One freezing evening in December 1967, a Christmas party for children was in progress at our staff club in a tea estate near Munnar. As I moved around overseeing the arrangements, I espied a child’s face pressed poignantly against a frosted windowpane, peering inside.
A worker’s son, his wistful look touched me. It was obvious he would love to join the fun and frolic. But the social divide between worker and staff, then common in the tea plantations, stood in the way. My heart went out to the shivering child.
Risking the displeasure of the club members, I quietly let the boy in. He entered hesitantly, unsure of his reception. Then, wide-eyed with curiosity, he gazed at the large Christmas tree aglitter with colourful lights and decorations.
Barefoot and shabbily dressed, he felt ill at ease among the smartly turned out kids — until one of them quite spontaneously took his hand and led him to join the others. Children know no social barriers. Soon the kids linked arms and began a jig around the tree to 'Jingle Bells' inimitably vocalized by Jim Reeves.
The boy started off awkwardly but soon got into the rhythm as well as the festive mood. When the carol ended an elder offered him a chair, a girl gave him some chocolates and the secretary of the club greeted him. Thankfully, making him feel welcome seemed to be everyone’s aim. The boy’s self-consciousness was receding.
Meanwhile, keen to make the evening memorable for the kid, I’d ascertained his name — it was Sakthi — and arranged for a toy to be gift-wrapped for him as well.
Soon a beaming Santa Claus peppered with confetti trotted in, weighed down by a bulging sack of gifts. The children clapped excitedly. “Good evening everyone,” Santa boomed, “and a merry Christmas to all of you!” Soon he was calling out the children’s names and distributing their gifts. When Sakthi’s name was announced, he was dumbstruck. A kid nudged him forward but he remained rooted, too shy to approach Santa Claus alone.
So, I led him to the front. Santa shook his hand heartily and handed over his gift. He returned in a daze. Soon he opened his gift to find a flaming red fire-engine replete with a ringing bell.
When the party ended, Sakthi wordlessly smiled his gratitude to everyone and then, clutching his gift, rushed off excitedly to share his totally unexpected experience with his family. A feeling of warm exhilaration mantled me. More importantly, the spirit of Christmas — and the goodwill it symbolizes — had overcome a man-made barrier.