Woes of truncated winters

Winter in North India, where I have been living since 1958, is becoming shorter by the year. It’s gone from being for 90 days to just half that. Until the mid-90s, it used to start just after Diwali in mid-November and stretch till the first week of March when the minimum temperature could be as low as 15 degrees Celsius. But now, as I write this in the first week of February, the minimum temperature is already around 12. The maximum is steadily increasing and tends to be 22–24. This was also the temperature in the third week of December, which means the really cold weather has lasted for just about 45 days when temperatures stay in the 3–15 range. This is good news for old people and those who don’t have a roof over their heads. But, in spite of being nearly 72 years old, I can’t help feeling sad at the truncated winter.

The affluent young, as they always have, really look forward to the cold weather. After all, this is the only time they can dress in fine western clothes like woollen suits, heavy parkhas, colourful windcheaters, long mufflers and even pink socks. Not just that. There is also no need to bathe every day. Just washing the face and feet is enough. And if you wear clean socks everyday, even that is not required. Some people don’t even do that and wear dirty socks. Sometimes you happen to get one of them as your taxi driver. With the heater on at full and the windows up, it can be very distressing. Thank god, though, that the old heavy blankets which taxi drivers earlier used, have given way to fluffy Chinese nylon jackets. They don’t stink.

During winter, in our college days and bachelorhood, we would eat three or four boiled eggs and then two plates of the halwa. And drink some hot, sweet tea. It’s all nearly gone now.

The short winter is also accompanied now by really dirty smog. It’s truly filthy and you can’t breathe properly. This smog stretches from Peshawar and Lahore to Agra and Lucknow. The slight downward curvature in the earth in this area, which is like a saucer, ensures enhanced inversion wherein the cold air above doesn’t permit the dirty hot air below to escape. Result: the cold weather is short but the pollution, of gigantic proportions, is long. The good bit has gone and the bad bit has replaced it. Old or young, eyes burn all the time and you feel miserable. And it’s only going to get worse as the number of cars goes on increasing.

It wasn’t just the clothes that made winter so enjoyable. It was the food, too, sold by the wayside on carts — most notably the bun omelette and boiled eggs and the aaloo parathas and carrot halwa and moong dal halwa. During college days and ­bachelorhood, they were staple food for all of us, men and women. We would eat three or four boiled eggs and then two plates of the halwa. And drink some hot, sweet tea. It’s all nearly gone now.

The short winter also means there is no or very little winter rain now. It used to rain in early and end-­December and around 26 January. Not anymore. So the old cold fog which was heavy, white and clean, has given way to light, brown and dirty fog.

Winter also allowed boys, girls, men and women to be indistinguishable from each other because of the heavy clothes. This had its own special advantages, as you can imagine. Once a friend of mine and his girlfriend were hugging on a park bench and an overly zealous policeman came and whacked the girl on the head thinking she was the male. He went by the hair on their heads because men had long hair those days. He was genuinely contrite when the female yelped and started crying. But now thanks to the extraordinary pollution no one sits on park benches anymore. The climate for love, too, has changed.

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