Having spent almost a quarter of a century in the US, I have always been loath to join in the horrid, all-consuming vulgarity that is gifting at Christmas.
Cut-throat capitalism and mindless consumerism are the inertia that leads otherwise sane and mindful people to start living and breathing the madness that is holiday shopping.
So, it seems oddly wonderful to me that this year I find myself thinking of the tradition of Secret Santa, not with my usual disdain, but as a worthwhile indulgence, times two. Worthwhile not only for the act of giving itself, but also for those whose businesses we can support.
We don’t need to go too far beyond our doorsteps to know who needs the good graces of a Secret Santa. Touching each of our lives are women and men who are doing all they can to keep together life as they knew it in March. Many are being torn apart in ways we can never understand, and facing ugly realities that have even uglier repercussions. Joblessness, hunger, homelessness, suicide, depression are rife. These challenging times pose questions with no easy answers.
In these times of uncertainty and endless tragedy, we need Secret Santa. We need to give gifts to others, anonymously, generously, and on an ongoing basis. We need to encourage, surprise and delight each other as often and as much as we are able to.
The pandemic has destroyed livelihoods as well as lives. It has shuttered businesses that were sustaining minds and bodies, giving employment and hope. It has brought stress and uncertainty much closer home than before.
My mentee Vardaan Marwah made peace with the uncertainty of the hospitality industry during the pandemic. Instead of waiting for his old job to come back to him, this New Delhi-born 26-year-old chef resigned from his furloughed job after five months of waiting and started his own bakery from the comfort — and challenge — of his home. Beginning with a handful of items, he now takes on custom orders and larger affairs. His Instagram handle @Glazefactory is very popular with the cognoscenti. This is a small business that ought to be your go-to bakery instead of outfits that are part of larger corporations. Supporting his small establishment brings you bespoke treats and novel discoveries of flavours, textures and tastes.
For my birthday, I cut into Vardaan’s tiramisu cake that was better than any tiramisu I have had anywhere. His chicken quiche, mango cheesecake, chewy chocolate cookies and savoury vegetarian turnovers also give more than just the expected.
Before the pandemic hit, 28-year-old Aamir Rabbani was the main visual artist for one of India’s leading stationers. Whereas Vardaan found his job furloughed, Aamir decided to leave a steady income and familiar work environment to pursue his passions.
Aamir’s work has a refined sensibility that is at once old world and youthful like him. His artistic creations run the gamut from landscapes and still life to paintings of moments that haunt us in the here and now.
India is at that moment in history where a person need not hide their identity if they choose not to. Queer artists face even more adversities in life than their straight counterparts. Aamir’s art shares visually what most of us cannot verbalise out of fear or simply a lack of vocabulary. Through colour, strokes and form, he gives shape to what we all see and feel, what we think and want to say, but are too afraid or just unable to put forth.
Aamir’s website gives a very cursory introduction to his peerless strengths as an artist and to his wide repertoire. True to his artistic persona, selling his work is not his driving force. As a vocational art director, he strives to keep his life afloat, and when this day job ends, he brings the real Aamir alive. For my mother’s birthday, I purchased one of his early watercolors and it will now bring pleasure to her and all who visit her. That purchase will give Aamir the ability to keep creating beauty to inspire us and stay inspired himself.
Vardaan, a culinary artist, and Aamir, a visual artist, are two of several people I have gone to as I seek local businesses to support. I hope you will go to them and also find others that you can encourage in their new ventures during the holiday season.
If each of us can become a Secret Santa and support local artists, home chefs, small restaurants and businesses, we can help keep our neighbourhoods, communities, cities, countries and our world both happier and more civilised, despite the turmoil caused by the coronavirus.
Think, act, influence, give and support locally by inspiring, engaging, giving and connecting globally.