Growing up in Calcutta (now Kolkata), winter used to be my favorite season. The hot and humid summers that become unbearable at times last for a long time in the city followed by the rains that while being quite welcome also add to the humidity and mood swings of the Calcuttan-s! And so, come November when the mercury dips a point, there is an excitement in the air and everyone looks forward to an inviting winter. Since the temperature does not drop as low as in northern parts of India, winter in Calcutta is truly enjoyable, giving people some respite from the scorching sun and the incessant rains. The glowing winter sun and the chill in the air makes one want to stay for a tad bit longer under the ‘lep’(the traditional Bengali quilt) and sip on copious cups of tea, make plans for picnics and indulge in the quintessential Bangali adda (long chat sessions) for extra long hours with mufflers dutifully wrapped around the heads.
For me, it was about the ‘lep’, about extra cups of steaming tea made with milk and a generous serving of sugar, about the Calcutta Book Fair which occupies a special place in the heart of all Calcuttan-s and is a matter of utmost pride, about all the scrumptious winter food Ma made, about attending family weddings if there happened to be one, about getting into a never ending argument with Ma about wearing a scarf or muffler around the head when going out in the evening that often ended in tears or at times canceling plans as I refused to be seen in public with the embarrassment called muffler! It was also a lot about Christmas and my hidden desire to get presents from Santa (this was of course when I was much younger and ended when I was around 7-8 years old). For the non Christian, Christmas at that time meant having a cake, wishing each other Merry Christmas and for the over enthusiastic bunch, a trip to the zoo or museum or some overly crowded park for the customary picnic. A trip to Park Street, that used to get all glittery and sparkly with light, was also on the list for many.
One year when I was around 5 or 6, I don’t remember correctly, Baba had bought a plastic Santa Claus about 6inches tall with a very pink face. I used to take it out from its hiding every Christmas Eve and put it on the window sill, next to a very shiny and tiny ‘Christmas Tree’ and that was all the Christmas I needed. The almost 40 year old me is finding it difficult to recollect what Christmas that tiny six inch plastic Santa and tree could have brought to the six year old me but I guess that is the joy of innocence. I was happy and content with that. And once the day was over, I would again dutifully keep those two back in some plastic bag, to be taken out the following year. Oh and on Christmas Eve, I had once hung two school socks (one each of different pairs)- one for me and one for my younger brother- hoping Santa would bring us some candies. I guess that had put my parents in a spot since hanging of the socks was a last minute idea, right before going to bed, and I am not sure they were expecting to have candies ready for my very fake stockings! But we did find some ‘5 star’ chocolate bars in each sock and spent Christmas morning as happy as clams. That feeling of happiness has stayed with me till date and when I look back on that day, I long for that rustic joy, for the simplicity that has long gone.
So much has changed…it is a different time. Christmas was a couple of days ago and we took out our smaller (the bigger one had to stay put this year because of lack of space) fake tree and decorated it with trinkets, with our elder one having a ball the whole time. He believes in Santa and kept some Oreo cookies, a glass of milk and a couple of carrots for the tired Man and his reindeer. I kept wrapped up presents under the tree once the little guy went to bed and as I hung proper Christmas stockings, I thought about my white school socks that I had hung outside the ‘moshari’ (mosquito net) many moons ago.
We no longer look forward to winter here in the east coast because of the bitter cold, there is no book fair to go to nor are steaming cups of tea a staple of the household . Instead, we look forward to the first snow of the season and make snow footprints; we take pictures with Santa at the mall and when venturing outdoors we bundle up in as many layers as possible, where the good old muffler is no longer considered an embarrassment.