One of the best poems about Christmas that I’ve read is T. S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi. My short story, The First Christmas, was largely inspired by this poem.
“The world went on with its usual activities of finding food, conquering lands, vanquishing other people, mating and reproducing, killing and plundering, building and destroying.” The narrator of the story, one of the three magi, says that. Caspar, the narrator, was on a quest because he could find no meaning in a life that revolved around eating, conquering, mating, and so on.
“If human life is the progress from being a bold, free and above all creative child to cowardice, dependence and creativity that ends in procreation in a span of about 60 or 70 years and then succumbing to death as a child in the garb of an old creature, then, my beloved, I have nothing to be proud of being born a man.” Thus says the narrator of a Malayalam novel (Manushyanu Oru Amukham - A Preface to Man) which I read soon after coming to Kerala having bid goodbye to Delhi’s gods, godmen and their women.
|Christmas celebration at Sawan Public School [RIP], Delhi in 2010|
Christmas marks the birth of a child who went on to make an immense mark in history. He divided the entire history into two, in fact: Before him and After him – BC and AD, which the world has now secularised into BCE and CE. Whether Jesus himself made the historical mark or the religion created in his name did the job is a different question.
Two millennia after that first Christmas, it would not be futile to raise the question whether the birth and the subsequent death (martyrdom?) of that Messiah made the world any better a place. The religion founded in his name turned out to be one of the most brutal ones with all the holy wars, inquisitions, and other such barbarities it inflicted upon mankind for a very long period in the short human civilisation. [Today another religion has taken over those same jobs in a proportionately more malevolent manner.]
At the end of my story, The First Christmas, Caspar and his two companions are left with a longing for another special star because the visions of crosses and pain evoked by the infant at Bethlehem fail to satisfy the seekers. They want, in other words, a life without the crosses and pain. At the very least, they would want a Messiah who would not escape life by dying on the cross but would show people how to endure the crosses of their day-to-day life.
The cross eventually became an object of veneration. It became a means for imposing agonies upon people and also for justifying the impositions. Life is a pain, endure it – that’s the message, in short.
Is that what Jesus really wanted to teach? No, I’m not going to answer the question. Rather, I have no answers. It is because I have no answers that I prefer to write stories rather than essays.
The First Christmas and 32 other stories of mine are now available in book form HERE.
Read Amit Agarwal’s review of the book HERE.
Sreesha Divakaran’s review: HERE