When president Pranab Mukherjee crossed the famed Arctic Circle on Thursday evening, becoming the first Indian head of state to do so, there was somebody even more famous who was eagerly awaiting to greet him with an unmistakable “ho, ho, ho” deep-throated laugh. A chubby and merry white-bearded man, clad in a red coat trimmed with white, surrounded with mischievous-looking elves, reindeers with huge antlers and, of course, “jingle bells” playing softly in the background. Accompanied by daughter Sharmistha and his official delegation, Mukherjee crossed the Arctic Circle line on foot to enter Santa’s abode around 8km north of Rovaniemi, which is the capital of Finland’s northernmost province Lapland and a huge tourist attraction for both wonder-struck children and their parents around the globe. Mukherjee surprised the gregarious Santa by presenting him with a marble Indian elephant. “Usually, I give presents. You have made my day,” said a beaming Santa.
That the snowy-bearded man who spends the whole year getting his elves to fashion gifts for all those who wait for his sleigh-borne gift run on Christmas Eve, should not get much in return is strange and the Indian president’s gesture was heartening. Given that Santa’s occupation —handcrafting gifts—is a rather labour-intensive exercise, rising demand may soon prove to be too much for his usual complement of elves. President Mukherjee hopefully convinced him that India would be the ideal place to outsource production.
It is just as well that the president could make the visit when Santa hasn’t had the need to move further north as global warming makes the polar ice cap shrink. As the Indian scientists stationed in Himadri, India’s first Arctic research station near the North Pole, told the president, the rising sea levels caused by the melting ice lead to atmospheric changes. Santa’s abode is a reminder of the need to preserve the earth in as pristine a condition as we can. Else, both his and mankind’s future will be in peril.