(Note: Isaac Gomes gives a peep into the Kolkata Christmas Festival which is a collaboration between the Government of West Bengal and the Archdiocese of Calcutta. This Festival has been taking place for the last five years and is an exemplary demonstration of friendship and bonhomie, a spirit which Kolkatans (Calcuttans to the international community) are well-known for.
From tomorrow, 16th December, the Christmas Festival at Allen Park on Park Street, puts Kolkata (Calcutta) on the international map of festivity. This becomes possible thanks to the collaboration between the Government of West Bengal and the Archdiocese of Calcutta. For one week, the Star of Bethlehem shines brightly over the specially made Crib at Allen Park. A combination of eye-catching yet soothing effects sets up the ambience – a beautifully lit Park Street and the well-decorated Allen Park which becomes the hub of attraction packed with Christmas Carols, Songs of the Season and music bands, under the overall supervision of Shane Calvert (MLA). Kolkata the City of Joy or Kollolini Kolkata, truly becomes All-inclusive, inviting all to join in the Christmas Bonhomie.
The grapevine news this time is that the organizers have decided to put special emphasis on the palate of the visitors, a large percentage of which comprises tourists from different countries. Even though Park Street abounds in multi-cuisine restaurants and food plazas of national and international repute, the stress of the organizers of the Festival will be on street side eateries by stall owners who represent Christian denominations of Kolkata. There will be an abundant spread of mouth-watering menus to challenge the connoisseurs. A variety of dishes prepared by Christians from various cultural backgrounds will be put on display: Anglo-Indian, Bengali, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Goan, Nepali, North-east, Tamil and Malayalee. Goan Vindaloo; Bengal’s Bhaja Curry, Vindaloo and winder-special country cakes (Pithaas) made out of hand-ground rice powder, gur (jaggery), coconut, milk cream (viz. Paati Shaapta, Pakon Pitha, Bhaapa Pitha; a plethora of Chinese items (Chow mein, fried rice, Paos, variety of meat, fish and vegetable soups). It is going to be an unhindered (Kolkata does not impose any ban on what to eat and what not to eat or drink) feast of beef, pork, chicken, mutton, fish and vegetarian preparations along with sweet dishes (Bengal Pithaas).
Carol groups from various colleges, schools and parishes, the Archdiocesan Choir led by Dilip Rozario and Dilip Majumder, and of course, Usha Uthup the Doyen of Music and upcoming Shayne Harapriet, will churn out stellar performances, during the week-long festival.
The concern that will loom large on this bonhomie, is the repercussion of Demonetisation. In the midst of acute crisis of hard currency, especially small denominations, making payments at the food stalls and return of change, mainly of Rs 2000/- new notes by the stall owners, is going to be impacted. In a surgical strike on 8th November mid-night (nothing to do with Silent Night Holy Night) officially to catch black / fake money holders napping, the Tea-seller Prime Minister has raised more than a storm in a tea cup. He has forced the nation to crash into cashless transactions like Plastic Money (Debit /Credit Cards), E-Wallets (PayPal, SBI Buddy, PayTM), UPI Apps (SBI Pay, ICICI Pocket, Axis Pay), and UPI Wallets (PhonePe, Pockets). Will all the vendors go the Modi way and install Mobile Apps & swiping machines for cashless transactions? Will the Core Committee of the Festive Programme ensure adequate supply of change from banks? Will ATMs be installed exclusively for the merry-makers? How have the vendors booked their stalls – in cash or credit? These are some of the pertinent questions which need to be answered.
Only at the end of the Festival, when the dust would settle on the Gross Value added by the Christmas Festival, one would know how the business was, in spite of the Demonetisation.
Cover: A glittering Park Street, Kolkata during Christmas Festival