(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
Santa looked out at the falling snow through his small window. The calm outside was quite in contrast to the turmoil he was going through. He tried to remember the last time he had been happy. He drew a blank. He was unhappy before all the troubles started. He never wanted to go into the family business. He wanted to be an accountant. It wasn’t a glamorous job, he agreed. But he didn’t want glamour. He had seen celebrity up close. Fame had left both his father, the previous St. Nicolas and his Uncle Roger, the Easter bunny, broken and shattered. To be the most important person in the world for one day and then ignored for the rest of the year took a real toll. His father turned to alcoholism and Uncle Roger became reckless and began to break into homes with little children and steal all their eggs. This continued until the High Council of Festival Mascots stripped him of his title and had him committed to a correctional facility in North Korea. Santa was able to save his father by promising to take over the whole enterprise immediately. He forgot about his dreams and saved his family. Then everything went well until he ran into Lindsey Lohan one day. She introduced him to the other white snow and he was lost to its charms. He stopped paying attention and his assistant, Tim Cook, took over the operation. Cook dismantled everything. First he sold all the reindeer to a Russian billionaire. (All of them except Rudolf. Rudolf escaped captivity and fled to America, where he became the most famous reindeer in the world when he gave an emotional interview to Barbra Walters. His memoir about his struggle became a bestseller and even spawned a Lifetime movie starring Susan Sarandon and Rafalca Romney.) Then, he fired all the elves and got them deported to Middle Earth. Finally, he outsourced the workshop to a Chinese Foxconn facility and Bangalore’ed the back office and logistics. Everything was being done at a quarter of the cost that it used to. Santa was rendered jobless. And once the money disappeared, so did all the starlets. He was left alone, to ponder his fate. And to look at the snow.
If the Mayans were right and the world ended two days ago and you’re reading this while scavenging for food in a nuclear wasteland, then think of this as one of the reasons why mother earth hates your guts and tried to drown your whole species. And if nothing happens – which is a remote possibility because how can a bunch of superstitious tribesmen who lived hundreds of years ago and couldn’t even predict the demise of their own empire be wrong about the future – then welcome to yet another week in which we celebrate the triumph of consumerism.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate material things. I love them! If living in India has taught me anything, it’s that there is no problem that can’t be made to go away as long as you’re prepared to throw enough money at it. I’m just tired of celebrating this love every month under the guise of a ‘festival.’ There is always some holiday lurking in the corner, requiring us to buy things for the people around us and forcefully spending time with them. That’s what all the advertisements tell us! There is no amount of heartbreak and pain that cannot be compensated for by a fancy gift. You can be a horrible boss around the year, but if on one day of the year you gift your secretary a box of crappy chocolates and ask her to go home early, you’re a shoo-in for ‘boss of the year.’ Treat your wife like your own personal slave for ten years and then buy her forgiveness by giving her a comically large diamond necklace. To make up for all those times you ignored your grandparents, you can buy them a ring-tone of their favourite classic song for their mobile phone. Most of the time we don’t even realize what we’re celebrating. In one of the biggest festivals in the country, we celebrate a guy who went to war to defend the honour of his wife but then dumped her because his laundry guy said something uncharitable about her while we burn the effigy of a guy who respected women enough to take no for an answer.
Twitter is the last refuge for all those who want the festive masses to get off their lawn. However, this year on twitter there was a backlash against the backlash. Mostly from nostalgic NRIs missing the deafening sound of firecrackers and the breathlessness brought on by the large amounts of smoke. They told us to stop whining and start appreciating our good fortune. This is what India is all about, they fumed. Which was true, because who else would know more about the ‘authentic Indian experience’ than a person who, before visiting, ingests enough pills to immunize an entire African country? Thanks for your advice, captain. I’ll keep it right next to those unopened boxes of Ferrero Rocher you love to bring over.
Even the Mayan apocalypse won’t be able to make me open them.