Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In the name of the father...

St Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta
Christmas has always been big in Calcutta - thanks to our hang-over of the Raj. It meant long queues at cake shops – Nahoum, Flury’s , even Jalajog in the old days and now Monginis and Kathleens – crowds at the zoo, picnickers on the Maidan and ‘jollification’ on Park Street, plus the traditional Christmas Lunches at the Clubs. However, the churches were generally left for the devoted and faithful, barring a few anglicized liberals who fashionably attended mid-night mass with their Christian friends and colleagues.

Midnight Mass at St Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta
But, over the years people have started thronging the cathedrals. A friend, who volunteers at the St Paul’s, narrated the tough time they had managing people at this year’s service. They had a strange dilemma. After all it’s an open affair – free to all. But, at the end of the day it’s also a worship and a religious ceremony. So, while on the one hand it would be wrong on their part to keep away people – how could they let spectators take over the occasion jostling out those who had come to offer prayers.

Is this a sudden surge of secular urges among the people ? Obviously not. It’s what we Bengalis call “hujug” – a cheap fad – fanned by the media. The same friend described how sundry local TV Channels wanted to gate crash uninvited to film the ceremonies – as if it was a public theatre.

Park Street (Calcutta) in Christmas spirit
At a deeper level, does it mean our attitudes are changing and there is a greater level of acceptance within society in general of different religious denominations? I am afraid not. We still tend to carry a subtle level of prejudice or subliminal discrimination towards religious minorities amongst us – whether in the neighbourhood, work-place or even in our circle of friends. The roots of this could be deep and the causes many. But, media hype will not change it – what would make a difference is true value-based education, which seems to be lacking even in the new crop of educational institutions (read, commercial schools) flourishing in the state.