As my mother unwrapped a bar of Pears soap and slid it on the soap dish in our common bathroom, we knew winter in Kolkata was official. Those of you who have grown up or lived in India would attest to the fact that winter in India (at least most parts of India) is a season of relief and joy. After the stifling heat of the summer came refreshing monsoons. Then monsoon and constant rain became an irritation. The roads were a mess, waterlogging brought life to a standstill, commuters looked up at the sky with a frown as they tried avoiding the raindrops from their neighbor’s umbrella. Monsoons gave way to hemanta (fall). For us, Bangalis, that was the time to look up at the cerulean sky spotted with cottony clouds and dream of Durga Pujo. After the pujos were over, there was a let down period of a few weeks till the blessed cold season descended upon us. And the advent of winter, for me, was the fragrance of Pears soap in the bathroom. I think that soap had a decent amount of glycerin in it to moisten the drying skin during winter time or so the company boasted in it’s advertisement. I believe this was a family tradition – this bringing out of the Pears soap. My grandmother heralded winter with Pears and so did my mother and aunts. Why stop a good thing?
I wanted to eat fish today. Not the fillets that you get in the supermarkets here. I wanted fish with its tail, head and eyes intact, just like we have it at home. So after cooking dal and a vegetable dish for family dinner, I braved the cold, jumped in my car and raced to the Indian grocery store to buy me some fish. As I put in dal, spices, paneer and other staples in my cart, I came across a nicely built pyramid of Pears soap. I picked one up and breathed in. It made me smile. The fragrance reminded me of myself as a little girl demanding the lep (a comforter stuffed with cotton) to be brought out in October (the temperature did not dip down then, only the evenings held the promise of cooler days). Ma and baba teased me for being ‘Sheet kature” (not sure of the exact translation, perhaps cold wimp). It reminded me of Tuhina, the one and only body moisturizing solution that was bought in our house. Do any of you remember Tuhina? Is it even manufactured anymore? Winter in Kolkata meant family outings at the zoo, complete with boiled eggs, nolen gur er sandesh (sweets made with special molasses) and oranges. Winter in Kolkata meant school picnics in the grounds of Victoria Memorial. Winter in Kolkata meant badminton games, fruit cakes, brightly lit Park Street, Christmas. Winters in Kolkata meant Kul er achar. Winters in Kolkata meant Saraswati pujo and yellow sarees. Winters in Kolkata meant Kolkata Bookfair. Winters in Kolkata meant colorful shawls and vying for a spot in the sun. Winters in Kolkata also meant falling in love with the love of my life.
The whiff of Pears at the Indian Grocery store reminded me I loved winter once. I have not felt the soft caress of Kolkata winter for a very long time now. My thin Indian skin can not bear the intense cold that I experience here. I find no joy in bundling up, feeling my face freeze or slip and slide in ice. I still have not learnt to walk on ice or drive on snow. But I have learnt to love parts of winter here too. The silhouette of bare trees stretching up to the sky, waiting patiently to fill up with leaves, is beautiful. Snowfall is beautiful. My husband’s exuberance after a snowball fight with the kids always tugs at my heartstring. The snotty, red faces of my two children as they sip hot chocolate after a particularly cold day are a joy to watch. Sitting on my favorite couch on a winter afternoon while reading a book makes me feel completely content. The warmth that envelopes me as I open the front door and enter my little house reminds me I am lucky. Yes, I have learnt to love some parts of winter here too.
I bought a bar of Pears soap and I used it when I came home. It reminded me of my mother. Now I am surrounded by fragrant memories of winters left behind. This winter afternoon, all of sudden, became beautiful!