I am writing this on the morning of Christmas, the one festival that truly cuts across all divisions of religion, community, denomination or any other affiliation more than any other celebration in the world.
As a young man, I remember attending Midnight Mass at St Paul’s Cathedral, Kolkata, with friends -- Hindus, Muslims and Christians -- and never feeling out of place. What you feel is only peace and joy and a reaffirmation of all that’s supposed to be good in us carbon-based biped life forms on the third planet from an insignificant star in one corner of a mighty galaxy.
Christians light candles outside the sacred Heart Cathedral on the occasion of Christmas festival in New Delhi on Sunday. PTI photo
(A warning though: If you are in the pews in St Paul’s Cathedral, listening to the choir, do admire the majestic neo-Gothic architecture, the vast stained glass window and the Florentine frescoes, but do not look at the marble plaques on the walls commemorating young Englishmen who met untimely deaths in the hands of “native sepoys”: the plaques breathe pox and plague and hellfire on the heathen savages in language that is, well, unambiguous. Bloodcurdling stuff, some of it -- may jar the silent night, holy night spirit a bit.)
So I am sitting at my PC as Christmas Day reaches parts of the earth to the west of us -- in fact, right at this minute, the World Time Converter tells me that it’s turning Christmas at Washington DC. In Melbourne, Australia, where the Indian cricket team is preparing for battle, it’s already past lunch time. And it’s another two and a half hours before Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and their brood can start celebrating the baby Jesus’ arrival. The world is on holiday, though many of us are complaining about Christmas falling on a Sunday.
Certainly most of India’s politicians would have been very happy to have a long weekend. That Anna Hazare and his cohorts are making a nuisance of themselves once more. And some nutcase has written to the Delhi Police that he is ready with “a needle team, which has prepared 500 HIV virus contaminated needles (and will) inject the virus in at least 1,000 people at the demonstration”. Hundreds of nutcases of another type have already posted on the net that only the Congress can stoop so low. The Secretary General of the AIDS Society of India has assured the nation that since the HIV virus cannot live outside the human body for long, “HIV contaminated blood supposedly used for pricks like the ones described doesn’t pose any real risk of transmission”. Truth is funnier than fiction.
Elections in several states including UP, Punjab and Goa have been announced. One TV news channel has already quoted sources saying that the government is thinking of postponing the Union Budget a few days beyond the customary February 28. If this is true, then the reasons are pretty obvious: Let’s see how those peasants in UP react to the relentless years-long campaigning by the scion of the Holy Family, and the dozen irrigation, steel and other projects that have been announced for the state by the Union Government in the last month and a half. We have many other goodies lined up in the Budget, but If the UP unwashed turn out to be ungrateful sods, well, we’ll change some numbers on our big secret spreadsheets, just wait and see. It’s payback time, folks.
Petrol prices, it is being hinted, will be raised next month, given the rupee’s increasingly craven relationship with the dollar. This is becoming a farce. You don’t raise prices for a long time, you get slammed by economists of a certain hue. You raise prices, you get slammed by your allies. So you lower prices, and now no one seems happy. And now you think of raising prices again. If you are in the government, all you hear is moaning all around—oil companies about their mounting losses, the party moaning about coming elections, the richest men in the country moaning about the government not doing enough, and everyone else in the country gnashing their teeth loose over rising prices. Just the other day, a BJP MP from Bihar got up in Parliament and extolled Indira Gandhi’s policies and slogans at length, and addressing himself directly to the current Madam Gandhi, asked her to learn from her late mother-in-law. This, while every economic commentator who owns a suit has been shouting from the rooftops that Sonia Gandhi is determinedly trying to turn the economic policy clock back to India Gandhi days. Talk about unkind cuts.
All in all, it’s an interesting Christmas for India. Silent night, surreal night.