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Christmas in Mumbai oblivious to religious overtones

So much of Mumbai is Mumbai because of the large East Indian and Goan Christian communities that reside from Colaba to Virar.

mumbai Updated: Dec 22, 2017 00:08 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Christmas,Winters
Christmas decorations at Phoenix Market City, Kurla, in Mumbai. (Pramod Thakur/HT)

Mumbai admittedly has an apology of a winter compared to cities in the north. But which is a more livable place in these months has always been the bone of contention with my friends from that part of the country.

Mumbai wins hands down as far as I’m concerned, though must admit that I’ve never been able to adequately explain (to ‘rivals’ and myself) why people here should be wearing monkey caps if the weather is sanguine?!

This year temperatures have hit the lower end early and a further dip is forecast. I suspect we’ll see more people in Mumbai seeking more creative safeguards against the 15-16 degrees Celsius winter that northerners brazen without even a blazer.

But each to their own, I say. This is the season to cherish in Mumbai (only a whit behind the romance of the monsoon for me) and Christmas week is the fairy on the tree – or the cherry on the pie – whichever way you want to look at it.

The other night a group of carol singers in a Bandra bylane near my house warmed me to the season’s change in more ways than one. The countdown to Christmas week had clearly begun. However, that these carol singers were watched with some bemusement and bewilderment – by old and young alike — also showed how much has changed with time in these parts. Bandra has some of the finest churches in the city (Mount Mary, St Andrews, St Peter’s to name just three) and bringing in Christmas was integral to its ethos: now considerably ebbed perhaps because changed demographics have changed sensibilities.

Carol singers heralding Christmas used to be a fairly regular sight in the city. Having lived for fairly large chunks of years in Crawford Market, Nepean Sea Road and Mahim this was evident to me. That is now being missed.

A large and mixed population, it hardly needs reiterating, defines this city’s cosmopolitanism. So much of Mumbai is Mumbai because of the large East Indian and Goan Christian communities that reside from Colaba to Virar.

If you happened to study at an institution run by Christians you couldn’t miss the onset of the yuletide season. But even otherwise, celebrating Christmas was always a feature of Mumbai’s calendar.

Long before commercial establishments ensured that decorative lighting – and several holiday breaks -- took us from Diwali to the New Year, the season to be jolly was an established tradition that found myriad expression.

It could be neighbours, friends and colleagues bringing homemade kul-kuls and cake. Or even vermicelli or bondas, depending on which part of the country they had come from. It could be children all excited to meet Santa Claus. And even those who didn’t go to schools run by missionaries, would want to decorate miniature fake trees at home.

The more old-fashioned -- and well-off — would have already ordered Christmas puddings by now from some five-star hotels, and as the catering industry expanded, from well-known bakeries or private vendors.

Many from the corporate sector would — and still do — host Christmas brunches to ring in the season, as well as network. Those into hardcore partying would have booked their ‘celebratory nights’ at hotels that don’t come cheap.

The point to underscore is that Christmas was never seen in religious overtones: in Mumbai certainly not. This was a festival of cheer in which people from every faith participated. It has to do with catholicity in thought and deed, not just church worship.

Sadly, stories from other parts of India have emerged about those with a majoritarian mindset trying to foment a ‘them versus us’ issue -- insidiously mixing up forced conversion with legitimate practice of religion -- and pummel the minority into submission. This is a disturbing trend which needs to be countered.

Happily, a strong signal was sent out by CM Devendra Fadnavis’ wife Amruta who was trolled for launching a ‘Be Santa’ campaign to collect gifts from people for poor children. She hit back strongly, tweeting: “Love, sharing & empathy have no religion - let’s accept all positivity around us & stay away from negative thoughts & demotivating energies!’’

Let’s say yo-ho-ho to that!

First Published: Dec 22, 2017 00:08 IST