It is that time of the year again. Whether we want to or not, whether we mean it or not, whether we have any genuine feelings for a particular individual or not, we feel obliged to send out all manner of overly cheerful and at times, even soppy messages of good cheer as the last couple of weeks of December comes around. Now don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with trillions of messages criss-crossing the globe over the ether wishing all and sundry a merry Christmas and a happy new year. In a world beset with bad news and little to cheer about, why deny folks the opportunity to spread some goodwill around like largesse. Kings and Queens do it, Prime Ministers and Heads of State do it, Popes and Pontiffs do it, it’s all part of our need to feel good about ourselves and nurse fond hopes about the next twelve months to come.
The cynics will tell you that these fond hopes are misguided and that if history teaches us anything, it is that every succeeding year brings worse news than the one we just, with great relief, waved goodbye to. Ah well, cynics will be cynics. We shall give them the lofty ignore. We shall turn to the optimists. Writer and lay theologian, C.S. Lewis said, ‘There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.’ William Shakespeare, who hates to be left behind when it comes to quotable quotes, had this to say on the subject, ‘If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.’ That was the problem with Shakespeare, he could never say anything readily comprehendible.
I do not have, conveniently at hand, statistics pertaining to the decline in sales worldwide of The Greeting Card, but the drop must be precipitous. The capital letters are deliberately placed to invest the item in question with the gravitas this dying breed deserves. To step into a book shop and look for greeting cards suitable for any occasion, particularly during festive seasons of good cheer, was a special delight. We browsed with nary a care for time pressure – birthdays, festivals, anniversaries, special occasions like exam results or notable achievements and even condolences – they were all provided for. As our budgets would permit, we would have carefully made a list of people who really mattered and bought just that many cards, with a few more to be kept in reserve. So, when someone thanked you for sending a ‘thoughtful card,’ they actually meant it.
In today’s age of social media domination, we find ourselves in the grip of innumerable messages from hordes of contacts you barely know, and quite a few you have heard neither hide nor hair of. That is without including the 32 banks, 27 mutual fund companies, 17 insurance firms and several retail houses and online portals you have purchased items from (Leathercraft Footwear wishes you a happy new year). The messages come in all shapes and sizes, as befits the technical versatility and wizardry characterized by the genius of present-day information technology. Moving images, pulsing hearts, firecrackers and starbursts, family audio-visuals with specially selected songs, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas being a particular favourite. Not to be outdone, many popular Indian film songs of a saccharinely sentimental nature find a natural billet on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If this sounds like a rant, I apologize. It’s not intended to be. I know most of the good wishes are genuinely well-meant, and if the technology is there for our benefit, why not use it? I get that logic. After all, I do it myself all the time. It’s just that when the same message with the same moving image comes from thirty-five different persons, it ceases to be very moving – if you follow my reasoning. Somehow, the ridiculous ease and lack of any real effort or thought involved in receiving and sending messages greatly detracts from the warmth of feeling one seeks to convey. We live in times when stepping out of the comfort zone of hearth and home poses unseen dangers, and we remain collectively blameless for not buying greeting cards, be they Archies, UNICEF, OXFAM or just plain FUNNIES. Affixing stamps and sealing envelopes with a couple of licks, and trotting off to the nearest post office to send them off par avion is a pleasant chore presently denied to us. In the words of a Steely Dan song, ‘Those days are gone forever, over a long time ago.’
Under the circumstances, one must doff one’s hat to those near and dear ones who take great pains to design and make their own greeting cards at home, a labour of love wrought with not a little sweat of the brow. When such cards arrive at your doorstep from a caring aunt or grandmother, with a thoughtfully calligraphed message, you wrap them in cotton wool till the end of days.
That said, one does so miss the avalanche of Season’s Greetings cards that used to arrive and jam our letter boxes, to say nothing of the domestic joys of stringing them up in cheerful festoons across the length and breadth of the rooms in our wee homes. In passing, it occurs to me that we should be ever so grateful that good old JC, Mary’s boy child, was born just a few days prior to our calendar New Year’s Day, viz., January 1. Christmas morphing into new year is a continuous double delight, not to mention the double hangover! Had Christmas Day fallen on, say, May 25th, how tedious everything would have been. No snow, sleigh and reindeer, while Santa Claus would have had to be togged up in a red tee shirt with white trimmings, huffing and puffing his way up and down chimneys in a profusion of sweat and grime. Even the false, flowing white beard would have been out of the question in the middle of summer. His cheery ‘ho, ho, ho’ would have turned to ‘oh, no, no.’ That said, how do the Australians and the New Zealanders manage, the Antipodean countries’ climate being the wrong way round, their summers being our winters and vice-versa?
Meanwhile, we shall all be Facebooking, Tweeting, Instagramming and WhatsApping goodwill messages by ‘selecting all’ in our contact sheet. To a handful we may draft special messages, just to show there’s no ill feeling. Our mobile phones will be pinging all day and all night long, as quite a few of these messages will arrive from different time zones. Pretty much the entire population of the globe will be wishing for 2022 to quickly rid itself of Covid and its mutant siblings, so that we can start visiting shops to buy greeting cards of our choice next year. Come to think of it we are all wishing to administer 2021 a swift kick in its retreating backside. Many wise men and women hold the view that it is all in God’s hands. Tell you what, if God (in whichever avatar) is masterminding all that has been going on in the world this past couple of years, then there is a dire need for the Almighty to recalibrate strategies and tactics pretty swiftly. Right now, God is way behind the eight ball. My own sense is that it is Beelzebub that is holding the upper hand on things and firmly ensconced in the driving seat as we go to press, and God needs to make a final, desperate dash on the straight, Usain Bolt style, if the all-seeing one is to show a clean pair of heels to his dark rival.
Here’s wishing you all a happy, if guarded, new year.