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|Volume 11 |Issue 48| December 07, 2012 ||
Syed Maqsud Jamil
Unlike in the western hemisphere, sun and rain rules this land for most of the year. According to the Bengali calendar the months of Poush and Magh are winter. That is precisely from the middle of December to the middle of February. Nature treats the land with benevolence, spreading a mellow shroud all around. Sun the ocular orb, looks to be subdued and off its course in its fiery intensity. Its ray filters through an interceding medium that turns the light into a caressing touch. Generally it remains as the tourists call 'cool', but once in a while there are cold waves. The last biting cold wave was in 2003 and before that in 1997.That is when the ones who want to make it an event turn on the heater. Rains are rare in winter. A single visit is expected and when it rains in the second week of February or Magher Shesh it is dhonni rajar punni desh (it is a blessed land of a commended ruler). Winter by and large is a season of comfort, abundance and festivity.
In the past, during winter, blankets sunned in the month of Bhadra were brought out from the portmanteau. Now they come out of the wardrobe. From wherever it comes out it marks a special time of the year particularly for the children. As it was in the past and as it is in the present, children love to play with the blankets. With the bulbous pillows and the blanket they make a house and get into it. The joy in it is the gift of winter however short-lived it is.
There was a time when during the winter the old men used to arm themselves with all kinds of winter clothes and accessories for morning walks. They used to put on overcoat, balaclava, muffler, woollen gloves and stockings to keep the cold wind of the chilly morning at bay. Possibly, they are still to be seen in Ramna Park and Sangsad Bhavan Plaza. It was also a time for steaming hot half plates of tehari, luchi paratha and halwa.
My mother had a maternal uncle who used to turn up in winter fitted with an overcoat. It was the late forties. His overcoat, a provision from the colonial army, had many cavernous pockets. What a jolly sight it was to see him – he carried everything in his pockets for preparing tea! Winter was special to the family for the occasional visits of that uncle.
The change of season is reflected in nature. The sky and the clouds, the trees and the plants, and the bounties of earth and water, with the master shining from above, reflect the seasons in their diversity. Winter also comes to the city. But the change does not offer a spectacle to behold in a bounded habitat lacking in expanse.
I discovered winter during the few years I spent as a child in our village homestead. It was the solitary journey of a child under the wings of his mother. Little children in restricted surroundings usually get up early in the morning and I ventured into the courtyard. The trees stood like sentries all around. Tall, medium and small trees mingled with each other like a peaceable fraternity. Only the housemaid was at work cleaning the courtyard. The light was filtering through the trees, dismissing the haze. The rays looked like beams lifting the world to a heavenly height. It was a spectacle that settled permanently in the mind of the child. I went back to sit on the step that led to the room where we lodged, with my legs folded, my elbows resting on my knees and my chin resting on the cusp of my hands. I gazed beyond the horizon, perhaps to Dacca.
Soon my father's brothers and cousins arrived from Dacca, as it was then spelt. It was time for festivity and feasting. Their palate longed for winter delicacies: Bhijainna Pitha rice cake soaked in a syrupy mixture of milk, date tree juice and molasses, Chitoi Pitha - plain rice cake to be taken with molasses or beef curry, Bhapa Pitha -steamed rice cake with coconut and molasses inside it, Puli Pitha - rice pouches with a filling of coconut and molasses, Patisapta - a rice roll with khirsa or cream or with kheer-syrupy rice pudding with milk and coconut and Dudh Kodu - shredded bottle gourd soaked in a syrupy mixture of milk and coconut.
Winter abounded in fish and vegetables. Folks loved Koi (climbing perch), shing (stinging catfish), Magur (catfish), Shoul (snakehead surreal) and of course the big fishes. The vegetables added to the taste of the dishes, shim (hyacinth beans), cauliflower, cabbage, tomato, radish, turnip and lalshak (red amarans) etc. Winter does not abound in fruits except for tangerines from Sylhet. Papaya also thrives well in the cool dry weather of winter. These days even sofedas (Sapodia) are seen.
For school–going kids winter in those days was as pleasant as it is today. The examinations were over and after the short winter vacation the classes ambled on. The only problem the school boys of those days faced was that movies were a great craze and the days were short. The matinee show ended around 6.00 pm in the evening. The nights quickly descended and the boys were required to return home after Magrib. Many of them slunk past icy stares, faced tough grilling with bowed heads or at the worse, even faced the cane. That was the bleaker side of winter.
Winter here is somewhat similar to cooler spring of the west, so flowers with fragrance and bright colours bloom. Indeed if one wants to one can in the words of Keats, 'glut thy sorrow on morning rose'. There are many more to add to the list, marigold, dahlia, cosmos, chandramallika, petunia etc.
In the struggle for language, for rights and for liberty, winter is a special season for this land and its people. It is the people and the leaders of this country who scripted winter's tale with courage and conviction. Ekushey took place in February. The movement of 1969 was wholly in winter. And liberty came on 16 December – vive l'hiver.
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