Thursday, October 14, 2004

Winter Air

Winter has climbed over the clouds and appeared - plonk - in the middle of Bombay. Sudden, unheralded and completely unexpected.

I should have noticed this a few days ago, when I didn't have to throw the sheets off me in a rage in the heat-sweltering dawn, but I didn't. Because in Bombay, there are no signs, really. No sunlight changing to the glow of sunshine, no yellow-ness of late afternoon warmth against walls and streets. No gradual shift, complete with falling leaves, the air growing thicker and thicker, as though it's concealing a secret until, one day, just as you feel you can't endure it any longer, it bursts open with dew and earthworm mounds on the school field and an explosion of white-and-orange shiuli flowers on the hard winter ground.

No, no signs at all. No brooding sense in the pit of my stomach, that something's-going-to-happen-I-don't-know-what-but-I'm-excited feeling. Suddenly, at dawn yesterday, it became too cold to sleep with the fan on. Get up, fan off, loo, drink water, look at time (5:00 a.m.), stagger back to bed, check alarm (set for 5:30) and switch it off, get under covers, snuggle up to A, drift back to sleep.

6:30 a.m. Daylight. Awaken slowly, dozily, rub eyes, squint, notice that the light is different, the air is different. There's a nip - Bombay's poor-cousin version of a nip, but a nip none-the-less - in the air. Outlines seem more distinct, as though the cold air has crystallised the edges of things, exploded vague stories and myths, made things cleaner, clearer. Stretch lazily, lie back in bed, staring through the window at the sky (white winter sky, gleaming). At the trees outside, ringing to the chuck-chuck-chirrik sounds of birds rushing about, busy with humming processions of insects (with "Bugs At Work" signs) drilling flowers and draining honey. At the leaves, a dew-washed fresh green, shining in the crisp new air.

Morning coffee (I'm not supposed to have it, but what the heck, some days are just ear-marked for a good steaming mug of caffeine), standing at the window sipping, looking at green-leaf-sunshine, I get goosebumps from the crisp air and the sense of potential about the day. There's something about winter that just gets me. It gets under my skin, whirls things around a bit, makes me giggle.

Long years ago, winter holidays, Ma and I (in one of her best "holiday projects" ever) would go walkabout in Calcutta. Math-and-coffee-mornings (Hall and Knight, Hall and Stevens), sandwich-and-oranges lunch, and then off to explore the city. Winter afternoon in a boat on the river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Cousins and aunts, oranges and chocolate, I-saw-a-Dolphin triggering rival "so-did-I"s, lulled by the blip-blip of the oar and our mothers' laughter. By bus to Nimtola Ghat, the Circular Rail to Princep Ghat, and back walking, after coffee and chicken pakoras in the Garden Cafe by the river. A morning at the zoo, an expedition with my cousin M, armed with flask and water and sandwiches, and peanuts for the elephants (Roshanara and something-something - can't believe I've forgotten the name - call my cousin in a frenzy to check if she remembers), an afternoon at all our shrines, gaping at the otter, gazing wistfully at the bears ("But why can't we keep one?") before finally taking the long way home, dusk and sunset, and gentle fog settling and back home, exhilarated, to coffee and hot baths and one more adventure under our belts.

Winter mornings at home are still magical. Ma and Baba sitting outside, under the beach-umbrella we bought years ago, that is defying all known laws of the universe by still remaining in one piece. Coffee, newspapers, The Telegraph quick crossword (by arrangement with The Guardian), neighbours and friends dropping by for coffee and staying for esoteric discussions -quantum mechanics and road trips, my dogs, resplendent - and preening somewhat - in their winter coats, running amok - chasing mice and birds and each other with equal enthusiasm before flopping down hufffffff, nose-under-chair - cocking their ears at morning activity - chirrik chirrik birds, pen scratching over paper, the car being washed, and someone collecting the masses of shiuli scattered on the ground, to heap onto a black stone plate, to place on a white marble table.

Coffee under my belt, the morning beckons. Gym, provisions-shopping, and the beach - across the street - in winter, with stony sea and white heads of foam. Coffee plans with P. Crisp air creeping through my windows, filling my soul. Sunshine on green leaves and long dangling stalks of wispy, cotton-y flowers, and Simon and Garfunkel singing I Am a Rock in the background. I clean my fans, dust the ceiling clean of cobwebs and settle into the beanbag with more coffee, as A sleeps on. Still looking out the window while the sunshine dapples the room. Bombay winters may not be a patch on Calcutta ones, but what the heck, I'll take these too.


vijaydinanathchauhan said...

you know what... last evening i was having a similar discussion with a friend. and the point was that bombay is not the place to enjoy the seasons and the associated climatic jhing jhangs. even after staying for more than a year in bombay, i struggle to find a single instance similar to i-had-a-cup-of-coffee-sitting-in-the-winter-sunshine. the weather changes as fast as the trains move and 1.5 crore people are just moving, oblivious of the marvels of nature. but i guess they chose it. anyways good post - once again.

Rohan said...

Golly Ms.Sen, do you write well or what! Make most of feel like "pretenders"!

Was'nt the place by the river, "Scoop"? Earlier called "Gaylord"? Yes, in case you have was called GAYLORD! Imagine that...a nice little hangout, by Pricep Ghat...called that.

The zoo was a favourite hangout too, by age four...I knew the way to all the different animals cages. It was a navigational success story rivalled only by Vasco Da Gama's discovery of India's west coast. The Reptile enclosure used to scare the shit out of me, but that was one demon I did manage to kill by my sixth birthday. Had felt like Rocky Balboa!

Yeah S&G too, Scarbourough Fair...playing on the record player on Sunday Mornings. And me staring at the large LP cover, trying to figure out which one was Simon and which one Garfunkel. Sorely missed a helpful little indicator arrow.

Later when I finally discovered which was which, Maa also informed me that they S&G have broken up, and dont make music together anymore. The LP cover, had looked rather sad then...I did'nt know what word I was looking for to describe what I felt. That was because it was'nt until class nine, that I was intoduced to GNR. And subsequently discovered that the word I had been looking for on that Sunday Morning was "Estranged".

so long.. and thanks for All the fish! said...

frogs, ur blog inspires a reply! needless to say very well written - i felt like snuggling up to an endlessly empty morning with all that u described and more. however, while i dont want to discredit other winters, the problem is not bombay. the fault my friend lies not in the city but in ourselves. and in the lifestyles we CHOOSE to lead, racing around from morning to night, HOLED up in the AC confines of the office with zero natural light & air. WHERE are we going to be able to discern the subtle changes in the weather, in the skies, in the birds and trees.where, leading the lives we do, are we ever going to appreciate shiuli flowers or the changing light. We only realise winter's here (and yet another season sets in)when it all but hits us in the face. Is our life an epistle, not an ode, to the way it used to be?