My father worked in the railway, the then Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIP), and at the railway institute they used to have an Xmas party for the members' children. Members bought the presents for their children then gave them to the club to be distributed at the party. There would be an Xmas tree, large one as far as I can remember, illuminated, and the gifts would be spread around it, gaily packed, each with the name of the child for whom it was destined.
There was, of course, a Santa Claus, and different members of the club would take turns to play the role. The only condition being that they had to be rather large and with a good ho-ho-ho. My father suited the bill, so the first Santa Claus I saw was my father.
His identity was naturally kept a secret from me, as from the other children. He was dressed in the regulation red tunic with white cotton wool for beard and whiskers. However, underneath the robe I spotted the bottom of his trousers and his shoes. To the other children this may not have meant much, but being his son I knew they were his. I did not believe in Santa Claus even before this discovery, but after this my disbelief was confirmed.
I did not reveal my discovery, partly because I did not want to spoil the fun of the other children, and partly out of respect for my father. In fact, this is the first time I am revealing it. My father's dead, so it does not matter, and the children present on that occasion must be all grown up and elderly and aware that Santa Claus is only an Akbarally salesman dressed up for the occasion.
The upper echelons of the railways were then staffed by the English. Probably that was one reason why the trains ran so efficiently in those days, but that is another matter. They were known as Saabs, and, in fact, the powerhouse superintendent, where my father worked, was known as barra saab. There was a Mr. Turner and a Mr. Ham and a Mr. Lucas and a Mr. Buick, but the last-mentioned was an Anglo Indian, he did not count. Their large presence, I would say, was responsible for the Xmas celebrations.
Their children would be studying in England, but they would come down for the Xmas holidays. And I would be one of the children who, on Xmas mornings, carried gifts to their homes. A rather chamcha thing to do, I now realise, but it was different then.
Independence saw the Indianisation of the railways. All the Turners and Hams went home, putting their dogs to sleep before leaving. Since they could not take the dogs home because of the strict quarantine rules and because they could not leave them with Indian families who may not know how to treat dogs.
I remember the new officers who came in or were promoted, post Independence. There was a Mr. Sitaraman, a Mr. Govindan, a Mr. Naidu.