I first read about Halloween in a story-book I got for my fourteenth birthday. It piqued my interest – you know, all those goodies and chocolates people have ready for you, the fun costumes you get to dress up in, and the glowing jack-o’-lantern at your doorstep. I especially loved the lantern because it gleamed so. (Erm, actually, it was the best possible use I could think for a vegetable I detest.)
Eventually, Mom and I decided to make an art project out of it and we have celebrated Halloween ever since. We make ourselves a lantern and light it when it gets dark, much to the amusement of the household cats and the neighbours. We also put up a trick-or-treat goodies bag and collect chocolates from the family. The year before last, we even made a paper cut-out of a human skeleton – complete with limbs and bones. Now, why I am talking about all this is some of the harsh and, in my opinion, uncalled for, social sentiment I have come across about “Indians celebrating Halloween”. Apparently, celebrating Halloween in India makes you a bad Indian because we have “enough horrors” already.
First things first, I don’t like it when people miss out on qualifiers – “everyone” as opposed to “some”, for instance. All pigs are unclean? No, one of my friends has a pet pig and she’s super clean. Along the same lines, if “some” people have ugly Halloween bashes and create a ruckus, don’t assume “all” Indians do so. And hey, which festival in India is completely peaceful and devoutly observed? I see enough drunk people on Diwali, lecherous folk during Navratri, and plenty of questionable parties happening during Christmas.
There are open letters doing the rounds on the Internet that rubbish the idea of importing a new festival to India, especially one where people dress up in fancy costumes and put on face paint. Well, while I am not particularly fond of some of the more newfangled celebrations in India, I don’t see what’s wrong with face paint. Pray, aren’t there plenty of enthusiastic moms always willing to take on Fancy Dress competitions by storm?
I agree with one popular argument – how asking your kids to trick-or-treat with strangers can be dangerous. Yes, it can be. But there are workarounds! You could get your kids to keep to your residential society or even your household. Daddy and Mummy’s gifts are exciting enough! And while the crime rate in India is the subject of critical media attention, parents elsewhere are also worried about their kids’ safety when dealing with strangers. This may well be a creative way to teach them more about it.
My biggest concern with the Halloween backlash is the patronizing tone about celebrating a “festival of horror” in a country that already has too much of it. What is with this ugly viewpoint on India, all the time? Should we perhaps ban all horror cinema from playing in Indian multiplexes, or get tarot card readers to shut up about the dark future, or get children to stop reading Goosebumps? If you’re afraid celebrating Halloween will lead to third-grade Bollywood movies, horrible music videos and irritating social media trends, breathe easy. Why? Well, all of that needs no causal agent. We have become brilliant with producing jarring music and inferior films. Blaming Halloween for the mediocrity is stretching it too far.
Why do I make such a big deal about Halloween? For Harry Potter and the delicious spread in the Great Hall. For my beautiful story-book. For the one time in the year when I can get R to eat some pumpkin. So, when night-time arrives on Oct 31, I am going to have my jack-o’-lantern ready and dig into Halloween-special food. I may even watch a horror film and stay up for the rest of the night. And no, I won’t be adding to the “horror” so prevalent in our country. I will simply be doing what makes Mom and me happy.
To those of you celebrating tomorrow – Happy Halloween!