It's the turn of the first decade of the twenty first century, and my first white Christmas. I write this as I look out at the vista from my attic window - rows of vineyards and fields lined with pine trees covered with the first coat of snow. Quilted fur jackets are the flavor of the season in Europe this year, its business as usual for hardy, octogenarian Swiss, who go about their routine dog walks and runs with a nonchalance that belies the chill that bites into the corners of my ears and the tip of my nose every time I contemplate stepping out.
I shake my head in disbelief and return to my daily breakfast of choco amaranth breakfast cereal and the news - the internet is in a tizzy - the Swiss voted yesterday to ban the construction of minarets, the fallout is all over the papers today. The right wingers, the left wingers, the centrists, the locals, the foreigners and the plain haters - everyone seems to have an opinion on the issue - this is the first time I've seen this part of the world get this worked up about anything.
Tap, tap, tap - I look up to see a large ladder leaning up against the side of the wall enclosing the garden belonging to Mr Muller, my cantankerous neighbor. As his gardener nailed in hooks at the front for a glittering Christmas star, some of lines I just read run through my head - " Switzerland belongs to the Swiss..", " Muslims must understand they live in a country with a Christian heritage."
The sun breaks out of the cloud cover, releasing a dazzling brilliance of colors, there is still some green on the ground to break the harsh brown on the leafless trees and the piercing blue of the sky. A breeze blows, it offers up a puff of sweet air, a mix of grass and sun and sky, it takes my hand and tugs me to another place - the exciting, glamorous metropolis of Dubai. An icon of the Middle East. A cosmopolitan oasis in the Islamic world. I stumble through narrow back alleys of Dubai's old quarter. We just moved into our new home there, and as Hindu rituals (and more importantly, Indian mothers) dictate, we had to get it blessed at the temple. The temple is located on the first floor of a ramshackle building in a seedy part of the city. We squirm our way in and out of this apology of a building, just glad we made it before the entire structure collapsed on us. Another set of media voices echoes through my head " Dubai is a Muslim country, other religions must recognize this and live accordingly..."
The breeze tugs at me yet again and takes me back. To the distant past. Back to India. Back to school. It's the week before winter break, we are putting up our annual day stage show. I can still feel the excitement as we carefully decorate the Christmas tree in the middle of the school courtyard. I giggle with my best friend as we cut classes to practice the songs we will sing for the Diwali dance. Sister Melanie makes me practice my soprano for the Christmas choir, I then run to my Indian classical music teacher for the Diwali musical.
I can still feel the laughter bubble inside me, the eager curiosity and wonderment, the enthusiastic acceptance of every new cultural impulse thrown at me. It never occurred to me to question why I was singing Christmas carols. I took for granted the biryani I ate at my best friend's house for Eid. Just as she came with her parents to my home with sweets every Diwali.
The breeze has died down now. The clouds have gathered again, the air is now heavy. I feel bereft, angry. I am being asked to accept this new world, one in which faith is a label that divides us, culture is a blunt instrument of intimidation and every argument is made from a place of glib self righteousness.
It's a bleak winter, one that seems far removed from everything that used to be good and innocent. A vapid white Christmas that brings with it only the growing certainty that we are hurtling towards ignorance and self destruction, one tweet at a time.