Winter has arrived unheralded as a familiar guest should. Inconspicuous, as it has attempted to be, I cannot miss the rows of stalls, all hoarse with the cries of “Three for six hundred”, their originators curtained by woollen blankets being unfolded for the inspection of those passers by that might spare a sideways glance away from the irreproachably straight road ahead.
Clotheslines of jerkins swing between adjacent stalls, zipped up and strung up by their dubious familiarity of their labels. They stare at you warily as you walk past, you can almost see those invisible faces from within those upturned collars, and feel their disconsolate pleas for attention on your stubbornly unsold, uncovered back.
There is only one other place where I have acknowledged winter’s faltering albeit unmistakeable entrance.
A chetak scooter had trundled passed me, a six year old standing in front of his father, his feet between his father’s feet, straying within reach of the pedals of the scooter, perched as precariously as I once was in front of my father. Except that instead of facing the road and offering it his bundled chest to the chills of thirty kmph wind, he had his back to the road and his head against his father’s chest, sleeping like a fugitive prince being whisked away on a horse.
And this picture, incomplete as it may be, will always be winter for me.
I write of winter because it has lived incognito among us in Madras for sixteen years. I write of winter because four winters’ memories can make wearing a ragged gray sweatshirt seem as snug as carrying a pot of live coals, merely by a talismanic logo emblazoned on it atop my heart.
I write of winter because, like me, it can never have the last word in a bargain, can’t count its centigrade change twice before folding it carefully in its wallet, unlike the rest of the world that walks smugly in the sun without having been short-changed.
I write of winter because I still haven’t switched off the fan or even reined it back below that soothing speed four that sweeps away overhead noise.
I write of winter because it always leaves just when you wish it away, when you claim every day will be colder than the next and that one day it just won’t be there anymore.
I write of winter because I could do with a change of season and that there can never be songs enough for the seasons.
I pause at the last stall in line, aware that I will one day join this growing minority that is already clad in warmer clothes.
“Single blanket?” I begin.
He unwraps a blue blanket, darkening to indigo in the dusk, to its fullest extent, his arms taut and fingers tense with the effort and says, “Seven feet. Pure wool.”
It slips between the questioning tips of my fingers, softer than the lint-spangled exterior promises and yet I ask doubtfully, “Isn’t there anything thicker?” I point him out to blankets that lie snugly zipped away from the dust and smoke of the road within their plastic carry cases.
He unpacks it obligingly enough but adds in the tone of a remark intended to pass as irrelevant , “Three four people can sleep comfortably. Families buy this.”
Thrice as thick and thrice as large, it would obviously cost thrice as much. But why would I buy this, I who have never known the insides a double quilt and it represents, I who have slept and lived solitarily throughout? Mistaking my silence for a wavering will, he slips from nine hundred to six hundred. “If you want, come with your mother. I’ll remember, for you alone it will be six hundred.” The loud spiel of his vendor voice sinks to a confidential whisper.
I nod, “Yes, I’ll return with my mother.” “Remember me, Inamdar. I won’t go back on my word” he completes, a little heroically.
A lone bulb twinkles above us hanging by a makeshift tangle of wires all carrying stolen electricity. Against the polypropylene-papered wall, the blankets make tantalizing shadows that obey the pendulous motion of the bulb as perfectly as the moths above do. I walk away towards a house that no sunlight can blind, a bed that no family-size quilt can warm, a chill that no season can pierce.
6 months ago