by Jon Dorschner
Raju Dayal was not an important man. In fact he was at the bottom of the office totem pole. He worked in a huge government office in New Delhi, India as a chaprassi. A chaprassi is an office messenger. Raju was not even a clerk. He did not even have his own desk. Unlike his superiors in the office, he sat at a small table in the hallway and had no time to drink tea and read the newspaper. Instead, he endlessly ran between desks delivering large stacks of files.
Despite his low position, Raju had to don office dress every day. This included a starched white shirt, black trousers, and a suit coat. What Raju hated most about his office dress were the black shoes. Like many Indians, Raju preferred to wear rubber sandals that fit between his toes and flapped when he walked. In India, these shoes are called “hawai chappals” (air sandals). When Raju was not working he always wore hawai chappals. He found the stiff black leather shoes and the black nylon socks he wore to the office to be extremely uncomfortable.
One day Raju was in a hurry to get to work. He had lingered too long over his breakfast and was running late. His wife waited at the door with his lunch as he headed out. Just as he was about to cross the threshold, his wife pointed to Raju’s feet. He had forgotten to put on his black leather shoes. He was wearing the starched white shirt, the black trousers, and the suit coat, but was still wearing his chappals. He looked quite odd. His wife burst out laughing and he had to run to the bedroom and change his shoes.
All day long Raju kept thinking about this incident. He had felt so comfortable wearing his chappals, but the blue chappals with their white soles looked funny with his office dress. He wished there was some way he could make them match so he could wear chappals to the office every day. Then the idea came to him. “What if I buy some spray paint and paint the chappals black all over,” he thought. “Maybe no one would notice that I was wearing chappals.”
On his way home from work Raju stopped at a shop and bought a can of black spray paint. When he got home, he took his chappals and some newspaper out to the balcony. He laid the newspaper down; put the chappals on the paper and spray painted them. He made sure the shoes were completely black. He painted everything, including the bottoms of the soles. Then he left the chappals out on the balcony to dry.
The next morning he put on his office dress as usual, but did not don his black leather shoes and the black nylon socks. Instead, he wore the jet black chappals and headed off to work. As he grabbed his lunch from his wife, she did not say anything. She did not notice that Raju was wearing chappals instead of shoes.
The same thing happened when Raju got to the office. Raju had worked in the same office at the same job for 20 years. He was a quiet man who had never attracted much attention from anyone. He simply did his job and caused no problems. As he walked briskly from desk to desk delivering the files, no one noticed he was wearing chappals.
Raju felt liberated. From that day forward he wore only the jet black chappals to the office. He started applying black shoe polish to his chappals from time to time and polishing them to a bright shine, just like he had done with his black leather shoes.
After some time Raju began to think that this was a really great idea. He decided he would market his chappals. “This will allow my wife and me to have a little extra spending money.”
Raju went to the shoe bazaar where there were long lines of stalls selling shoes. Raju had absentmindedly gone to the bazaar in the middle of the afternoon after lunch. All the shopkeepers were asleep on the floor of their shops and would not wake up for several hours.
The only open shop belonged to Arjun Verma. He was getting ready for his nap, but had not yet stretched out on the floor to go to sleep.
Arjun’s shop, like all the others in the chappal bazaar, was narrow and closet sized. Along one wall were boxes of chappals stacked all the way to the ceiling. Arjun sat behind a battered wooden counter with the stacked up boxes behind him. There was a low counter and a small bench for customers to sit on and try on different chappals.
Arjun was bored. Business was not good. All the shops sold the exact same products and competition was stiff. Arjun had long thought that he needed something special to give him an advantage over the other shop owners.
Arjun was sitting behind his counter getting ready for his nap when Raju came in holding his jet black chappals. Since Arjun was bored and had nothing to do, he wanted some amusement. He ordered tea and Raju explained his concept. The shopkeeper blew on his tea to cool it down, ate a biscuit, and gave the idea some thought. He turned to Raju and said,
“You idea is fine, but it does not go far enough. You are selling shoes for people who work in offices. These spend lots of money on their office clothes. Why would they want to wear shoes that cost only 200 rupees ($3.50)? No, this will not do. You have to make the shoes more expensive and make this deal worth our while. We should charge 300 rupees ($5).”
“I have a friend who can manufacture these shoes for you,” said Arjun. “The important thing is not the quality of the shoe. We will buy ordinary chappals that are not too good and not too bad, and my friend will spray-paint them at his factory and give them a good coat of black shoe polish and buff them up so that they really shine.”
“The important thing is the marketing,” said the shopkeeper. “We have to make sure the shoes have a snappy name. We will put them in a fancy box with lots of colors and English slogans on it. Each customer will believe he is getting something special.”
Raju was a simple man and did not have much of a head for business. He would rely on the shopkeeper. He did not really know what “marketing” was. He agreed to the proposal. He then set his mind to thinking about the name for the shoes. The two men sat drinking their tea and eating biscuits.
“The shoe should be named after me,” thought Raju. My name is Raju Dayal. How can I make my name into the name of a chappal? He thought and thought, “Chappal and Dayal.” After some time he stood up and said, “We will call the shoe the Dayappal, and since it is named after me, we must have a big golden D put on the strap.”
Arjun thought this was a great idea, “but,” he said, “The D cannot be made out of gold or even real metal. It must be made of plastic. The chappals will cost us 200 rupees, and the spray paint 5 rupees, and the golden plastic D will not cost us more than one rupee. The shoe will be worth only 206 rupees, but we will sell it for 300 rupees.”
Raju, the shopkeeper and his factory owner friend (who was actually his brother in law Sonu) pooled their money and bought 2,000 pairs of chappals, painted them black, and covered them with black shoe polish. They designed a fancy gold (plastic) D with lots of curlicues to go onto the strap of each Dayappal. They convinced some chappal shops to stock their product. But there were no sales. No one was interested in the Dayappal.
One day a male fashion model named Benny needed a pair of chappals and came into Arjun’s shop. He sat on the bench and began to try on various kinds. He noticed a pair of Dayappals perched on a shoebox behind Arjun’s head.
“What is that” Aslam asked?
“This is a new variety of chappal,” said Arjun hopefully. “It is called the Dayappal. It is to wear to the office.”
Aslam could not imagine how anyone could ever wear the Dayappal to the office. He thought they were the weirdest shoes he had ever seen. Then he remembered he was going to be in an upcoming fashion shoe to premier the latest line of men’s business suits. These events are quite boring. “Maybe it would be fun and a good joke to wear these weird shoes,” thought Aslam.
On a whim, he bought the Dayappals for 300 rupees and took them home.
On the day of the show, Aslam laughed to himself and wondered whether anyone would appreciate his joke. “Probably no one will get it,” he thought.
He put on the suit and the Dayappals and walked onto the runway. Soon fashionistas in the audience began to point at him and his Dayappals. Then fashion photographers began to shoot pictures and the audience erupted into a sea of flashes.
“Oh oh” thought Benny. “I am in real trouble now. It looks like no one got the joke and I will lose my job.” He waited in trepidation backstage, but his boss from the modeling agency was ecstatic. “That was quite a coup you pulled off,” he said. “Where did you find the crazy shoes?” Aslam was dumfounded and did not know how to reply.
The next day, fashion editors from the fashion pages of India’s leading newspapers and India’s leading fashion magazines descended on Benny to interview him about his fashion breakthrough. They all wanted to know where Aslam had found the Dayappals. Aslam told them about Arjun’s little shop. After their features appeared, the Dayappal became a leading topic of discussion on India’s leading television channels. The fashion elite sitting on the discussion panels heaped praises on the Dayappal.
The leading fashion houses of India sent their representatives to Arjun’s shop. Arjun told them all about Raju Dayal and his idea and it did not take long for lawyers to mount the stairs to Raju’s flat with contracts in hand. After a protracted bidding war, Raju, Arjun, and Sonu agreed to a marketing agreement with India’s premier fashion house. They refused to sign the contract, however, unless the company agreed to make no changes whatsoever to the Dayappal.
Before long, the Dayappal was featured in the most expensive shoe stores in India, except it no longer cost 300 rupees. Although it was exactly the same shoe that had graced Arjun’s shop unsold, the new price was 3,000 rupees. They sold as fast as they could be produced. Now, however, the Dayappal was too expensive for mere chapprasis, it was the shoe of choice of India’s elite, who wore them to the office every day. Soon, Dayappals were deemed too fashionable for mere office wear and were seen at India’s most chic and fashionable social gatherings. Soon no wealthy man in India would be caught dead without his Dayappals with the bright golden (plastic) D.
Raju became a very wealthy man. He quit his job at the office and retired. He and his wife moved into an expensive new flat, and Raju never wore anything but ordinary 200 rupee chappals every day.
Raju Dayal and Santa
Raju was on a roll. His Dayuppals were selling like hotcakes. The money was rolling in. He was lionized all over India ever since he invented Dayuppals. These are black spray-painted plastic flip-flops for Indian formal occasions. They were going for high prices at shopping malls all over the country. Since they were nothing but ordinary flip-flops (called chappals), covered with spray paint the profit margin was incredible.
Raju had quit his previous job. He was now CEO of the Dayuppal Corporation. The job was only titular in any case, since he had a professional Managing Director that actually took care of business. This meant that Raju now had a lot more time on his hands to do things that he had always wanted to do.
One of the things that Raju had always enjoyed was Christmas. When he worked, he was always busy and had limited leave over the holidays. He had always wanted to celebrate Christmas in a big way. Raju’s family is Christian. They belong to Saint Boniface Church, a musty old building built by the British in 1914, when India was still part of the British Empire. It had not been maintained since the British left. Luckily, it was built of stone blocks and solid mortar and easily withstood the lack of maintenance. Of course the same was not true of the interior furnishings. They were all made of wood. It had been teak hauled from Burma and stained a very dark brown. That was the fashion in 1914. The church was illuminated with tube lights and had ceiling fans on long poles that came down from the ceiling. The fans were covered with dust and spider webs.
Raju had been an active member of Saint Boniface’s Church all of his life. Every Sunday, his family got up, drank some tea and ate some jam and toast and hurriedly dressed for church. It took them a long time to put on their Sunday best and pile into the car and get to the service. They were usually late.
After Church, Raju and his family stood on the front lawn of the Church and socialized with all the members. They were in their element. It was grand and glorious and the high point of the week. Raju and his family knew everyone in the congregation intimately. Almost everyone had been going to Saint Boniface’s for as long as anyone could remember.
Now that Raju was a wealthy man of leisure, he was determined to celebrate Christmas properly. This meant that he would not just hurriedly participate in the annual Christmas pageant at the Church and attend the Christmas dinner and the Christmas day service, (with still more food afterwards).
From now on, Raju was determined that his family was going to celebrate in style. He went to the bazaar and bought lots of colored foil and paper and hundreds of blinking lights. He bought lots of Christmas tree ornaments. He took everything home and was ready to start celebrating in earnest on the first of December.
His wife and daughter and mother baked lots of Christmas cake and cookies and donuts. He planned to have plenty on hand so that anyone who walked in the door would be given a little treat in honor of the Christmas celebration.
His family gathered in the living room and got out the big bags of decorations. He had purchased, at great expense, an artificial tree, so that this year, they would have a Christmas tree that actually resembled an evergreen. In the past, they had procured a native tropical tree with big leaves. They had spruced this up with a small strand of blinking colored lights and a few homemade decorations.
This year was different. Raju’s artificial Christmas tree (imported from abroad) was covered in colored blinking lights in every shade of the rainbow. This year, there were colored glass balls on the tree (also imported from abroad), and beautiful little figurines of Santa, and angels, and snowmen.
The family had a wonderful day. They ate lots of cookies and cake and drank lots of tea, and decorated the entire house. They listened to cassette tapes of their favorite Christmas carols all day long. They covered every square inch of the house with brightly colored foil. They strung lines of crepe paper across all the rooms, and hung thousands of strands of aluminum tinsel (imported from abroad).
Raju also bought himself a Santa costume at the bazaar. It had a bright red conical cap with artificial fur trim around the bottom and a little fluffy ball at the top. It had a big red coat and pants made of cotton felt, with a broad black plastic belt. There were cuffs of artificial white fur around the sleeves and pant legs. The costume came with a big white beard and a pair of plastic glasses.
Raju had always wanted to play Santa in proper fashion. In previous years the Dayals had not been unable to afford the entire Santa costume, but his year was different. Raju’s relatives were coming from all over India for Christmas and bringing all their little children. This was the youngest generation of Dayals. Raju looked forward to giving them a Christmas that they would never forget.
This was before the government intervened.
In the previous elections the voters across the country had rejected the ruling Congress Party. They had switched their votes to the HNP (the Hindu Nationalist Party), and its charismatic standard bearer Hardev Gujarati. The HNP had promised to bring economic prosperity to India overnight and Hardev was a hard man to resist.
Few understood what the election would bring to India. Almost overnight, the HNP started enacting a dramatic Hindus first agenda. All those who were not Hindus began to feel the pinch. The Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, were deemed by the HNP to enjoy quasi-Hindu status. The HNP did not consider them a serious threat. The HNP ideologues determined that since Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, were offshoots of Hinduism, their adherents would be welcomed back into the fold. The three religions would be quietly converted into Hindu sects.
The HNP reserved its real ire for religions that had been imported into India from abroad. HNP adherents were particularly suspicious of Parsis, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. That was because these religions were not offshoots of Hinduism and could not be quickly “reintegrated” into the Hindu fold. The Hard Corps of the HNP viewed adherents of these religions to be a fifth column supported by outside elements and foreign money and bent on the destruction of Hindu civilization.
Now it was difficult for anyone to get overly excited about the Jews and Parsis. They were small communities in a country with 1.3 billion inhabitants. Despite their “foreign ness,” they were so tiny and inconsequential that they rarely made it to anyone’s radar screen. The Christians and the Muslims were another story.
They were representatives of world religions with billions of adherents. There were powerful countries in the world in which the majority of people were Muslim and Christian. Muslim and Christian armies had conquered India, and ruled the country for centuries. The HNP ideology called for these minorities to renounce their “foreign ties” and acknowledge the inherent superiority of “Hindu culture,” or to leave the country and seek citizenship elsewhere.
In the view of many HNP members Christians were Indians who slavishly imitated White Europeans and all wanted to renounce India and move to England, Canada, Australia, or the USA. Likewise, in their view, Muslims were Indians who wanted to be Arabs and not Indians. They felt that all Muslims should simply pack up and move to Pakistan or the Middle East.
To the HNP, one of the most loathsome symbols of Christian subversion was Santa. The party moved quickly to rid India of Santa. It used its parliamentary majority to make Santa illegal. It imposed a 10,000-rupee fine on anyone who dressed like Santa, or put up pictures of Santa, or put Christmas ornaments of Santa on their Christmas tree. The HNP said that such a foreign personality had no place in India.
Many within the HNP were worried about Christmas. Many non-Christians had begun to be caught up in the Christmas spirit. They were beginning to enjoy Christmas decorations and Christmas music and Christmas food. Businessmen also liked the fact that it provided another festival they could use to jack-up sales. Indian shopping malls and bazaars were increasingly decorated for the season. The HNP was determined to nip this trend in the bud.
When Raju heard about this, he was at first very disappointed. Christians all over the country were taking down their Santa decorations and hiding away their Santa costumes. It seemed all Raju’s efforts would come to naught and his plan to celebrate the best Christmas ever would never happen.
But then he started ruminating about this decision. He thought back to Mahatma Gandhi and how Bapu had resisted British colonialism. Raju was a huge admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, his father and grandfather had been big supporters of the Indian Freedom Movement. They had marched in support of Indian independence and were proud of their Indian identity. That is why no one in the Dayal family had ever adopted English names, like so many other Indian Christians, but had always given their children Indian names.
Raju began to ask himself what Bapu would have done in the face of this edict from the HNP. It came to him. Mahatma Gandhi would have begun a campaign of civil disobedience. He would have “courted arrest” and called on the population to resist. Raju decided that he would not meekly cower but would stick to his plans. He would continue to embrace Santa in a big way, no matter what the consequences.
His wife was very scared. Many neighbors were HNP cadres. They reported directly to the HNP leadership. It would not take long for them to turn Raju in. She did not want to see her husband in jail. She urged him to quietly desist, but Raja was adamant.
Christmas Eve came. Raja’s house filled with relatives. Twenty children from different branches of the Dayal family were scampering all over the apartment. Excitement was at fever pitch. The children were looking forward to seeing Santa, who would bring them their Christmas presents. The adults were filled with dread.
Raja quietly left the room. He snuck into his bedroom and locked the door. He got the Santa costume out of its box and began to dress. There had been no indication from the neighbors of any impending trouble and he hoped that maybe his infraction would pass without notice. He dressed as Santa and went out into the living room.
The children crowded around him eagerly and began to ask him questions. “How did you arrive Santa?”
“I came in my sleigh with eight reindeer,” said Raju.
“Where did you come from?”
“I was just in Moscow, where I gave out presents to all the good little Russian boys and girls.”
No sooner than Raju had completed his last sentence, than he heard a knock on the door. “Open up,” said a loud voice, “this is the police. We have received news that there is a Santa in here.”
Raju knew that his moment had come.
“Open the door,” he told the family. The door swung open and a squad of policemen entered. They put handcuffs on Raju, still dressed as Santa, and led him from the room. The children were crestfallen. They could not comprehend why the police would want to arrest Santa.
Raju was prepared for this moment. He was now more determined than ever to emulate Mahatma Gandhi and launch his own civil disobedience.
Someone had called the media. They were waiting outside as the police led Raju away. There were cameramen from several television stations, who filmed Raju being led away in handcuffs and wearing his bright red Santa suit.
The police took Raju to the police station and booked him for the crime of playing Santa. He was then taken before a magistrate, who declared him guilty. The magistrate told Raju that all he had to do was pay the 10,000-rupee fine and leave his Santa suit with the authorities so it could be destroyed and he could go right back to his family.
Raju screwed up all of his courage and refused to pay the fine. “I have no choice then,” said the magistrate, “but to sentence you to jail. You will be remanded to police custody for 60 days. Raju quivered. He was very scared, but remained determined not to back down. He was still wearing his Santa suit when he arrived at the jail. He was surprised, however, when jubilant crowds of prisoners greeted him. They had seen the footage of his arrest on television and welcomed him as a hero.
It turned out that in the entire country, Raju was the only person who had defied the new law and had insisted on playing Santa. The media loved the story. It was featured on all of the television news channels. All of the talking heads on television began to discuss Raju and his situation and to debate the role of Santa in India. There were panels consisting of HNP representatives and Santa proponents. The HNP representatives denounced Santa as a foreign subversive. The proponents argued that the HNP should lighten up and chill out and let Indians have some fun. As is usually the case on these programs, they quickly devolved into shouting matches.
Truth be told, Santa had never really been controversial in India before the election of the HNP. Indians love holidays and Christmas was no exception. Indians of all communities looked at Santa as a figure of fun. Children of all communities were delighted to see Santa. They were all saddened to see the footage on TV of Santa under arrest and being led away in handcuffs. Outside of the hard corps of the HNP, few Indians associated Santa with the Christian religion or Western culture.
It did not take long for outrage to mount. A few social activists decided to start their own campaign of civil disobedience. They called for massive disregard of the anti-Santa law. They called for millions of Santas to begin parading around India and courting arrest.
The first Indians to take up the cause were highly educated liberals in big cities. They were used to living in a cosmopolitan secular environment and found the HNP ideology to be ludicrous. For them, the banning of Santa was the last straw. Some of them went to the bazaar and bought all the red cloth they could find. Their tailors stitched Santa suits for them, and they began to wear them on the major streets of big cities.
The HNP government was determined to quash the Santa campaign. They sent special anti-Santa squads into the streets to arrest offenders. However, it turned out that many of the Santas they arrested were from some of India’s best families. They included attorneys, college professors, businessmen, engineers, doctors, and even a few police officers and military men. As television coverage increased and became a round the clock phenomenon, the Santa cause was picked up by the common man.
Working class Indians from all walks of life began to hold “Santa parties” in villages and slums, and parks all over the country. They made their own Santa costumes and gathered in public places to dance and sing and have fun while dressed as Santa. The police took tens of thousands of Santas into custody. They filled the jails with red-suited jolly fat men. Undeterred they continued the “Santa parties” inside the jails while in custody, and the inmates joined in. The police could not keep up. As soon as they quashed one procession of red suited Santas, another would be launched in another location.
There was a wave of revulsion across the country against the HNP government. Hardev Gujarati was rapidly losing his appeal and was becoming known as the man who tried to ban Santa. In order to save his public image, he ordered Raju’s release.
When Raju stepped from the jail, thousands of red-suited Santas were waiting for him. They took him up and carried him on their shoulders back to his family.
The HNP was defeated in the next election and a new government came to power with a secular agenda. It appeared that the HNP had worn out its welcome. The new government quickly repealed the anti-Santa legislation.
The next year Raju and his family celebrated Christmas in style again, except this time there were no disturbances.
Instead, well wishers from all across the country came to Raju’s house. “Merry Christmas,” they said, and handed Raju specially made Christmas cards that featured big pictures of Santa.
American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.
A native of Tucson, Arizona, Jon P. Dorschner earned a PhD. in South Asian studies from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches South Asian Studies and International Relations at his alma mater, and publishes articles and books on South Asian subjects. From 1983 until 2011, he was a career Foreign Service Officer. A Political Officer, Dr. Dorschner’s career specialties were internal politics and political/military affairs. He served in Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, the United States Military Academy at West Point and Washington. From 2003-2007 he headed the Internal Politics Unit at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. In 2007-2008 Dr. Dorschner completed a one-year assignment on an Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Tallil, Iraq. From 2009-2011 he served as an Economic Officer, in Berlin, Germany.