Winter Solstice

“I heard my mother call out my name, asking me to come out to the balcony as fast as I can. Alarmed, I put down my book and ran out to find myself enveloped in a misty darkness with a burnt smell infused in the air. A heavy fog had materialised all around, so thick that the house on the other side of the street was just barely visible. The street lamp that stands next to my house had become murky and I could see the tendrils of smoke twirling and flowing in the air, the milky light emanating from the lamp exposing their sinister intentions. The entire nightly vista now had an ominous feel to it and was giving an impression that our house was floating alone in the immense, towering darkness. That’s how the winters of the north embraced me after 5 years.”

Before I open my eyes, I can already hear the coarse, rumbling noise of the mixer grinder alive in the kitchen, hinting that my mother has started preparations for lunch. I have come to realise that when you are back home, there is always too much food: a hefty breakfast in the morning followed by even bulkier lunch. By the time lunch has moved past the linings of the stomach, it’s time for evening snacks which are often accompanied by tea and then finally, a yet again heavy supper. Seems like all mothers want to force-feed their grown up man-children.

Still lying under the warm, cozy, gargantuan ‘razai’ — which is now difficult to find in metro cities where it has been replaced by fancier, less effective blankets — I start to search for my mobile phone which often gets lost under the mound of book, pillow and ipad that forms overnight as I fall asleep with these “necessities” lying beside me. After searching lazily for a few seconds, I finally feel the cold glass body of my phone, buried under the ipad. I check the time. It’s 10.28 am, again. Again, because I’ve been waking up consistently around 10.30 am for the past few days and it irritates me, coz I lose the morning sunlight — which I like to bathe in sitting on the artificial grass in my balcony and which feels heavenly in this nippy weather — and lots of catchup time with my parents, and I know that as soon as I freshen up and get ready to start my day, I’ll have to open up my laptop and start my office work.

I let out a groan, less because I still want to sleep but more because I don’t want to abandon the warm comfort of the fabric-y cave that my razai has become. Winters in north India are the best times to enjoy if you are a late sleeper and want to have a lazy day. Almost for my entire childhood, I have hated going to school mostly because it required me to wake up early, and it became especially torturous in winters when I was supposed to wake up at 5 am and take a bath and get ready for school by 6 am. I had always marvelled and felt a sense of reverence for my parents who woke up before me to set everything up for school and then even accompanied me to the school shuttle pick-up point. As a child, I had a bad habit of succumbing to my sleep and going back to my slumber even after my mother woke me up, so my mother used to come 2–3 times to check if I had indeed gotten up, and if I hadn’t, she would shout again, the pitch of her voice rising every time. There was a certain tone, a certain level of shrillness of her voice which I came to recognise as the limit after which I understood that she’s gonna lose it and I would get a good scolding. So, even in my half sleep, if my subconscious mind interpreted that the voice is about to reach the limit, I would be jolted up and even before she entered my room, I would be out of bed, trying to find my slippers.

Ten years later, I still feel myself losing the war against my sleep, but this time I have all the freedom to nap as long as I want, my mother only coming in to inform me how late it was and to remind me that I’ll get late for my work. With drowsy eyes and a somewhat hateful sentiment for my work, I get out of my bed to freshen up. I can hear the old bollywood songs playing on ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Caravan’, a device which, I suppose, was designed solely for our parent’s generation, and holds a collection of 5000 songs. It was a gift from my brother to my parents, and I have never seen any other gift from us being used as much as this music-spouting device is.

The smell of my mother’s cooking hangs heavy in the air and it instantly reminds me of childhood delicacies and I could feel myself salivating. While I brush my teeth, I see my father carrying his gardening tools and tablet and going up to the terrace. Home gardening is one of the favorite pastimes for my father, he prunes and fertilizes and waters the mini terrace garden that he has setup. Even during the day, I see him watching youtube videos explaining different fertilizing techniques and DIY remedies for pests. I walk up to the balcony where I too had planted a LOT of stuff in a small metallic pot, and can now see new buds and leaves shooting out of the soil. I don’t even remember now what all I had planted, but my original intention was to plant coriander, so that we could get fresh coriander leaves for seasoning, and lettuce. Lettuce was a weird choice, and I was skeptical if it will get planted at all, but I had recently ordered it for making burgers at home — which I ultimately failed to make as I didn’t get time from work and by the time I realised that I was supposed to make them, the bread buns had long past crossed their expiry dates and the lettuce had turned yellowish black — and thought how great it would be if I can grow it at home! I now realise that it’s not that easy to plant any plant. So, the lettuce bud that I planted has already become a part of the soil, but I can see coriander and tomato plants germinating and small buds peeking out the soil, ready to take in the world. I have no clue how tomato seeds got into the pot.

I feel a shiver run through my body, it’s freezing outside even though I am wearing a sweater and standing in the sunshine. I have missed the winters of the north, though I’ve always had a kind of allergy to extreme weather here, and I don’t remember even a single winter where I didn’t fall sick. I am sometimes astonished that I survived 2 winters in Roorkee during my college days, once when I was participating in a mandatory NCC winter camp and another where I was coordinating the college placements. Winters in roorkee were grey, hazy, and just outright extreme. I was always donning at least 3 extra layers of woollen clothing, and I used to joke that I grow ‘round and bulky’ in winters, it was a joke because I had always had an extremely thin body structure. In Roorkee, temperature would often drop to zero and there used to be an ominous fog that descended over the dingy town in December and dissolved only in January when sunlight started to break through. However, the aura within the campus wasn’t itself ominous, it was kind of serene, drawing out your inner peace as life came to a standstill. In one of such placid winters, when I was coordinating the placements, me and my fellow coordinators decided to make an escape from our duties and we left for Haridwar at 5 in the morning. It was a split-second decision and we just gathered everyone who agreed to the trip and took the UK transport bus, without caring about the cold, without taking any spare clothing, and just left in whatever skimpy garments we had on. We didn’t realise our mistake until we reached Haridwar and decided to go to the Ganga ghat, where sinners from all over the world come to wash away their sins and purify their souls. One of us proposed the crazy idea of taking a dip into the ice-cold water, while I was struggling to stand barefoot on the freezing marble stairs. Ultimately, we decided to just wash our hands and feet in the holy river, and I had never summoned so much will-power to dip an already frozen foot into even colder water. Those were the times when life was simpler.

It’s the 21st of December today, the day of winter solstice or the “midwinter”. It’s the day with the longest night in the year in the northern hemisphere. It is said that winter starts to weaken after this day as days begin to lengthen and nights start to shorten, letting in more sunlight and warming up the earth. It is also regarded as the symbolic rebirth of the Sun. Interestingly, it also happens to be the day of my birth. Even though I know that I had nothing to do with my birthday, I like to feel special to have been born on this day. I think we all have this innate desire to feel special, to be different from the general crowd and this is one of the ways, my personal way, of feeling special. “Born on the day with the longest night”, it has a nice ring to it. However, it also marks the end of the past year and the beginning of a new one with new opportunities and new potential. My age has progressed another year, the past year passing by as a blur. Really, I can’t remember much for the most part of the year besides staying inside, feeling depressed and working my ass off. 2020 was a weird year, and it taught us valuable lessons in perseverance, loss, family, health and self-control. For the world, the new year starts in another 10 days, an event to shed off the pessimism and the despair of the past year.

I think I should go back inside, and check what’s for lunch today. I can already hear the sizzle of food getting fried, the flavour of homely spices saturating the air; knowing my mother, I know it must be something special.

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Pranay Kumar Chaudhary

Pranay Kumar Chaudhary

A complex guy. Emotionally optimistic and a social introvert with a taste for computer engineering.