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    Volume 9 Issue 13| March 26, 2010|

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A Roman Column

A Long Winter's End

Neeman Sobhan

Awakening by Seward Johnson.

Already we are in March, (the 26th no less---thirty nine years of our collective existence) and I am writing this here in Italy, still cocooned in woolens and with the thermostat on, while Dhaka-ites will be reading this under blasts of fans and air-conditioners. I can't help asking myself: just as we Bengalis in Rome are between seasons, not quite finished with winter and awaiting Spring, is the motherland, too, stuck in an unending winter of discontent and unfulfilled expectations, while in eternal vigil for its season of hope and glory, the true celebration?

In Italy, certainly, it has been a long and endless winter; and the forecast for the rest of March continues to predict cold and wet weather. Even when the sun shines, it continues to be chilly, but at least, it's not freezing as it was even a few weeks ago when temperatures threatened snow. Generally speaking, it snows mostly in the north of Italy and sometimes in the south, but normally never in Rome. But this year, finally, it happened.

It snowed here in Rome, after twenty five years.

I should remember the date of that long ago, freak snowfall because my younger son was born on that day. The day it snowed in January 1985. That year, the surprise snowfall had arrived after thirty years, and the civic authorities in Rome were ill- equipped to handle the situation on the icy streets. We had to slip-slide our way to the Salvator Mundi International clinic on the steep Gianicolense hill (not one of the famous Seven Hills of Rome, but a beautiful neighbourhood high above Rome's Trastvere area and close to the Vatican City).

The anesthesiologist couldn't get his car out of the driveway of his garage on an incline and had to come in a taxi, and my surgeon as soon as he had done the C-section changed into a jaunty ski outfit, stuck his head through the door of my room in the maternity ward to see if I was okay and then waved gaily as he set off for the slopes of Terminillo!

This February, after twenty five years, we woke again to a white, silent world. A landscape muffled in cotton wool. And the ripped pillow in the sky kept flaking and sprinkling all day, enough to accumulate piles of downy snow everywhere on the terrace and the garden: there was whipped egg white on the patio furniture and the tree tops; the lawn was marzipan, the hedges coated in icing sugar, the cyclamen flowers dipped in frosting, the lemon tree topped with cream. A delectable fairyland.

We did not venture into town so we only saw on television the amazing sight of the Colosseo and Rome's famous fountains, piazzas and statues under 'la neve'.

Snow in Rome after 25 years.

Something about snow and its brush strokes on nature's canvas makes you think the universe has been recreated, purified; its messy questions erased, blanked out. It puts you into a celebratory mood. But there is the day after, when the snow has melted, the bracing crispness of the cold changed to dampness, and the same old world re-emerged from its momentary anesthesia: the prosaic brown earth, the slush, the mud, the patchy, wintry lawns, and all the un-whitened, ineffaceable problems and questions.
Winter has been long in passing this year, and yet suddenly, since last week, something seems to have changed. Perhaps the days have warmed imperceptibly, or it could be the illusion wrought by the sun that has been shining for a few consecutive days, or the song of hidden birds in trees whose branches have the gooseflesh of life. Thoughts turn to the garden and the planting of flowers, of new life. Some early trees in the neighbourhood are already in bloom.

Suddenly doubts fall away to certainties. I don't know whether it's in the physical world or in myself that I feel a buoyancy: is it me that is alive and restless, or is it the quiver of the new leaves and the quickening in the air? A spark of intuitive knowledge as of good news, of inexplicable joy, connects my spirit to the landscape around me. I can't stay indoors any longer; I pull on my coat and walk into this newly ripening world.

All around me, I feel the presence of some hibernating animal inside me or my world, waking up. Today, I understand the modern sculpture that has been planted in a round-about of Rome's EUR, titled 'Risveglio' or 'Awakening' by an American sculptor Seward Johnson, of an enormous, supine human figure, his torso buried, emerging like a silver giant or a human plant from the earth.

Somehow, it makes me think of all the youth from my generation who died in 1971 nourishing the soil with their dreams; the young ones who are still dying meaningless deaths everyday in the campuses and on the streets, or escaping their wasted lives to bury themselves in another land--all waiting to burst into new life, to awaken to a shining new world. The sculpture reminds me of all the submerged energy, hope and dreams that we Bengalis planted into the piece of earth we call home, the tract that has been rendered fallow by a self seeking and money-minded few. I dream of a peaceful awakening. A vital, vigorous, non-violent Bangladesh.
Today, over the walls of the gardens I pass, the news of the passing away of winter spreads to me, yellow as Mimosa, white and pink as cherry blossoms. I sense the birth of this season in the way the morning swells inside my heart bringing a simple gratitude to be alive, to be free, to be Bengali and yet to be in a world, whose amazing beauty makes me dream that everything, everywhere, is possible. For me, at least, on this 26th day of March, it is the first day of Spring.

Even if tomorrow it grows cold again, I have no doubt that a new season is definitely upon us. Spring is not just a season in Nature but a natural condition of life and growth, a fresh contract with hope. Winter, be it of the world or of the soul, always ends and the season of renewal begins.

It will be Easter and Boishakh and a new beginning soon. May we all find the season of renewal inside ourselves.



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