Children at Neelam Kanodia's building in Jayanagar 4th T-block have not celebrated even one Christmas without her. And why would they? This 52-year-old housewife is the star of every Christmas merriment. After all, she is the fat man in red robes. She is Santa Claus.
Neelam decided to play the mythical figure which has been copyrighted by men over the years, only to see a smile on the faces of children.
And so, on every December 25th, Neelam ditches the saree and gets into the fat belly avatar, swinging to the sonorous tune of the bell.
How it began
Like every year, in 2005, a Santa had been hired by the residents of Neelam's building. But as soon as the celebrations started, Neelam realised something was amiss. No one was really enjoying Christmas because the man, who had dressed up in red robes was grumpy and was not even smiling, leave alone entertaining the children or distributing gifts. "It was horrible. Children look forward to Christmas because they get to meet Santa Claus. And here we had a man, who was spoiling everything with his attitude," recalls Neelam.
So, the next year, as the festival neared, the thought of becoming the Santa became stronger. She went and discussed the idea with the building committee and everyone agreed.
"The first year I became Santa, I also introduced small games that made children really happy. I requested all parents to buy gifts for their children, write their names on it and leave it in my apartment. By the end of all the singing and eating, I distributed them. The children were thrilled," she says.
It has been seven years since, and the children of the building don't celebrate the festival if 'Neelam aunty' is not hosting the party.
"Last year, I fell sick and the building authorities had to hire a Santa from outside. The children were upset. They kept asking for me. In the end I had to dress up and show up," she says.
Neelam has complete support from her family, especially her daughter, Parul, a graphic designer, who has helped her throughout with the costume and make-up. "We get the costume on rent every year and I help my mum with the make-up," says Parul.
She adds that her mother really gets into the character, sings with the children and the bell never stops ringing. "It is a beautiful experience to see my mother do this for the children. I am proud of her," she says.
Though a Marwari, according to Neelam, the festival is not about religion, but the joy it brings with it.