Sunshine during the day, oranges in the afternoon and a cosy fireplace in the evenings. That is how I have always known winters to be. That is how we spend winters in Assam. That is how I wish my winters to be each year.
I grew up in the educational town of Assam, Jorhat (in upper Assam). As young children, the annual book fair every winter was an exciting event for us. But Ma used to get us mostly Assamese story books as she wanted us to have a good grasp over our mother tongue and not forgo it. Fortunately, her father, Koka, would take us to the book fair too and get us any book we wanted, which were mostly English story books. During our school winter vacations, we used to eat our breakfast sitting the winter sun on bamboo weaved stools in the backyard. And then it would be time to read our new books sitting in the sun, dragging the stool to wherever the sun smiled.
When new year was around the corner, the woven mat would be spread on the front lawn. Art paper, pencils, eraser, colours and other stationery would be brought out. It was time to make new year greeting cards. As the day progressed, and the trees cast changing shadows, the mat would be dragged and re-positioned.
Post lunch, the front lawns were shadowed and sun would shine on the front porch steps and veranda instead. We would sit there with oranges and the board of chinese checkers. Blankets, quilts and pillows were put out in the sun from time to time, and nothing can be more cosier than sitting on them! The sun was followed all day long.
In the late afternoon, dry firewood was accumulated near the fireplace, in preparation of cosy evenings ahead. Come evening, the fire would be lit up. Each time when hands would turn cold after using the cold water, they would be warmed up in the fire. Potatoes would be put inside embers to roast for snacking. Neighbours would visit each other, sit around the fire and chat the evenings away. Hot beverages and fried fritters would be passed around. On cold winter days, when heavy fog or rain hid the sun, fireplaces would be lit up in the mornings itself.
On the new year’s eve and the community dinner during Maghor Bihu (the harvest festival of Assam during mid-January), people would sit around a huge bonfire since evening, taking meals right there and chat late into the night, until the last of firewood was used up.
2019 December, Delhi was said to be at the coldest since the year 1901. I have been a resident of Delhi since seven years now. The only open space in our flat on the first floor is the small balcony, the only space where sunlight falls. But taller buildings have been built opposite to ours and sunshine is almost gone. And no open space to lit a fire too. So the only solace we can find now is in the room heater. Sacrifice of natural light and sunshine is the cost you pay for living in a concrete jungle, at least by the regular working class like us.
While growing up, I had never imagined that basic things like sunshine, clean air, greenery, music of rainfall and open space will actually become a luxury someday. I had always taken them for granted. I think most of us had. And here we are, all grown up and doing good by societal standards, yet hungry for the simple pleasures of being alive.