Sunday, November 18, 2012

WHEN THE TEMPERATURES DROP AND MEMORIES RISE


Remember the Cliff Richards number – “ In the summertime when the weather is fine..” ?  In India, I guess it  should be “ In the wintertime …” !

Yes folks, it is one of the best times of the year. Even hot and sticky Chennai becomes pleasant.  This drop in temperatures can be felt slowly towards the end of September. There is a subtle change – I don’t know if I should call it Autumn because it is so subtle that we can sometimes miss it. Chennai ofcourse has a spell of cyclonic rain during this season but towards the middle of November the skies clear up.

This time of the year always takes me back to my childhood in Calcutta. The Durga Puja in Sept-Oct heralds the change in the season. As a child I could not identify it as a seasonal transition but  used to link it to the festivities.

Winters in India are not  bitter as in temperate climates. We do not have snow in most places but the nip in the air and chill around are most welcome.  It is the season when we  have a profusion of lovely flowers- most of them attract you with their colors and not so much by their smells ( as summer flowers do). I do not see much of these colorful flowers here in the south though I remember them from those days- marigolds, snap dragons, dahlias and others. There is a special beauty that can be seen around- even in urban centers. Among the metros I guess Delhi is at her prettiest best during these months. But Calcutta is not far behind.

Midmornings in winter spent on the lawns of the Victoria memorial having a picnic suddenly come to my mind. The sunlight really soft and pleasant – Gulzar expresses this beautifully in his song “ Dil Dhoonta hai” where he calls it “sardiyon ki   narm dhoop aur aagan mein let kar

Getting ready to school during this time would involve a lot shivering as we quickly rushed out of the bathroom and got into our clothes  and that light blue school cardigan. Those were times when I used to wish that we had trousers as school uniform. Some of us had “half sweaters”  which would be brought out at the start of the season progressing into the “full sweaters”  by December. 

An old building, our school was full of unexpected dark corridors which would make our teeth chatter. There would be a general smell of ponds cold cream around people.  December was also the time for the annual exams ( those days our schools followed the calendar year).  It was the season when we would also be practicing for the Christmas play.  Come 20th of December the school would close for winter vacations.

Winter holidays were great fun as the academic year would have come to an end and there would no nagging from parents to study. These were also the holidays when we stayed home and did not travel down south.  Quilts would be out and afternoons spent lazing around reading books.  Oil massage with mustard oil would precede bath time –sometimes we would use olive oil and feel very exotic.

Winters were the time  for lovely vegetables like cauliflowers, peas, carrots, radishes –unlike the all round stuff that we get these days. Food always tasted better during winter.

There would be trips to New Market especially to the dry fruit section which would be abuzz with shoppers buying dry fruits and cake accessories. One would also get a lot of party hats in anticipation of the impending new year celebrations.

Very few of us actually bought sweaters those days – you see most of them would be hand knitted by our mothers and other benevolent aunties. My mother had this habit of every two years or so unraveling a sweater and re knitting it. She once came up with a brilliant idea to dye the wool a different color. Dyeing technology not being what it is now, I ended up with itchy arms and neck after I got into the once red sweater now dyed navy blue!  Knitting is something that I don’t see anyone do these days.  In fact, I have forgotten those images of balls of wool with needles stuck into them.

My father used to don his evening attire which consisted of an old sweater and a “muffler” tied sardar style around his head with his ears covered. He had also developed an  affection for the famous Bengali “monkey cap” which of course neither me nor my sister favored.  Windows would be shut by  6.00 PM and the mosquito net up by 7.30PM with the smell of “flit” around ( yes there were lots of mosquitoes and we grew up inhaling the pesticide as we slept). Washing hands after dinner would involve a lot of shrieking when the cold water hit our hands. Sometimes we would cheat – not washing them well enough and having to go back to washing them again. Drying our hands quickly we would snuggle into our quilts drifting into blissful sleep.

Waking up in the morning would be the most torturous experience as Appa in sheer exasperation removed the quilt off us forcing us to get out of bed.   

I don’t know what it is that I miss – the winters or the memories. The temperatures in Chennai are cool enough in the mornings these days  to evoke that nostalgia. When I go for my morning walk I see people bundled up in sweaters watching me curiously as I walk about in my T- Shirt and sweat pants. On my way back, I see the children getting ready to go to school . It is then that I realize that they do not have a uniform cardigan here-  not required I guess.

My daughter tells me that she would never like to live anywhere where it is “cold” . I remember  as a teenager being very surprised when some visiting relatives from Chennai borrowed our warm clothes.     “ There is no winter in Chennai. So they do not have any sweaters” explained my mother.  I told her that I don’t think I would like to live where there is no winter.  Ironic…  because I have now lived for nearly eighteen years in a place where winters are almost non existent!

 Life takes you to places where you least expect you would ever be. But memories  remain with us  transporting us in a moment to any  time or place where we want to be!

12 comments:

SG said...

First few lines from Barbra Streisand's song "The Way We Were" comes to my mind:

Memries,
Like the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were.

Cloud Nine said...

Lovely post reminiscing the non existent winters. I too miss my childhood winters. But i had few years of super cool winters in the Gulf, where temperatures dip to ruthless zero degrees in peak winter nights. Room heaters, body lotions, vaseline and tonnes of winter wear including 'monkey caps':P Winter down South is a real pain, especially when you have to do the dishes in the early morning's freezing water:'(

anilkurup said...

"Life takes you to places where you least expect you would ever be." I have not come across a fact that is more true to me now.
The journey down the memory lane was good.
Preference for Season is one's choice, but I wonder if the world would not be insipid without seasons and their changes.

It is said there is beauty even in the desert and the call of seasons may be no different.

A monsoon which only in the subcontinent one can enjoy and chase it.

KParthasarathi said...

Brought back nostalgic memories of Calcutta, the area around Newmarket,Tiger,Light house cinema ,Chowringhee,Dharamtolla where I saw Sholay in a theatre and where I had an antique gramaphone repaired, the maidan and the lakes.
Singara,Jalmudi and chirmur were all 25 paise each with my daughters taking all of them besides the mandatory panipuri.There was another delicacy abhar khabo that they were fond of.It was during winter the Vintage car rally would take place with all of us squatting on the platforms watching the cars pass by.Winter in Calcutta or Chennai was almost similar temperature wise but was fun at the former place.

Rahul Bhatia said...

The changes of weather add charm to the life and especially the winter months :) The nostalgia of hand woven sweaters, eating goundnuts and playing in sunshine always bring back happy memories:)

Jack said...

Meera,

You have once again kindled old memories taking me back by so many years of winters in North. Delhi does get cold but not like those place up north. But it was so enjoyable and such tasty fare for meals.

Take care

anindita said...

Beautifully written Meera...your post so vividly brings out the smal but strong memories.

My memory also always takes me to Ranchi winters and I so much crave for Ma's Tomato Chutney and Pyaj Koli r tarkari...

Life takes us away to different places and diffrenet times but we always carry our sweet memories bundled up with us..

Divya said...

This was like a trip down memory lane...Living in Mumbai, I have hardly experienced 'winters' except for the occasional evening chills on some occasions...Yesterday night it was cool but I love the winters in Kolkata..waking up in the morning, putting on cardigans and going off to school was torture especially because the thought of bathing was scary in the cold!! Delhi winters are awesome but you are right when you say Kolkata isn't far behind - the cold is tolerable which makes it all the more easier to enjoy the weather :) :) I have never been to Chennai in December but the amount of heat that I experienced during summers there, I am sure winter does not visit that city at all!

SuKupedia ™ :) :) said...

I have been born and brought up in Pune so not new to cold & winters...and now that I have lived in Stockholm for about 2 years...Winters surely have a special place for me :) :)

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Anil, the desert is one of the most beautiful places especially when you see it in the light of the setting sun! Gulzar has captured it beautifully in his film " Lekin" t hat is set in Rajasthan. I have always wanted to go there to see it.

@ KP you have really brought out the little nuances of winter life in Calcutta- thanks for that- BTW those theatres no longer exist. Really sad...

@ Cloud Nine - we had winters without the luxury of room heaters ( they were unheard of those days)

Meera Sundararajan said...

At Ani, I am sure Ranchi would have been beautiful too in winter afterall it is almost a hill station

Divya glad to hear that you share my views on Kolkata. YOu are not missing anything in Chennai- we have three types of climes here- hot, hotter and hottest :)

@ Jack I am sure the places you would have been stationed in would have been much colder

@ Rahul, how could I forget the roasted peanuts (moomphali/ chiniyabadam :))

Gayu said...

"Life takes you to places where you least expect you would ever be. But memories remain with us transporting us in a moment to any time or place where we want to be!"
Beautiful lines Meera. You know what the song, even I love the song. Old songs, the Dal lake, Kashmir ki vaadiyan...I love the ways movies used to depict winters.

Winter in Mumbai has just started. In Mumbai, its only in the mornings, maybe till 9am and in the evenings after say 8pm, its cold.
As a child, I always loved rainy season more than winters. I hated wearing sweaters. I still don't wear jackets, or carry shawls. I love to enjoy the chills.

I've never been to North side, and its in my wishlist, especially Ladakh. i wish to enjoy the winter, play in snow...:)
'Yeh hasin vaadiyan, yeh khula aasman'

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