(Published in The Friday Times, on October 24, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/seasons-greetings/)
It’s bad enough when you’re South Asian and have a harvest festival to celebrate every couple of months. It’s worse when you belong to a secular country, and are considered part of the pseudo-intellectual liberal brigade. As it if were not enough to be Hindu, and have a festival for some god or the other through the year, you have to prove your liberal street-cred by keeping track of other religious festivals too.
And the time of the year I absolutely detest is when it draws to a close. There’s Dussehra, Eid, Diwali, Christmas, New Year...
Now, the reason I dislike festivals is not simply that I’m an unpleasant, misanthropic person, which I undoubtedly am. My major grouse with festivals used to be that I had to wake up early and stumble about, trying to win a race to one of the bathrooms in the house. Another equally major grouse used to be the fact that relatives tend to arrive with sweets, food and seemingly endless time to while away at our home.
However, over the past two decades or so, my list has expanded substantially:
I don’t even know why people send out cards anymore. I don’t really care much about the environment, but I’d assume the sort of people who diligently note down addresses and waste money on postage tend to want to save trees. Unfortunately, though, you have these NGOs that have made a profitable business out of trinkets fashioned by people who are somehow disadvantaged or from materials that are recycled. And so, every year, I find myself at the receiving end of converted garbage bags and toilet paper, sent out with the vague legend ‘Season’s Greetings’ and a note about the NGO which manufactures them. I have a choice between being rude, and forcing myself to thank the senders. The former fosters unpleasantness, and the latter fuels their enthusiasm. So, I have taken to pretending my cards got lost in the post.
Oh, god, those “We wish you and your family a happy, prosperous, fulfilling blah-blah-blah” texts! Someone should make those a capital offence. First, you’re flooded with texts from unknown numbers. Then, you’re flooded with texts from people whose numbers you have saved. The stingy ones send them out a few days in advance, so they won’t be charged at a premium. The stingier ones send their texts on WhatsApp, so they won’t be charged at all. As a result, I’ve become allergic to the words, “Same to you”, which remains my standard response.
The Cross-Religious Reach-Out
There’s just no way around this. When someone who doesn’t belong to your religion reaches out to wish you for a religious festival, you simply have to make sure you wish him or her back for at least one reciprocative festival. It doesn’t matter if the two of you are atheists. It doesn’t matter if you believe the entire tradition of wishing people on days that have little personal significance was a Western cultural construct imposed on our colonised societies. It doesn’t matter if you believe that the idea of exchanging calls and cards and texts and whatnot was a capitalist conspiracy hatched by Hallmark and telecom companies. You simply have to reciprocate the token gesture.
The Facebook Tag
All I ask is, if you must tag me on to the picture of a bursting firecracker or a Christmas tree or whatever, at least do me the service of making sure it looks nice. My ‘Photos of You’ page is filled with tacky images of lit diyas and random vegetation in primary colours. Aside from the fact that it hurts my eyes and speaks ill of my taste in both imagery and friends, this also ensures that I get a flood of emails, conveying that each of the other hundred people tagged in that image has wished everyone else.
The Begging Bowl
Whether it’s the watchman from the neighbouring block of flats, or the person who claims he cleans the street every day, or the postman, or the paper delivery boy, or the gym trainer, or the maid, or the gardener, or the auto-rickshaw drivers from the stand down the road, during the so-called “festive season”, they’re drawn to your door like maggots to a corpse. They stand outside, waiting to wish you. They introduce themselves – for they tend to make their respective appearances so infrequently during the rest of the year that your memory’s facial recognition system proves ineffective – and then wish you. The wish is essentially a demand for money. You are not sure what impact most of these people have on your lives, or vice versa. You are fairly sure you – or the government – pay(s) the rest a salary for the work they do. Yet, you have to fork out money if you want your paper and letters delivered, your road to stink a little less, and fewer thefts in the year ahead.