December's mindless merriness

Updated: Dec 31, 2019, 07:44 IST | C Y Gopinath | Mumbai

I have not seen anyone particularly 'merry' so far. They look as lacklustre as they did in November and will in January.

The ads and super-sales offers assure you that any festival, even someone else's, is reason enough for celebration and shopping
The ads and super-sales offers assure you that any festival, even someone else's, is reason enough for celebration and shopping

C Y GopinathI've heard the song before. I hear it only once a year, and only that once, exactly in December. It's a silly rhyme about jingling bells, describing things I have never seen such as snows and sleighs and reindeer. A fat fellow in a red jumpsuit is supposed to be entering houses through their chimneys and leaving gifts.

In Thailand, Christmas starts early in December. Since it's a Buddhist country, they probably don't realise it's all supposed to end around December 26. Last year, there were giant Christmas trees and Jingle Bells and Rum-pa-pum-pum in public places well into February.

The songs are part of a fuzzy, glowing playlist with warm voices and the tinkle of glockenspiels. I should be bored by such repetitive, unimaginative tunes but instead, I feel an inner joy and peace. Briefly, all is well with the planet and everyone really wishes everyone else well. I can believe for a moment that all over the world whether inside huts or mansions, families and friends, be they Christian or any other religion, are making mulled wine, eating chocolates and opening gifts.

Then some idiot will say, "Merry Christmas!" — and the spell will break. I will land in the middle of an inane reality.

It's always merry and it's always Christmas. Everything else is happy: Diwali, Dussehra, Easter, the new year. Always the same insincere words, mindlessly forwarded, shortcuts to a short-lived fake goodwill.

The song catches it exactly: We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Same time next year.

We wish each other with mind-numbing monotony several times every year. Happy Diwali. Happy Dussehra. Happy Easter. Happy Onam. Happy Father's Day. Happy Halloween. Happy Valentine's Day. Happy this. Happy that. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

With so much happiness, we should not need heaven. The greetings are spelt out for you word by word; just click the Send button or hit Enter. This year, I have received nothing original, sincere or heartfelt, only stunning animations of diyas on Diwali, snowflakes on Christmas, and fireworks at year-end. The speed with which they flood into my phone tells me several things —

1. The sender didn't create the greeting.
2. He forwarded someone else's greeting. He probably forwarded it to all 734 of his friends.
3. I will not hear from him or her till the next mindless festival comes along.

Festival greetings fill me with the same sad emptiness that I feel upon receiving a Facebook friend request from someone I have never met, will never meet or hear from again and who has no interest in my life or good health but now wants to be a one-click friend. He promises to send me instant festival greetings that will create the illusion of glowing bonds of good fellowship and goodwill.

When I was a boy, my parents imbued every festival occasion with meaning and purpose. Saraswati Puja reminded us that education and music were golden. Dussehra made us remember that the forces of light must always win against the darkness.

Christmas was, for me, always a reminder of charity, kindness and togetherness, a time for forgiving and moving on, a time for making others feel good with heartfelt surprises. I remember O'Henry's heart-breaking story, The Gift of the Magi, which perfectly captured the giving spirit of Christmas.

I am not sure when festivals devolved from reverently joyous occasions into excuses for partying and hedonism but I suspect the corporations that globalism brought in have something to do with it. Condom sales in Gujarat spiked by 50 per cent during Navratri 2018.

At some point, you might realise that you are being fed imported festivals that mean nothing to you — Halloween? Valentine's Day? The ads and super-sales offers assure you that any festival, even someone else's, is reason enough for celebration and shopping. Halloween is as much a discount dhamaka as Holi.

Shopping and sales, in other words, are what festivals are about now. The new 'festivals' we are being taught to celebrate with marathons of shopping — Halloween, Valentine's Day — are from countries that feast off consumerism. For more proof, ask yourself why Buddhist and Islamic festivals do not create the same insanity in our malls. Could it be because they take religion more seriously, requiring contemplation and fasting rather than cocktails and all-night parties?

So that irritating greeting, happy or merry, is inconsequential. I have not seen anyone particularly 'merry' this year. They look as dispirited and lacklustre as they did in November and will in January. Perhaps they will briefly look a little flushed after too many Bacardis during the countdown.

The Queen of England, god bless her, always gets it right in her Christmas speech. Merriment, she suspects, might have slight alcohol content. She leaves the country with nothing beyond Happy Christmas!

Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com
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