When I was a child, the coming of the New Year was not that big of a deal! Television had not yet taken over the world; and the hospitality industry and the card companies still hadn’t made it into a mega marketing event. New Year came and we exchanged polite HNY’s with friends and family, with the ones that cared for it, that is. Yes, it was possible for people to not get caught up in all the hype around the New Year.
I spent most of my childhood and adolescent years in a small town. It was a sleepy little town; there wasn’t much to do on New Year’s Eve. Well, there wasn’t much to do any other day of the year too, but around the New Year, people would complain about the lack of fun activities. Personally, I was too young to try and find “fun-ner” activities – sports, comics, and similar childhood/ teenage activities were fun enough, never mind the time of the year. New Year came in the middle of our winter vacations; and the vacations were really long vacations – almost 5 weeks long, beginning in the second week of December and ending in the 2nd week of January. We were too busy vacationing – playing all kinds of games, reading books, generally tiring ourselves to sleep to bother too much about some silly New Year! And our parents didn’t care either.
However, there were things that marked the change in dates/ year. The first and foremost was the calendar. No, digital calendars were not around; they were probably just a figment of imagination then. I am referring to paper calendars – the ones that you hung on walls and which came with all kinds of pretty pictures. There were also table calendars, but they were meant for office use, for somebody who had a nice big desk to put it on. Calendars were a store’s way of letting you know that you were a valued customer; they were your office’s way of acknowledging your hard work. Calendars used to be in high demand and you felt let down if your regular grocery store didn’t give you one, or your bank did not give you one.
The wall calendars were usually of two types – the ones that had pictures and dates, and the others which had only dates (wall planers). The ones with dates (wall planners) were usually meant for offices, or if used in homes, they were used keep score - like to mark the supply of milk, newspaper and other variable supplies for which you made a one-time monthly payment, and needed to keep track of the irregular supply. Picture calendars usually featured gods and goddesses, although calendars featuring film stars were not uncommon. The gods and goddesses are probably the reason why people did not throw away old calendars despite getting new ones - they could not throw away the presiding deity of their lives! I have to salute the marketing genius of whosoever thought up calendars with religious themes. To this date, my wife doesn’t throw away the calendars from previous years, the only concession she’s willing to make is to peel away the date refills. Our house is a virtual (?) smorgasbord of pictures of Hindu deities and has led me to totally believe in the omnipresence of Bhagwan. Some other calendars had really nice pictures – of snow clad mountains, flaming red forests et al. I remember saving one of two calendars of that kind, though I must have thrown them away later. These days, Mr. Mallya, he of Kingfisher fame, has started his own calendar – the Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar. Needless to say, that calendar is a collector’s item. He makes sure of that; by marking the calendar as an “International award-winning, limited-edition et al.”
The other reminder of the New Year was the annual diary. Diaries came in all sizes – the pocket diary, obviously meant for the shirt pocket and to be used as a ready notebook. These diaries had little except dates, usually three to a page, and an owner’s information page. Then there were the bigger ones, the ones that you could carry only in your briefcase. These diaries usually had more information. There would usually be calendars for three years – the past year, the current year, and the next year. There would be an address/ phone book as well – usually about 10 pages, but the bigger ones could have more. Some of the diaries also had a world time zones page – usually accompanied by times in different cities of the world. These diaries were presumably meant for the business traveler. Then there were the executive diaries. These were much more than diaries. They had multiple features – world time zone pages, address book pages, annual planner, calculator, a notebook, and of course the annual diary. The diary usually had one page for each day. All this was usually contained in a single zipped unit. Needless to add, these executive diaries were not distributed to all and sundry, and were therefore much sought after.
My father was a college professor when I was a child; later on he went on to be the principal of a college he founded. He also used to teach occasionally in the local Management school, and also in the law school. His students came from all walks of life and quite a few of them were working professionals as well. In addition to the grocery store, bank et al, many of his students would get him calendars and diaries. Space to put up the numerous calendars was limited, and my father used to redistribute most of them. The same went for the diaries; my father would keep one or two for himself, and redistribute the rest. I was not old enough to actually use diaries, a diary was just another notebook for me. One of these years, I think I was Eight; my father got his usual quota of annual diaries. There were maybe four or five executive diaries as well. He kept one for himself, and decided to give away the rest. One of my friends/ neighbours had been pestering me, much before the New Year, to give me one diary from among the multiple that my father used to get every New Year. I decided to give him one diary. I opened my father’s cupboard and discovered that there was only one executive diary left. I handed over that diary to my friend.
A couple of days later, my father noticed the missing diary. The needle of suspicion pointed to me. I received my father's summons, it didn’t take even a minute for me to admit/ confess (?) that I had given it to my friend. I was given the embarrassing task of getting it back. My friend had proved to be quick; he had written his name on not just the first page, but on the other pages as well. I returned shamefaced, but my misery was yet to end. Needless to say, I got the thrashing of my life; but what added to my misery was the fact that my father told me that he had meant to give that diary to me!