Translating the Transition: The Land of Lost Winters

Subhadeep Paul

We don’t have winters anymore. What we have instead are less hot extended summers. We celebrate ecotone in funded conferences. But the digital memories we make nowadays, compel us to leave behind footprints composed of carbon. We are all carbon suicide-bombers killing unborn children through a volatile consumption, whose avaricious pull is like the call of the grim reaper: something we cannot hold ourselves back from. The Kashmiri shawl sellers, the blanket sellers, the trendy jackets of the 90s, the annual Pashmina must-buy, the colourful scarfs that are compulsory for trips to book fairs – et al, are gradually becoming history. The millennials can feel a slight cold but the annual anticipation for the chill-thrill has clearly dampened. We take off the cardigans no sooner than we put them on. There are a million bikes consuming fossil fuels like greedy robots. Or is that a term better reserved for us than the machines we have invented? We are faster, speedier, busier but we never seem to arrive anywhere.

I reminisce bygone times where winters were more covetous. When there was more fog and less smog. As folks of my generation grew up, everything became hazier. The smog is the defining characteristic of our maturation. Our journey to adulthood was paralleled with the increment of adulteration in everything – from food to relationships. One needn’t have to run to the hills to see the mist glide down like an ethereal rivulet. One could see it in the backyard of every traditional house that had a green patch, where swarths of calendulas, petunias, pansies, carnations, sweet peas, dahlias and marigolds grew on beds of moist alluvium, with seemingly far less effort of gardening than is demanded today. Our coming of age had quietly transferred the shovels from our grandparents and parents to our hands – something that occurred quietly but at a jiffy. And there we stood, forlorn and befuddled, wondering how to proceed with a dirt barrel stocked with spades, hoes and digging forks, when everything revolted against us – the milieu, the climate, the mindset. Houses that retained joint families gave way to promoted apartments where square feet instead of soil texture became the gold standard. As grand verandahs gave way to small front porches, the arrival of winter was ritualized by a pot of passion flowers purchased after much price haggling from the local cart boy, or without haggling from online portals like nurserylive, myflowertree or bloomsvilla. One still feels happy to watch mothers complete their daily pujas with hibiscuses of a myriad colour orientations. But one also misses those never-to-return days when mornings arrived with drowsy dew settled on generous land lotuses. Our lives have become less intense, as our winters lost the nippy zest.

It seems just the other day when me and my Baba boarded a double-decker bus bound for Howrah Station. It was five in the morning and I was five years old. We were to catch a local train bound for Tarakeswar. I was in my woolens and prized monkey cap. My parents had bribed me that if I sat quietly throughout my mundansanskar, I would be gifted a wooden toy truck on my way back. I sat through the biting cold without any remorse. The entire act of having my head tonsured and gifting my birth hair to ugra Taraknath (who drank vish during Samudra Manthan) seemed opportunely tolerable. I let the Swayambhu Linga have my hair, while I received my little moksha in the form of the wooden toy. Despite the cold outside, I underwent the ablutions and felt warm inside. That’s a far cry from the present, when our pneumonic lives are laced with caution. Yet we fall sick, despite no practical winter setting in.

The reason for this is because we have officially left the eras of both gods and humans and surrendered ourselves to a demonological epoch where the masters that control our destinies are submicroscopic infectious agents that are very similar in their natures to their privileged human counterparts, who recognize only their own kind and proliferate accordingly. The pathogens multiply their own kind, just as we humans now understand only the logic of cronyism and nepotism. We are pathogens that have proved inimical to sustainability on this planet, which is why our own sustenance is currently jeopardized. We gasp for breath just as we have asphyxiated everything that has some bit of sentience in it. And we haven’t spared our seasons either. The fabled six-seasoned Bengal is now a wrecked continuum of meteorological clemency. There is no adirasa in this anti-cosmic clime of vulnerabilities.

In this despondent milder version of an Indian summer, I take a reality check of why life isn’t happening the way it should be. We lack warmth in our friendships, just as we lack the natural winter cold. I share the depression of the Bay of Bengal and the precarities that has taken the zing out of our days. Perhaps, the koraishutir kochuri, nolen gurer payesh and phulkopir shingara are still my last straw of hope. But I remain nostalgic for a colder winter which this cold human predicament has snatched away.