We reached the church rather early, in time to see the choir practice. This was my first time attending a Christmas service, my wife having done it during her school days (she used to be a choir singer in her Diocese days). We were greeted by the charming Pastor and also by a little boy who was trying his best not to smile, only to break into toothless laughter the moment he saw someone, including my wife, who came back with a glee in her eyes after she spent two minutes adoring him.
With freezing, howling winds outside, the Christmas eve was certain to be one to be indoors. Two hours later, we were coming out of the church with smiles, meeting new people, yet my memory was already painting a different picture.
My end-year memories are all over the place. They have the joyfulness of a first kiss, yet there are pangs of heartbreak as well; calm ripples of a gray sea are there, with the remnants a tsunami had left dead corals on the beach – you are bound to land on one of two extremes. I met my wife in one of such highs more than ten years ago (feels like an eternity, or yesterday!). I distinctly remember calling her during the end of my engineering exams, since there was a change in the schedule and all of a sudden I had three days’ to spare – I wanted to check if she could meet me. In my excitement I had worn a particularly choice, hideous florescent orange t-shirt for the occasion, sure to turn off any prospective gazes from opposite sex. There I was, standing in a popular destination for the lovebirds (how cliched!), looking like a scarecrow, waiting for a disaster to happen.
We had gone to the Cathedral. Not because we wanted to pray, but because it was silent, detached from the crowstorms of a clunky city. That winter morning had painted a spectacular picture in my mind. My mother thought I looked particularly giddy that night when I returned home, though it didn’t take her long enough to figure out what had happened to her son. I was on cloud nine, and for good reason.
But there was a winter when I had told someone to forget me, that ‘we’ couldn’t happen, that ‘it’ was going nowhere. Sitting on my balcony, listening to her quivering voice at the other end, I had cried for the very first time on the account of heartbreak. For this was the very first time. Umpteen years later, that forgotten chapter had found its way to the same city, and on a rainy afternoon, we were standing in front of each other, eons between us, two people who had lost parts of their soul on that fateful wintry night, thinking about how awkward it was.
In Bengal, the suburb winters are different than city winters. Suburb winter afternoons are spent in typical laziness, rolling around on warm blankets and pillows, catching up on Sunday potpourri. In the city, the smell of jaggery is masked by aroma of cakes. A particular nostalgic favorite, Nahoum’s, brought out Parsee goodness every winter from its unending stash. A favorite of my father’s, the love-shaped cake, or paan-cake, as he calls it, is still smeared all over my childhood memories.
Winter is a difficult season to endure at times. Here, at times the temperature goes beyond zero, sending a chill through the body with every gush of wind. Bengal winters, in comparison, are much more spring-like than we want to admit; there are hardly a week of sweater-wearing cold. More often than not, it’s the zeal of the Bong parents that makes us wear monkey-caps and scarfs. Those memories, childish and joyous, have no fixed places in my brain. They come and go as they please.
This Christmas, two benches before us was sitting a guy with mental disability. While the entire church was filled to the brim, no one sat by him. We sat alone too, our bench a stark contrast to others. It left a drop of disjointed, unwelcome cold in my otherwise warm evening. Were we to be judged based on how we dressed and talked and in certain cases, behaved? I don’t know the rules of the world, I must say. Differences are not considered necessary for society; for everyone must wear the same mask.
I am no one to judge. I cannot even judge my memories. People I chose to be my close compatriots have often abandoned me. But I don’t turn a blind eye on things that happen around me, be it the nauseating stiffness in acceptance, or warm embrace of love.
A winter always has two sides.