In search of Christmas party

Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh *

This piece may sound like a leaf from my family diary, but it may be that of others also. To begin with, I confess that I am not a Christian by religion but enjoy Christmas in spirit, like many. I had been waiting for some invitations this time also but I am not ashamed to publicise that I was not invited at all by any of my Christian Friends unlike last year.

Then I thought why I should dampen the mood for the sake of any formal invitation. May be through some psychic network, my daughter opined that she wanted to celebrate Christmas at our home. Since I consider myself being one the most liberal souls in the entire universe, I said Yes, but then reminded her that it would not be fun if we did it alone at home since we did not know much of the way Christians celebrate Christmas.

I suggested that we should scan the town and see where the parties were on and just join them, gatecrash them, to be precise. My family set off for the hunt with my cover song playing on stereo.

In the evening, we headed towards Ching-meirong side where most of the big Churches are located, but only to be disappointed. Most of the Churches were closed by the time we crossed them. We also expected the streets there to be beaming with life and lights.

May be, celebrations and parties had been shifted somewhere in the villages of Dewlaland, Nagaram, Ragailong and far away hills. Our intention for some mingling in Christmas gusto was a little defeated. But evening was still young.

Instead, we decided to treat ourselves with our own money. My children settled for some chicken burgers and Pizzas from the US and fried chicken from the Tandy’s. And we Parents opted for some drinks from Casablanca and some Veg. Rolls served with Tandy’s Fried Chicken wrapper. (Don’t get me wrong, I am not a pure Veggie or Vegan, whatever they mean).

Is it a promotion or demotion for Veggies, being presented that way ? Veggies respected with chicken Grades or Veggies least honoured in a majorly Non-Veg. restaurant with step-motherly Grade ? But that was not the main issue.

The main issue was that the restaurant still had 5% discount as Christmas bonus. The place smelling with Christmas aroma and crowded with no vacant seat, we thought paid party was here to enjoy. On cursory scanning of the crowd, we came to the premature conclusion that those were Christmas revellers and none Christian.

That is the beauty and grandeur of Christmas being a culture, not strictly stitched to a religion. On the way back, I thought of spoiling myself further and picked up two cans of Vijay Mallya’s (?) surviving bird. I suppose that Bird-liquid is also Veg.

One thought was bothering me - where were those Christians who were supposed to be thronging the streets and restaurants of Imphal ? They might be thinking why they should discount their own parties with outside food but to enjoy self-cooked ones at their personal places. May be most of the Christians at Imphal had already gone to their villages at Hills, Imphal being only their work place, except for those whose homes and villages are here.

Talking of villages, let me take you to my village, Thinungei. At the western mountain slopes are located Haotak (a Kom village), Laimanai or Thingpui (a Kabui village) and some other villages. When I was small, December and January were the times when we were woken up every morning by the Christmas songs, sung in their different languages (which we did not know despite being neighbours) and tunes, traversing from the mountains through the freshly harvested paddy fields.

The villagers used to revel for about a month or so for there were enough time, cash, provisions and above all, celebratory zeal and hospitality. What was really heart-warming was that they also welcomed our villagers with food, drinks, song and dance. There were many in my village who painstakingly waited for such treats. Such seasonal affairs went on till I was not so small. But today it has become just nostalgia.

May be the villagers have become wiser money-wise, time-wise and hospitality-wise. Meiteis used to, still today, crowd those month- long galas. Some were formally invited and many just gate-crashers, searching for their long-lost friends in those Christian villages. As they had entered the party, how could the hosts turn them away insulting.

Villagers treated them with their favourites-beef, pork, buffalo meat, Zu etc. Some even used to spend nights at the villages. No matter how hospitable a host could be there are some limits of tolerance. Then this story started circulating for Meiteis.

It goes like this. As usual many Meiteis kept on going to the Christmas parties in a Christian village day after day. The host, after seeing them again and again for days, decided to have some fun with them. One day he welcomed them with handshakes and invited them to the lunch party. He led them ceremoniously to a door and just said, 'This way for Meiteis'. When the door was pushed open, those Meiteis found nothing but an open field as Exit.

Talking of food habits today, to digress for a moment, Meiteis have come a long way. Many Meiteis, especially the younger generation, today are becoming OMNIVORES with big and bold capital letters. They relish anything from the tinniest 'a' to the biggest 'Z' without any punctuation marks. Some may even put Bear Grylls to shame. Yes, fish has been an accepted food item for Meiteis, both secularly and religiously.

We boast around carrying and displaying the biggest fish in public. It was very rare, in the Meitei dominated valley, to have meat shops openly displaying meat, let alone carrying them openly on streets. But such shops are mushrooming in the nook and corner of the valley with sign board 'Live & Dress'.

Such shops are found showcasing fully naked (they call them 'dress') chickens dangling in lines at the very fronts of the shops, ready for further dressing. It is not abnormal, today, if we see a Meitei carrying such 'dress' chicken in public with elan. It could have been sacrilege once upon a time. But it has always been normal, if I am not mistaken, in the hills to display body parts of such animals as buffaloes, cows, mithuns etc. at home and shops.

Today, amongst Meiteis also, it has become a normal reaction, I just love Ok maril (pork entrails)' or 'O, that san singju (beef salad) was wonderful'. So, when it comes to pork and beef what could be a better time than Christmas time? That is why our Highland brothers created that story for us Meiteis.

Christmas seems to have served as a catalyst for cultural, emotional and 'gutsy' integration between Hills and Valley despite our one day on and other day off relationship and despite that story.

Let us come back to the last part of my story. We were not yet ready for home after collecting our evening's provisions. We kept on driving on the streets and by-lanes of Imphal and then University campus all alone. But the air inside was kept lively with the only Christmas song I know - George Michael's 'Last Christmas' - playing and we singing along.

When we were rocked by the original, we wanted something else too and thus played different versions of the same, starting from BlackPink (my daughter's choice) to Ariana Grande to Taylor Swift. We wanted others to hear that we were in Christmas mood, though they might be mocking, 'what a novice hearing such a very common number'.

Nevertheless, we were ready to do anything to liven up that spirit anyhow. When my other family members were satisfied with their own chosen food items, I settled down chirping and mingling with that colourful and spirited bird.

* Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 31 2021.

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