“Ho Ho Ho! You’ve been a bad boy, then, haven’t you?’’ boomed Santa, dusting the soot from the white fur trim of his red suite as he wriggled out of the chimney hearth. “What, no gas fireplace, burning fossils instead? You have a death wish to end God’s good earth sooner than planned by warming [...]


Santa sounds jingle bell alarm on Christmas eve


“Ho Ho Ho! You’ve been a bad boy, then, haven’t you?’’ boomed Santa, dusting the soot from the white fur trim of his red suite as he wriggled out of the chimney hearth. “What, no gas fireplace, burning fossils instead? You have a death wish to end God’s good earth sooner than planned by warming up the planet even more, have you?”

An adaptation of a cartoon by Daryl Cagle

“Heaven no,” I replied sheepishly, “But since we have a fuel shortage, we have been forced to use firewood instead. Luckily, we have it in plenty since we have cut our trees and cleared our rain forests.  Waste not want not. Forewarned is fore armed. The wood came in handy, especially now that we have to use firewood to cook our food, too, since the gas cylinders started exploding at a rate.”

“Why, is there a shortage of fire crackers as well this Christmas,” Santa asked whimsically as he plunged into the sofa and stretched his legs, “or is this the new way of human culling? Now how about that nice cuppa of Ceylon tea, you serve each year?”

Having anticipated his habitual arrival each Christmas eve, I had already put the kettle on the makeshift fire stove, and I quickly returned with the brewed tea to find God’s courier catching forty winks on the job, his red and white fur line night cap drawn over his eyes to shield it from the faint light that gleamed from the kerosene lamp.

Poor soul, I mused, riding all the way on a sleigh from the land of the midnight sun with only a red nosed deer at the end of his reins to bring Christmas cheer to people’s homes. At least he keeps his promise, I thought, even if he has to go to extraordinary lengths, through hail and sleet, through fog and snow to keep his word.

My polite cough to indicate my return from the kitchen startled him out of his catnap. “Oh dear, you gave me a fright,” he said, “I thought the Heavens had boomed in warning at my transgression. Now let’s have that lovely cuppa that always cheer.”

I handed him the cup and hastened to add another log of felled tree to the dying fire when I heard a gasp behind me. I turned to find Santa had nearly jumped out from his padded chair and was staring into the cup.

‘What’s this?’ he splattered out, drops of rejected tea drooling onto his snow white beard, ‘some cheap tea dust from some eastern slope? What’s this ridiculous concoction trying to pass off as Ceylon tea you have served me? Is this some sick joke?”

Deeply embarrassed by his reaction, what else could I do but offer my sincerest apologies for serving such a shabby specimen of a world renowned brand. “My deepest apologies,” I mumbled, “This is, indeed, Ceylon tea, but, alas, the refined flavour is lacking this season.”

I dreaded to think whether the Iranian’s reaction would be same as Santa’s after they’ve had first sip of this season’s Ceylon tea and make them call off the barter deal, now in the pipe line, to send our tea free for the next 4 years to settle the outstanding debt of 250 million dollars. Or no further oil on credit.

‘And why is that?’ he bellowed, ‘what the devil has happened to your tea?

I had no option but to tell him God’s truth. ‘Well this year we went green overnight,’ I tried to explain the debacle as best I could. “As a result we did not get the chemical fertiliser. Not even the promised organic kind. Hence, the quality suffered, as the experts had predicted.”

“The Heavens will weep at this infernal folly,” he said, sitting there, looking so glum and so bewildered at my answer, that I realised I had to elaborate further on our man-made fiasco. I went on to give him the lowdown, explaining how we had ordered organic fertiliser at the eleventh hour but how, when the cargo arrived at port, it was found to be contaminated with Erwinia, leaving us no option but to reject it.

“At least you would have got damages for the contaminated cargo, punitive damages, I guess, for the loss suffered, I dare say,” he said, stretching out a yawn.

“Not on your nelly, they didn’t,” I exclaimed, “Instead we have agreed to pay them 7 million dollars as peace offerings to appease the Dragons for daring to brand even their waste as inferior.”

“You what!’’ his eyes boggled. “That takes the Christmas cake. You must make those responsible pay out of their own pocket for their own folly.”

“Ah, but no one around here takes the responsibility for anything.”

“That maybe the case here. But Heaven’s eye is omniscient and knows who shot the arrow, where it fell and the harm it did.  Every cardinal sin is recorded and they will get their just desserts down there,” he said pointing his thumb at the floor.

“Yes, sure, that’s what the cardinal says too, but that’s of scarce comfort to us,” I replied, taking the cup of undrunk tea from him and placing it on the small low table nearby, carefully pushing aside the hard bound copy of the SLPP manifesto, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’. ‘Not that there is any queue formed, but can a minister’s resignation alone atone for the awesome loss the nation has suffered due to gross error of judgement?”

“Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, my dear chap,” he said with a devilish smirk gleaming through his fog of a beard, “after all, you all fell for those vistas of castles in the air, didn’t you? That was the original sin and you all have to pay for it, that’s the inexorable law of cause and effect at work, no getting away from that, I’m afraid?”

“Father, forgive us, for we did not understand,” I said aware of my own guilt for the part I had played which had resulted in my own suffering and that of the nation’s.  We had drunk deep from the intoxicating chalice and now nothing but the waters of the Pierian Spring could cleanse us of the mark of Cain on our brow and heal the horrors of the aftermath that mar our lives. Still, with trembling hope springing within, I dared to ask: “When can we expect the coming of a Messiah to redeem us of our moral error and set things aright?”

“It’s only when it’s darkest, one sees the star of hope. It will appear when the time is most opportune, when the people are mature and ready and wise enough to receive the message and fathom its import, “ he replied. “But be wary of countless ‘imposter ‘stars that still brightly shine in the firmament for their light emanates from stars dead eons ago.”

Suddenly Santa stirred from his ruminations. In the low flickering kerosene flame, his eyes wandered hither and tither. “I wonder where I left my bag. Must rush now, it’s getting late.”

I saw it lying on the floor and I hastened to pick it up and hand it over when I noticed Santa’s sack weighed lighter than usual. “Am I the last on the list?” I asked assuming he had distributed his gifts and only mine remained to be given.

“Oh no, you’re one of the first on the list,” he replied. “I’ve many more homes to visit before I sleep. Why do you ask? “

“I felt the sack seemed lighter than on your previous visits.”

Santa gave me a look of indescribable despair and, keeping his sack of Christmas goodies aside, leaned further back in his chair. ’It’s the new norm. Stoicism. It’s rough up there, too, you know,” he shrugged.

Rough? Up in Heaven? This was certainly news to me. “I am sorry but I never thought that Heaven had its up and downs too. On the contrary, I thought that everything was pretty hunky dory up there with God running a tight ship and ‘in the excess of joy, sole reigning, holding the blessed tyranny of Heaven?”

“Aye, that’s what they all think, even that chap who was blind enough to make the fallen arch angel the hero in his epic on the loss of Eden. The trouble is with the second tier, with those cherubs responsible for its day to day management. Before the former archangel Lucifer was thrown out he had conspired with his sidekick, Beelzebub, and exiled several of them down under to Hades on trumped up charges of alleged transgressions. Now they are all back, acquitted and discharged with honour, resurrected to their former glory. But if old habits die hard on earth, they thrive eternal in Heaven. Now they play the lyres flat and the chorus of angels sings out of tune. They will be the ruin of Heaven.”

“But doesn’t God oversee their responsibilities and note their failures with his divine omniscience,” I dared to interrupt his flow, “and with his omnipotence get it fixed?”

“God does not need to justify his ways to man,” Santa snapped back, his face suddenly gone red. “He has enough on his hands without having to mind the store as well. God works in mysterious ways and inscrutable are the ways of His Providence. How unsearchable His judgments and His paths beyond tracing out! You’ll be surprised at the amount of invocations, from your country alone, he has to give ear to each day: prayers for fertiliser, prayers for milk powder, prayers for medicines, prayers to prevent gas cylinder explosions. And now from the upper echelons, shrieking with increased intensity, prayers for dollars, prayers for lifelines from Heaven!”

Santa paused for breath as he pursued his monologue on the infinite depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God and, now with these incessant prayers for dollars, dollars, dollars from high quarters adding to the daily litany of woes from the masses, His limitless patience.

I squirmed with guilt when I saw Santa taking a quick gulp from his hipflask but before I could repeat my apologies for the insipid tea, he brushed my attempts aside and carried on, with new gusto

“To sort these hiccups in the second tier, we outsourced and found an ex cherub who had fallen out with the former Archangel Lucifer and sent down under to do time in Hades.  He was reputed to have an extraordinary mental ingenuity, possessed of a brain seven times greater than that of Einstein’s, a wisdom that surpasseth all understanding. We brought him up here to work his miracles in heaven and he soon had the cherubic lyrists harping and the angelic chorus crooning over his wondrous genius but, alas, thereafter, they did naught but gaze and, as they gazed, ‘the more the wonder grew, that one small head could carry all he knew.”

“So did his miracles work to banish Heaven’s hiccups?” I ventured to ask, curious to know the result.”

“My dear chap,” Santa’s voice sounded stern. “The Church of St. Peter was not built in a day. That’s the beauty with miracles. They take time. And the longer they take the more enduring the result. That is no reflection on the miracle maker. He has been sent back to Hades for a quick refresher course and, no doubt, he will return with a new bag of tricks under his belt. In fact, it was he who suggested to send you lot a dollar printing machine through me for Christmas to stop, once and for all, their nagging prayers for dollars. But it was overruled. “

“Pity,” I remarked. “That would have been our saving grace.”

“Sorry, but that was out of the question,” Santa replied gravely. “While it’s certainly true that God helps those who help themselves, He doesn’t help those to help themselves to the national kitty.’’

Santa let out a long sigh and arose from his chair. “I must be off. Told you of the goings on up there just to console you that you are not alone, that even Heaven has its hitches. Ah, one more thing before I forget.”

He bent and dipped his hand to his gift sack. This was the moment I’ve been waiting for. I had written to him late summer, asking him for the latest best smartphone, hoping for the new Tesla, if out by winter.

“This time, out of stoicism, we decided to give not what the people most want,” Santa said as he turned around to face me, “but what they most need.  Milk powder for the baby, carrots for the wife and an ink pen for you that will explode if you write beyond your tether as you battle windmills.”

My heart sank. I looked down crestfallen. Gone was my dream of a Tesla, smartphone or even the i12 flaunted by the superrich.

“Come, come,” he said, perceiving my distraught countenance. “All is not lost. Here’s something to cheer you. At the rate things are tumbling, something that may make you a rupee millionaire in the hard year ahead. Cash it when the time’s most adverse.” He pressed a single crisp dollar note into my hand.

Then, after another “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas” and wave of hand, he was gone.

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