In a sleepy town called Bakersville snugly situated on a hilltop in the idyllic Wayanad district of Kerala, Christmas was no less festive. Every house proudly exhibited a Christmas tree, Christmas star and the famed Nativity scene, which lit up the black nights all through the Yuletide season. Though the name Bakersville reminded one of small beautiful sloped homes filled with fair children sitting cosily by the fireplace eating warm home-baked muffins and blueberry tarts, this little Bakersville had nothing in common. The houses were anything but beautiful. The children were anything but fair. And no one even heard of muffins, leave alone blueberry tarts. What kept homes warm were not fireplaces, but constant chatter and laughter. It was as if the houses had no walls…the homes just kept blending into one another. A seamless array of matchbox houses. All of them seemed identical, nothing spectacular about them. The kinds of houses that made you feel sorry for the people inhabiting them. Poverty shines bright in every brick, and rings loud and clear in the clatter of the dishes being washed with cheap dishwashing powder.
Come Christmas eve and the children of Bakersville all came out in a single group, singing and dancing their way to each and every home. People expected to hear the familiar voices sing Merry Christmas and Happy New Year towards late evening, and cheered them with hearty applause and unfailingly, at least a one rupee coin. There were about thirty children, poor in appearance but rich in spirit. What merriment they created! The noise, the colour, the music…all of them dressed in red or white. It was the same every year. They sang the same songs, did the same dance steps…well almost! Sometimes they added the latest steps from the latest movie songs. Whatever they did, the onlookers clapped hard. The hero among them was a little boy, their regular Santa. He was short and thin and dark-skinned. Nothing you’d expect Santa to be. But every year, invariably, he would be Santa. People adored him…he had that rare ability to connect with everyone. The young and the old alike. He would shake his fake potbelly and do a funny ‘belly dance’! Till 7.45 pm he would be there doing his Santa thing. Engaging everyone, and enjoying the superstardom every single moment. After 7.45 pm, he would vanish like Cinderella did from the ball sharp by midnight. He ran home, lay down his prayer mat and did the namaz. Facing the holy Mecca, a small Santa prayed to Allah. The residents of Bakersville patiently waited for their little Santa to come back. They knew where he had gone. Did they want another Santa in the meantime? No, they did not. Christmas was not Christmas without Ashraf, the very own Santa of Bakersville.
In Bakersville, as in many places of the world, Christmas had no religion, no communal colour. All people wanted were a plum pie, good music and a jolly fat man with a potbelly, red hat and white beard. And little boys and girls like Ashraf to unify the people around them.
Photo Courtesy: Dave John