missed the opportunity and regretted it a year later when I yearned for a girl friend. But I recall, how I consoled myself with the thought that kissing a girl who perhaps drank wine and ate pork would have been bad.

So I am fine without a girlfriend. How wicked I was! Now I remember and laugh. Wishing a Merry Christmas to all. Cheers :)