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Santa Claus at work in West Bengal

By Marcus Dam

KOLKATA, DEC. 24. A red bag slung over his shoulders, Santa Claus has been moving through the streets of the hill towns of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, as well as Siliguri, West Bengal's gateway to the Himalayas. Braving the evening chill, he has been delivering cakes or chocolates at scores of addresses. This is part of the ``festival mail promotion'' scheme organised by the Department of Posts in North Bengal.

The first deliveries by select postmen dressed as Santa started on Wednesday. An average of 100 such deliveries — through Speed Post service — is being made each day. These will continue till New Year. The supplies were expected to peak on Christmas day and New Year's Eve, the Post Master-General (PMG), North Bengal and Sikkim, John Samuel, told The Hindu from Kalimpong today.

The festival mail programme was initiated in Darjeeling two years ago. Later it was extended to the other two towns to meet demand. ``Last Christmas-eve saw Santa doing the rounds in Darjeeling till 3 a.m, knocking at homes to hand over cakes and chocolates, orders for which had been placed at the local post office,'' the PMG said. Santa knocked on the doors of nearly 500 homes in Darjeeling and Kalilmpong during Christmas last year. The number is more this time, with the inclusion of Siliguri. The authorities are planning to extend the service to other parts of the region next year.

Two post men each from post offices in Darjeeling and Kalimpong and one from Siliguri were selected ``from a large group of enthusiastic volunteers.'' Local schools provided the costume. The cakes and chocolates are from confectioners who have tied up with the Department. Santa starts his rounds in these towns normally in the evening, in keeping with the the folklore surrounding him. Each delivery costs, apart from the price of the cake or chocolate, a Speed Post fee of Rs. 50. Bulk supplies are headed for the local Missionaries of Charity unit and homes for the elderly.

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