Warming up to winter

For us in the family, winters have always been welcome. May be since we all have been born in and wedded in the winter.  I and my wife were born in November; our two daughters in December and January. 

Bimal Saigal –
bimalsaigal@hotmail.com –

The chills of winter finally swept across the streets of Delhi the last Thursday. Those of the Delhiites who were early risers like me, began their day with their cheery faces hazed under a screen of dense fog.
The cheers were to welcome the winter, which had missed its usual rendezvous in the northern heights — temperatures in the hill stations like Shimla and Solan hovering in their lighter skies, five notches freakily warmer than that of Delhi in the plains.
With the minimum temperature recorded at 13 degree Celsius in Shimla- the queen of hills on the previous day, it marked the warmest ever December there. Having a feel of the winter for the first time this season here, we dug into the suitcases on Saturday and retrieved woolens and other winter clothes all wrapped in the whiffs of naphthalene balls.
For us in the family, winters have always been welcome. May be since we all have been born in and wedded in the winter. I and my wife were born in November; our two daughters in December and January.
We were married in January and so was our daughter. Incidentally, it was Shimla where we had gone for our honeymoon and with fond memories of those times and places, and the joy ride on the toy train negotiating mountainous curves and tunnels within and bridges over valleys, we have returned to the hill station more than once.
Flakes of snow had appeared and begun to dance tantalizingly around the dense fog that had descended deep as our toy train started rolling on its ascent. Having arrived in Shimla in the late evening, when we woke up the next morning and looked out of the hotel window we found the place buried under snow- it had experienced the first fall of the season. No wonder, the frigid environs notwithstanding, the pall of snow beckoned us to walk together on the Mall.
Our love and liking for the wonders of winter warmed up further as the service took us intermittently to frigid places like Kabul in Afghanistan, Toronto in Canada and to the cold climates of Santiago in Chile and Islamabad in Pakistan.
It has always been indeed an exhilarating experience to be absorbed in the feet-deep snowscapes at the exotic locations of these lands or brave the blizzards raging outside from behind the glass walls in the comfort of our homes while enjoying a hot cup of tea. But then the gifts of the winter also abound back home.
Snuggled in the wraps of quilts or blankets on lazy winter mornings, one lingers on in the bed sipping hot cups of tea. While one yearns to bask under the comforting sun in the afternoons, the family huddles together in the living room in the evening, watching a favourite TV programme and enjoying hot beverages or munching on the gifts of the winter while talking.
Come winter and the shops and handcarts are lined with the favourite winter snacks. Vendors set up stalls for hot jalebis, samosas and pakoras. Those relishing non-vegetarian food, queue up in front of shops and carts selling tandoori chicken, mutton tikkas, seekh kabab, fried fish and boiled eggs.
While those who can afford, buy dry fruits like almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, dates and raisins, the common man is content with the humble groundnuts. While peanuts come in different varieties in kernels, there is no satisfaction next to cracking the groundnut shell with fingers or under the teeth and tossing up the kernel in the mouth. Gajak, that is a dessert made with sesame or peanuts set in crunchy jaggery, is a gift of the winters. So are revadis or the small bolls of crunchy jaggery covered with sesame seeds.
Winter fruits like oranges, bers, guavas, grapes, pomegranate, carambola or starfruit add sweetness to the season delight. And then there are the winter vegetables like cauliflower, carrot, turnip, radish, cucumber, spinach, mustard-green, green pea, bitter gourd, sugar beet, which add their own distinct flavours to our food basket.
On the street, one sees people enjoying bonfires to keep them warm. Lohri is a festival which is celebrated in north India during the month of January when people sit around bonfires in open till late night and enjoy popcorns, groundnuts, gajaks and revadis while dancing in accompaniment to folk songs and rhythmic beats of drums.
But all this fun and frolic of the winter season is for the young, hale and hearty and not for the old with cranky joints and those with huffing and puffing arteries or the weaklings suffering head-aches with infected sinuses; coughing and sneezing with running noses or blocked ones, and those run down in entirety with influenza among the season’s other not-so-welcome gifts of affliction.