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The Sleepover. A short story that had a BIG impact on me. On all involved.

In the middle of play and cacophony, dodging her friends who never seemed to leave her, Pari came running to me, while I was on scooter back from the local market, to tell me, “But, mamma, I wanted to be alone on Christmas Eve. Santa is going to be in our home and I needed some alone, quiet time to feel the night, read my letter again and add if something comes up to me last moment.”

The reason for those whispers in my ears was a sleep-over being decided by her friends at our place that night. On Christmas Eve. These girls – Pari, her neighbourhood friends, and Pari’s cousin sister, Sarah, (it was to be her first sleepover ever!) had been planning and yearning for this overnight get-together for weeks now, and each time one reason or another sprang up not making it possible.

It’s interesting that the sleep-over finally made its way on Christmas Eve.

To give you some context, these girls have been Pari’s close friends for more than an year now. They live in the same complex as we do, but their destinies have not been quite same. They are kids of couple of caretaker families that live in the same complex who take care of the villas their owners own, while the landlords (I don’t quite like that word!) live in places like Mumbai and Delhi.

So, they’ve all been waiting for so long, they didn’t have the patience any more. Who decided and when, I’m not sure, and neither is Pari, but it was decided that the sleepover can’t wait any longer. It has to be done on 24th. Pari seemed happy about it, but later on, as evening set in, she started feeling anxious.

I could totally understand where that anxiety came from. The arrival of Santa has always meant like a divine, other-worldly, magical, almost sombre affair for her. Each year I’ve seen how she cherishes and meditates on every moment leading upto Santa’s arrival – surges of excitement as well as nervousness coursing through her blood and veins.

While the days and weeks preceding Christmas have always been a time of much euphoria, art making, letter writing (to Santa) in our family, for Pari, its as much a time for many a conversations that happen around questions she has wanted to ask Santa in those long long letters that she writes to Him.

Conversations, reflections, sitting in silence – she and I together – are a part and parcel of these times. Each letter she has written every year has run into pages – in double digits mostly. And, the ones she receives from Santa himself are no less. They’ve had this letter exchange going since she was five or so. She’s laughed and cried in those letters, shared the deepest secrets, asked for advice, made terrible confessions. Santa has been her close friend, mentor, confidant, admirer. He’s the guy she’ll listen to. The only person she listens to without a protest!

And, now here it was – Christmas Eve was almost there. And, the sleep-over too. She and I, and then her friends and I talked about it to see if they can do the sleepover a day later. The girls were not the least bit pleased about this idea. However, they left Pari alone to take a call. I left too. And, she came up to us and said, “Okay, I’m okay with it. But, promise me you girls, you won’t make much noise, scream like you’re doing now. We want to keep the environment calm and pleasant for Santa’s arrival.” They all agreed in unison making some gesture conveying they’ll stick to the promise.

We all quickly discussed, what they might want to bring along to the sleep-over. I told them we have enough mattresses. But they wanted to get their own pillows and blankets.

Within the next 30 minutes they were in our home. Not only with their pillows, blankets and night clothes, but also the letters they’d written (for Santa) and the cards they’d made. Ah…and also a little something that He’ll snack on when he arrives late into the night, exhausted and perhaps hungry. Pari had told them to do something like this. As a kind gesture towards Santa, to appreciate his kind effort.

She’d also convinced them to write letters to him. A fews days before the Eve, they all wrote together in our house. Some wrote, others drew and painted. And, in that noisy, festive environment, Pari sat in a corner and wrote her 16-pages letter. All the time also assisting her friends to articulate and reconstruct what they wanted to convey, or helped them with spellings. When they would go overboard with design and colours, she insisted, “don’t bother so much about decorating, just write what you want to tell Santa”.

Some of them were cynical. “Pari there’s no Santa. It’s only our Mamma, Papa who keep those gifts under the Christmas tree.” “I don’t believe in Santa because my Mamma told me so.”

And, I could see Pari feeling frustrated and helpless over such comments. There was also a sense of fear in her, I sensed. Every year, she encounters such matter-of-factly, worldly, rational views. At the same time, every year, she herself observes a loophole or two in a family or other trying to ‘stage’ a Santa arrival. Her trust in Santa, in magic trembles a little, feels a little jolt in such moments. But she perseveres. She manages to not let the reasonings of the world around her shake her trust beyond that. She doesn’t want to. If anything, it only becomes more firm, more reassuring.

Firmer it sure has become, and stands steadfast. This year, even more so. And, some of her trust has rubbed off onto her friends too. At the sleep-over, they all set up a table for Santa – laying down their handwritten letters with a name tag above it. The food was duly arranged. One of the girls, Suhani, asked, “Pari, is Santa Vegan too, will he eat my milk-based pudding. Pari said with pride in her voice, “Ofcourse he will. He doesn’t discriminate when it’s offered with love.”

They kept fussing over that table in the living room, making sure everything was in order, nothing would go unnoticed by Santa. Once content, they ran up to their room, switched off all lights except the Christmas twinkle lights, and sat there playing Uno, munching on banana chips and other snacks. Avie and I stood there gushing over them. What fun they were having and how they all bonded. Finally, it was almost 12 AM when I told them to consider sleeping or Santa would get late.

I went to sleep around 3 AM. Santa hadn’t arrived by then. The air was thick and cold, and the night darker than dark. But, the forest in our backyard wasn’t as silent as it generally is. The night-time creatures seemed livelier than usual. Was this a sign?

At 6 in the morning, the girls all stormed into our room and Pari announced with frantic gestures, “Mamma, Santa came, Santa came. He’s given me the longest letter ever. He’s got gifts for everybody. Even for Payal. (Payal was the girl who’d written a letter but hadn’t come for the sleep-over).

I came downstairs to witness a beautiful commotion of colours and happy noises! There were knick knacks packed in neon coloured papers. Each girl’s name splashed in Santa’s sweet and funny handwriting.

Their snacks had been tasted, their letters had been read. The most cynical one seemed to have found her answer about Santa, I think. Or not…. Who knows what was going on in her head. I saw her watching Pari’s and mine tete-a-tete closely.

But, Pari (aged 12) had found HER answer. In the letter Santa wrote back to her he’d replied to that all-important question she’d been agonizing on. Santa’s reply itself was more a reflection – long and hard, I think. And, she brooded over his answer reading it slow, going over it a couple of times.

The question she’d asked Santa with a certain heart-ache, verging on doubt over ‘His intentions’, was this: “Santa, some of my poor friends do believe in you like I do. Then why don’t you give them gifts too?”

Just then, Payal, the girl who’d left a letter for Santa but couldn’t come for the sleepover enters the living room. And, all the other girls usher her in with a chorus of joy, “Payal, look, look, Santa left a gift for you too!” Payal opens her big neon-orange parcel with an equally shiny smile and bright eyes. (She lives outside our complex and comes mostly when her mother comes to clean and mop a few houses inside the complex).

Those eyes drinking in the stuff of dreams that only children know.

Sufiana, who had made a house with a slide for Santa, was a tad upset that Santa didn’t take it along. But, she saw her letter wide open and was certain he’d read it.

Sleepovers, ah….

They do leave a lasting impact. No wonder some equate sleepovers with a rite of passage.

And, a Christmas Eve sleepover even more so. No?


What’s YOUR vivid sleepover memory? Come, share your story!


Now, would you like to look at the pictures of this story? Here you go!

Letters and drawings in progress. Innocent hearts seeking deep…

Love is their only language. And, trust….

A house for Santa. With a slide!

The epic letter!
Ran into 16 pages.

Bits and pieces kept on adding till the last moment. Afterall, Santa comes only once a year, and there’s so much in her heart…

What’s a friend is she doesn’t help in writing the love letter to Santa?!

” My father, mother, don’t believe in you.”

It’s okay, she has her own belief now.

And, when the table was set up for Santa, it was a show in its own right!

Move over, Martha Stewart, here come the kids with their heart and soul pouring into this mid-night dinner table for Santa!


The starry night!

And that’s Pari’s room. She keeps it decked up all the time, with artwork, twinkle lights, hanging things from the ceiling.

Receiving their gifts all wonder-struck!

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