Calcutta becomes the most charming during winter. My husband had said this, years back when we lived in the city of joy. I was well aware of the season change post November in Calcutta, when there is usually a pleasant nip in the air. The weather becomes colder in the second half of December and January is usually the coldest month for the residents. February is again a month of respite before the summer onslaught begins from mid March and continues in the months to come.
I too like the others used to be relieved to bid adieu to the sweaty days of summer but had never ever given a thought as to how fascinating a season Calcutta winter was. I used to walk the streets in New Market in fancy pullovers, watch sunset at Ganga ghat while sipping tea in hardened mud cups, wrapped in a Kashmiri shawl, ride on horse carts wearing smart jackets at Maidan during those winter months without ever thanking the pleasantness around me. Perhaps I had taken for granted what I had. Probably I had taken for granted Calcutta.
Today when I am far away from the city, my husband’s words ring true all over again. Calcutta indeed becomes a goddess in winter. In late November as I was rushing to the Calcutta Airport to take my flight to Bombay I realised how desperately I will miss the city at this time of the year. It was like getting to have a taste of opium and when becoming slowly addicted, being taken away sans mercy.
There is indeed something magical and exquisite about the winter season in Calcutta.
Winter is the season for film festivals, circuses, fairs and parties. It’s incredible how there is so much diversity in one small city. The intellectual crowd discussing world cinema at the Nandan and Academy of Fine Arts arena is so much different from the jazzy party goers who hop on to the pub circuit in fancy leather wear. And then again there is the circus going fun loving families who make the most of their holidays watching the antics of jokers and animals, munching egg rolls and sipping piping hot tea. No matter how different these diverse groups are, there is that special connection between all of them. It’s the connect of silently soaking in the cool air of Calcutta, feeling the chill in the early morning breeze and gazing at the mist over the Ganges as it flows away silently.
Christmas and New Year get celebrated in Calcutta with a fervour that can only be described as out-of-the-world. Calcutta can compete with the cities of the world when it comes to rejoicing for the special days. The lights, the carols, the happy faces all around make the city a wonderland. It seems suddenly there is magic in the air and that magic is probably the mesmerising Calcutta winter. The poverty, the chaos, the political bedlam, the joblessness, the hopelessness – all of these take a backseat as the city unites to smile and make merry together.
January, the coldest month of the year in Calcutta, is the month for melas. All kinds of fairs like Trade Fair, Bidhan Nagar Mela, Expo, Handicrafts’ Fair and different food festivals, introduce a wide range of varied treasures to the city people. And certainly the mother of all fairs, the one with a world renown, happens in end January – our beloved Boi Mela or the Book Fair. It can be said that Calcutta pays tribute to the spirit of books with this fair. A congregation of such an amazing variety of books in so many languages, book lovers, publishers, artists, for a period of two weeks is rare to find. Arriving at the Book Fair is like entering the comfort zone for persons with an affinity towards the printed pages and even for those who are not so much into the nuances of reading.
There is an amazing feel to it, which embraces anyone and everyone deep within its bosom. And the entire city talks about it. Who all attended, how crowded it became, what were the special attractions for the day – Calcutta buzzes about the Boi Mela almost throughout a month.
Will I miss these about Calcutta when I am not there during this beautiful winter? Yes I will and I will miss a lot more as well. I will miss my Mother’s early morning cup of Darjeeling tea. I will miss dipping biscuits in the tea enjoying the fine taste of Britannia Marie Gold with our pups, the apples of our eyes, Tatun and Chumchumi. I will miss gazing at the vast playground from the window of my room, covered with the early morning winter dew and listening to RJ Mir’s witty radio chitchats on the utility of monkey caps for the winter-crazy city goers and a lot more. I will miss complaining to my Mother how her homemade winter-special fries and sweets are making me gain weight all over again.
I will miss dressing up in my colourful winter pullovers. I have a special connect with pullovers. Long back when I had been an overweight teenager and not so confident of my figure, these pullovers used to act as my saviour and made me look quite decent during the winter months. So now, even when I do not have any flab to hide, I cannot cease to be less grateful to my ever faithful sweaters. But alas, there is no winter in Bombay!
I will miss the sad winter evenings when an eerie melancholia used to take me over for no good reason. I hated those evenings but now it seems I would love to hate them once again.
I will miss dressing up for crazy winter parties and drinking and making merry with friends.
But I will miss most returning back to my Mother in lonely winter nights and eating her yummylicious egg curry, fried rice and Amulspray. Sleep used to be a really desirable experience in the bitterly cold winter nights as we piled quilts on top of the other and tried to warm our beds as much as possible.
Probably moving out of a place or disassociating oneself from certain things is essential to find out how truly important they are. As I reminisce about my days in Calcutta my resolve grows stronger to return one day and return soon to find myself in the fondness of familiarity. Distance certainly makes the hearts grow fonder.