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I am a Hindu. At least by birth I am. As far as practicing the religion is concerned, my brush with the rituals and legends is limited to a confused Diwali puja, reading bits of Ramayana as a part of the Akhand Paath when I was a kid in a bid to be a part of the grown-up gang, and getting an information overload form Amar Chitra Katha. Apart from that, I am not a Hindu any fanatic would be proud of. I do believe in God, but definitely do not believe that faith comes in monochrome. Hence, I get disturbed when I see bids to 'protect religious identities' in the form of boycotting other religions.
We believe in Santa. Yes, the boys still do. At 11 and 13 years of age, they give elaborate conspiracy theory involving the dark side of the moon, Santa's time-stopping abilities, and his super sonic sleighs. Does that make me a Christian? Not anymore than devouring bowls of halwa on Diwali results in me being a true Hindu.
Last one month has seen an increased online activity in our household. I have this Santa email account that the boys write to, and 'Santa' replies from. Each evening, we hoodwink each other, or so we think, and write mails. From almost figuring in the naughty list, to every thing that they were grateful for, they write everything. And Santa replies. Although he has a whole world to cater to, he thinks that these two boys are special and require prompt replies. Result- two beaming boys.
During all this, I come across two kinds of naysayers - one who feel we are turning a bind eye towards our own rich heritage, and leaning towards the West, and the other who think I am encouraging the kids to take a flight of fantasy, and in the process making them prone to escape in imaginary worlds.
The first kind thinks that we need to stop the poisoning, else our own religious identity will be lost, and the boys will get westernised. Why exactly are we so phobic to directions? Why do we have to be firmly at the centre of creation? In today's world of diffused borders and volatile identities, directions are mostly just limited to the compass. So as far as I am concerned, email exchanges that emphasize the power of good, make the children think back to the year they had, get them to figure out how they can be helpful to others, and spark their imagination, do not result in our centre of gravity being shifted towards the west. Just because the boys are excited about Santa leaving half eaten cookies, have promised to do good, and treat their mum like a Goddess (yeah, Santa has that odd pre-condition), it doesn't make them roll their R's, or forget their roots. Believe me, with so many reminders around, they couldn't even if they wanted to.
Coming to the second one, the boys imagine themselves at Hogwarts when they read Harry Potter, make elaborate escape plans when they read dystopian literature, and shed secret tears when imaginary characters die. Oh, wait. Those are the characters of bookworms. But another dimension of imagination being fired leads to delusions? Right. Believing in Santa does not lead to Personality disorders. I am not saying so, there are people with volumes of research to back that claim.
Now coming to the universal question, why indulge anyway? As parents, we somehow tend to measure everything with their usefulness. Does a book give a moral lecture? If not, it is useless, and should probably be banned. Does going for story-telling sessions increase my child's vocabulary to formidable levels? No? Bah. Do toys serve any purpose other than drain the pocket? Absolutely not.
All three have one thing in common - parents asking whether spending money on these things makes the child better equipped at handling the competition ahead. Same logic applies to Christmas. We often complain that children believe in Santa only for the gifts, Christmas has become a major commercial event for the retail industry, and what is the child learning out of it anyway? If, as a parent, I am simply getting fancy gifts and giving in to demand lists, then yes, I am not teaching anything but greed to them. But if somehow I am able to infect them with the Christmas spirit, then I think the gifts are absolutely worth it.
The email exchanges that we have start with lists - 'get me Lego or Deadpool action figure,' 'I need a telescope, ' and of course the book lists. Santa then mails back with magical stories of Rudolph wanting to meet their pet dog, Dobby, and reminds them of the Christmas spirit. The conversation veers to listing ten things they were really grateful for in the year gone by. The answers will stay close to my heart forever. Then there is Santa's confused mail declaring that Evelyn, the accountant elf, insists that they had to be on the Naughty list. Out tumble confessions and promises of being good! We ultimately settle for one gift each, and are also making a gift for the Goddess since she is a good mum. Most exchanges would seem nonsensical to most parents I know.
I however am happy being Santa, because through those mails, the boys have talked about their bad times, good times, hopes for the coming years, the fears, and clarified their stands on a few issues. For us religion is more than idols and colours. It is about recognising good, fighting our own devils, and knowing we are never lonely. It is about being human.
If my being Santa helps my children weave elaborate tapestries of memories that they would look back at, and smile, when they are sitting in some corner cubicle of a vast office, or if they are lucky enough, on the front porch of a quaint cottage in the mountains, then Santa I shall be. Oh, and in the process, we do have our share of fun. Sample the following exchange of mails:
'Santa can I have a spell to get Mum to allow us some gaming time on the Ipad?'
'Ipad? Is it one of those things kids' noses are stuck on?'
'Er, yes, maybe.... But I never get to play. So, please?
'Oh, I don't know. Evelyn might not approve...but I guess I can use my power just one time because Rudolph is going crazy nodding! For it to work however, you have to finish your school-work in time so that she is in a cheerful mood. The spell doesn't work on clouded minds.'
'Oh, I will! Please send it!'
'Exactly at 8.37 in the night, go to her and whisper,
'Say, Say, oh please say,
You will let me play.
Ipad is what I want please,
For the fish live in the trees.'
Yeah, Santa is no poet, but sure enough, the boy was by my side mumbling. I went all wide-eyed, walked to the desk, and handed him the Ipad.
He giggled, and I scratched my head. Spells do that to you.
Before long, we would get caught up in the never-ending cycle of assignments and test preparations. Till then, there is magic in my mailbox.