When I was about 7 years old, my cousins and I discovered the art of card-making. Instant thrill! We could finally wish everyone we knew (about 3 people) with a personalised card, hand-made to their specifications. A hand-made card said, in the nicest possible way, “I'm thinking of you”. It also said that we had too much time on our hands and not enough entertainment... We didn’t discriminate: everyone got their own card. Mostly the kind of card that’s sure to give you a paper cut - badly cut, created by folding a sheet of chart paper and running a knife down the creases. Crooked cards, that stood only with support from other cards, and that never, in all the years we persevered, fit any envelope.
Diwali inspired flames, leaping from red and gold diyas on muddy brown earthen plates. Not-quite-believable sparklers and tubris (anars) spat sparks all over the white paper, and chorkis spun across the landscape, narrowly avoiding upsetting the diyas and causing carnage. Lacking the capability for accurate representation, we decided to settle for flamboyance: our flames made up in colour - red, orange, yellow, blue, green - what they lacked in credibility.
There were no cards for Pujo (we knew better than that, and scornfully corrected non-Bengali classmates who had the gall to wish us “Happy Pujo”). Pujo was new clothes and “thakur dekha” - going from pandal to pandal to see the different protimas and murthis (earthen images of the goddess Durga, her 4 offspring, her vahan and the asur she’d killed. The asur always looked defiant, even with his chest cut open and spurting blood. Durga herself always looked serene and peaceful, and it always impressed me that after having battled for so long, she didn’t look scarred and bloody, that her expression never reflected the wrath of god. But that was as far as my spiritual wondering went. Pujo was less about religion and more about that particular colour of light, when the sunlight turned to sunshine; about riding endlessly on Ferris wheels in fairs after a cursory pronam to the protima occupying the same park. (Many years later, it would be about wandering around the city all night, eating indiscriminately from food-stalls, commenting on the resemblance of the asurs to the demons of the day - at various points, the asurs in Calcutta pandals looked like Saddam Hussain, the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park, Osama Bin Laden, George Bush, etc.)
But the approach of December was when the home-made paper card industry really boomed. All month, we’d be busy drawing crooked, cactus-like holly leaves and berries, none of which we’d ever actually seen. Attempts to draw Yule-logs blazing merrily in fireplaces were beyond our artistic abilities and died a natural death. But on occasion, and only for very special people, we would persevere with an almost completely inaccurate “Christmas tree”. This always took weeks and many drafts to create, dusted with what we fondly imagined looked like lightly fallen snow (but what, in fact, looked like some strange and virulent form of white fungus that was slowly engulfing large sections of the branches) and decorated with enough round, shiny ornaments hanging from the branches to make the tree collapse. (It never occurred to us that a tree was unlikely to be covered with snow and ornaments at the same time.) The piles of wrapped presents under the tree was where we really went to town – hideous wrapping paper and red ribbons emerged from our hours of effort, making us almost salivate with vicarious glee. “The kids” - younger siblings - got cards with torturously mis-shapen Santas creeping through the snow, reeling under the weight of huge sacks bigger than themselves. Occasionally, Santa would be sitting in a mysterious vehicle that looked like a chair with runners, but turned out, after much examination and huge leaps of imagination, to be a sled. A magical, self-propelled sled (in the manner of the Knight Rider), because reindeer, too, were beyond our ken (Irish for "can do").
I can’t remember the last time I even sent someone a card… or made one for them, though, in my mind, it still ranks up there (with the making of mixed tapes) as a way of showing abiding affection. It’s been a while since I’ve sat on sheets of chart-paper strewn around the floor, surrounded by scissors and crayons and rulers. And I suddenly wondered if I could still, at a pinch, draw a semi-believable Christmas tree and gifts. So here you go – this one’s for you. Merry Christmas. :)
By the way, the strange thing behind one of the presents is a puppy – something I asked "Santa" for every single Christmas, until “he” finally caved in under the unrelenting pressure of my “I have been a good girl this year” letters, stopped worrying about pee on the carpet and fur everywhere, and got me one.