Machimanda Deviah caught the spirit of our times when he posted: The black buck who was driving Salman Khan’s car had killed Aarushi Talwar because she did 2G scam which jumped to death from the Adarsh building. He might have added that Adarsh, caught in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter killing, was arrested for not linking his Aadhaar to the Vyapam scam whose GST was stolen by Lalu Prasad’s fodder fiddlers who ate 1,000-rupee notes.
We live in a convoluted, topsy-turvy India where good is the same as evil and tricolour patriotism is anti-national. Things are so mixed up that we have no idea whether the year beginning tomorrow will be any better than the one dying today. No new year in recent memory is as worrisome as this one. We do not know what’s the right thing to do and the wrong thing to say. We are at the mercy of the moment. And the moment is dominated by a new variety of violence that bears the stamp of approval and therefore brings no retribution.
The civilisational values traditionally attached to India, values of co-existence and tolerance, are occasionally asserted by a brave heart here and a defiant spirit there. Sometimes it is done for private satisfaction, sometimes to set a public example. Carnatic musician T M Krishna, a brahminic dissenter who questions brahminic presumptions, sang Tamil sufi songs in Mumbai’s historic Afghan church, ending the concert with an invocation to Allah. The fringe was angry, but the church was full.
At the other end of the spectrum, Christmas this year found a whole lot of patriots in a frenzy. In Rajasthan they disrupted a function that was held with police permission. In Aligarh Christian schools were warned not to have any celebration. In Madhya Pradesh carol singers were charged by the Government with outraging the religious feelings of people.
All this was no doubt on the assumption that Christmas means Christianity. That is a myth today. Christmas means commerce around the world. Marketing geniuses have developed a whole lot of ideas to bamboozle people of all faiths in the name of Christmas and New Year. Gift giving is at the centre of this trade. Christmas cakes, Christmas cookies, Christmas costumes, Christmas cocktails—these are what constitute Christmas today. Jesus Christ is in the picture, if at all, only as an absentee salesman.
Delve deeper and you will see how all-consuming has been the power of the marketing. Santa Claus, the big Christmas attraction, was a gimmick developed by Coca-Cola in the 1920s. Christmas cards, a million-dollar industry today, came out of a scribbled greeting an Englishman named Sir Henry Cole sent to some of his friends in 1843.
To see the irrelevance of Jesus Christ in all this, we only have to see the way Christmas is celebrated. Christmas trees, snow, reindeer and other aspects of European winter are associated with a birth in a Palestinian town known for heat and sandstorms. Jesus Christ was a brown-skinned Asian. But the photo-representations of him present a fair-skinned, cat-eyed blonde from somewhere in Scandinavia. The fringe in India is the only group that has failed to see the disconnect between Christianity and Christmas.
They should learn from the Chinese. The Communist Party issued an official directive to its Youth League early in December not to participate in Christmas-related celebrations because “the youth must be role models in abiding to the faith of communism.” That’s at the ideological level. At the practical level, China is the world’s biggest manufacturer and exporter of Christmas goodies—from artificial Christmas trees to fancy lighting. In Chinese cities Christmas is the biggest shopping season. They even organise special events—and yes, carol parties—to attract people to departments stores and shopping malls. A dozen churches in Beijing hold special music programmes attended by music lovers of all religions. The Chinese are a practical people. They do not let ideology interfere with their national economy.
India presents an odd-man-out profile with an intolerant religious creed at the government level. This changes the world’s view of us. I write this from Bangkok. A headline in the first Western newspaper I saw here was: “Is India’s growing hardline nationalism giving Hindu majority a licence to kill?” The world does not like what it sees in India. People’s netas such as Sakshi Maharaj and Ananth Kumar Hegde can of course tell the world to mind its own business. Will that help us mind our business more productively?