If Winter Comes…...
I can hear the cries of the street vendor as he slowly walks past my home, calling out to sell blanket covers. He comes every year around this time to my locality. It is a sign that winter is just setting in, in my city.
A cool morning breeze blows in through the open window, bringing me to a frame of mind one often experiences at the onset of the last month of the year. It is during this time when you usually sit back and reflect how the year has gone by. The past throngs your mind…. fleeting glimpses - moments of joy and sadness, euphoria and despair - all huddled up in a confused heap. You keep staring at them with mixed feelings and realise that another year will be over before long.
Calcutta never wishes for her winters to end too soon. This is contrary to the sentiments of the poet, (albeit figurative!), possibly setting out a cold and grey English winter, wishing for spring. Every year, she rather wishes that winter stays on with her for a few more days, reveling in the dazzling evening lights of Park Street and in the hearts of the colourful Maidan crowd basking in the soft sun on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The mild and pleasant Calcutta winters are indeed a treat!
It is perhaps the best time of the year if you wish to visit. Though the Pujas in October hold a special appeal – a grand display of artistry, tradition and culture touching our hearts during those days of fervent festivities, it is during winter, when most of our close ones, especially the Diaspora, appropriately choose to make their entry.
The city then oozes with her lazy charm, laying out on a silver platter the flavours of the bygone Colonial era with élan. It is time to deck up – bring out the suits and dresses to party, putting your best foot forward in those forgotten dancing shoes. The heritage clubs of Calcutta, mostly dating back to the days of the Raj, don their best festive look and dish out choicest delicacies, hold musical soirees & concerts and display the most colourful array of seasonal flowers.
It is at this time of the year when outdoors are specially beckoning and not sweated through the day. It is a time when you don’t get drenched by the rains in your best clothes. It is a time when you feel the drudgery, the challenges and toil to be over for this year (at least!), with the heart yearning for a few days of respite out of the mundane and ordinary. It is a time to head out – on holidays outside the city and hear the calling of the mountains and the seas. And, if you chose to stay on, a day of outing, a picnic or a general get-together, feasting with friends and family are definitely in order.
Not much has changed as far as winters are concerned since my time as a boy who grew up here. Every year, my parents used to take me for Christmas shopping to the New Market. This was an annual affair and so, the novelty of it never wore off with the years. There was a galore of sweets in glass jars of different colours, taste and sizes – orange and lemon drops, gooseberries and the famous jojoops or jujubes – (a gummy candy of different colours coated with sugar), which remains my favourite even to this day.
Then there were those freshly baked fruit & plum cakes, chicken patties, chocolate fudge and pastries to try out at Nahoum’s, the iconic bakery which has a history dating back to a hundred years and more. Back then this was a very special affair as we did not have so many franchise chain shops selling cakes and other savouries at almost every street corner.
After buying a few other items typically found in New Market and not anywhere else at that time, like garlic flavoured cheese and oven fresh spiced loaves – to name a few, my father used to steer us to the meat market to buy legs of mutton. This was not the usual goat meat we get at the local butcher but tender lamb brought from our verdant valleys wrapped in silver foil, for the traditional Christmas roast at our place. Lastly, the shopping was topped off with buying flora at the flower range – chrysanthemums – radiant yellow and sparkling white with multi coloured gladiolus – for ma’s large vase on the centre table.
Calcutta has remained shining as ever, glowing under the winter sun and bettering herself in this aspect over the years, delving into her own conventional wonderland. Some critics may turn it down as just a ‘Colonial Hangover’ we cling on to, but these festivities synonymous to the Christmas and New Year has almost become ritualistic to us.
So, not much has changed over the years, as I look back today, lying snug under my duvet on a hazy and hushed December night. The essence of the city lives on – in the flower show at the Horticultural Gardens, in the music conference by the lakes, in the midnight mass at the Cathedral and in the mist creeping in from the river, as an old sun sets down on the last day of the year, on a nippy winter evening.