By ALOK ULFAT
Christmas comes to remind us of the spirit of compassion, forgiveness, and service. I would like to share some incidents inspired by the spirit of Christmas. The first one took place in Ontario, Canada, many years ago. I was 22 years old and walking in the downtown shopping area when a young man approached me and asked me politely whether I wanted to receive Jesus in my heart. I was amusingly surprised and joyfully said that ‘Jesus is already there in my heart.’ He then asked me if I was a Christian. To this, I replied, “I am an Indian and therefore also a Christian.” He looked into my eyes and asked rather strongly – if I was a baptized Christian? Realising he was a Christian missionary and like a salesman working hard to get what he wanted, I had to be truthful and said, “Not yet but I will consider it in the future as long as I am allowed to be a vegetarian.” He smiled and we parted ways. We had one common experience at the time and that was we were alive.
Many years have passed since. I have travelled through Europe and have attended services in almost all European Churches including the service given by the Pope at the Vatican Church in Rome. However, I felt way more at peace in tiny Chapels in small villages. I enjoyed being there and being with myself. Services of all kinds and open-minded religions can bring us to our sacred self as long as they are not imposed.
Another memorable meeting I remember was, when I visited the Messiah Dhyan Kendra on Rajpur Road, Dehradun, with Sir Tom Alter. We shared our feelings on the life of Jesus. His parents were missionaries who lived a very spiritual life which was reflected in Tom Sir’s personality. I realised how wonderfully Christian was Tom Alter; compassionate and openminded. He was the master of languages, especially the language of the heart.
Another time I was speaking to the General Secretary of the YMCA, Malvin Louis, in Mumbai and, generally brooding, I said aloud, how long should I go on doing social work and he smiled and said, “Give till it hurts.” This was a strong message and had a deep impact on me. For a practicing Hindu who is engaged on many levels in society, it is not difficult to be plural. We are happy with more than one God, enjoy languages, and can embrace many cultures.
At Nanhi Dunya we have been celebrating Christmas for over 75 years and have developed a deep connection with the festival. We have also created a new concept of Mother Christmas. She wears green clothes and instead of giving plastic goods, she presents handmade gifts and fruits. She is accompanied by a lazy boy and their humorous exchange gives the audience much reason to laugh. Shruti Ulfat became the first Mother Christmas.
Being an Indian one learns from all cultures and this is India’s contribution to the Christian world. If I was a closed person, I would not have had so many wonderful experiences. May this Christmas bring joy to all and may we build a world of love, peace, and freedom.
(Alok Ulfat is Theatre Activist and Director.)