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Memories of Dhaka winters

  • Published at 12:52 pm November 1st, 2018
What does winter mean to you? SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Remembering all the things that made winter so wonderful

Winter. A season of celebrations. In the modern Dhaka life, winter marks wedding festivities, cultural festivals, and family gatherings. 

In winter, you don your fashionista avatar -- that is, if you can afford it. Because winter is when the cold wave flows down from the north, when the homeless are at their most vulnerable. 

Still, we love winter. The time of year that brings so many memories of happiness, fresh with smells of joy. At the beginning of November, I caught the same golden rays of early morning sunlight peeking through the crevices of my bedroom window. That same golden kacha holud shade of light that marked for me the herald of final exams and winter vacation. 

November was the month I would study hardest for exams, cram down the books, feet well-tucked under blankets. November was the month when we would be dusting off the red sweaters out of the iron trunk Ma had, for waking up at 6 in the morning to attend morning assembly at school. It seems that Novembers from 17 years ago were much colder than Novembers and Decembers of today. 

Winter, though, was warmer at school. It was warm with the energy of the class party as much as with the tension of upcoming final exams. Revising the whole book was a feat for every student, yet we all succeeded somehow, because activities after the exam were something to look forward to: Get done with exams and get busy with rehearsing for the cultural function on result day, planning costumes, and then the publishing of the school magazine. 

Winter was the beginning of Ramadan back then. It was hard to comprehend what excited me most: End of the school year or the approaching Eid festivities. Eid coinciding with winter holidays was a bonanza that kids in the subsequent 10 years do not know. With school being over, all the cousins could stay together in dadabari and nanabari, with no worries other than the best family drama.  

Winter was the season when we all were together. This nostalgia warms my cold winter evenings. We are all grown up now, some of us not together anymore, scattered all over the world, yet the memories are there. 

And then there were picnics. Picnics in Bangladesh were everything picnics should not be: Loud, noisy, full of work, and dirty. Winter guaranteed a clear day in the open, so everybody had to have a picnic in the winter. In my childhood, I could understand picnic season was here when one Friday morning, I would wake up, not with Baba’s call, but by the awkward Hindi song playing in the loudspeaker outside my window. The shop-owners association from our neighbouring markets was going for a picnic. 

In winters, I have had my fair share of picnics, for during the vacation we would visit our ancestral home, where Baba would inevitably gather all the extended family to go for a picnic. That is how I managed to visit the greater part of North Bengal: Kantajee Mandir, Shingra Forest, Bhinno Jogot, Shopnopuri, Ram Shagor, Mahasthangarh, Paharpur, Bogra, Dinajpur, Payraband -- all these places I visited for picnics because I had my winter vacation then.

Winter marked carefree afternoons and jolly evenings. No homework meant after a lunch with hot daal and jolpaier achaar, I would take a book and curl up on the sofa under a blanket. I would wake up when it was already dark and have a hot bowl of cereal, watch some TV, play, read some more, some more TV, and before you knew, it was way past midnight, and Ma was still not asking me to go to bed. The joy was unparalleled.

Winter was when my cousins would be getting married. Winter meant wedding shopping, decorating the biyebari, decorating the dalakulas, rehearsing for the holud dance. Weddings even 10 years ago were not as commoditized, they still had a personal family touch. I could dance without bothering whether my outfit matched Kareena Kapoor’s latest song, or whether the dalakulas were decorated by the best wedding planner in the city. 

Winter meant bhapa pitha on Friday mornings. Ma would be making smaller pithas for me, and she still does, but the magical charm of childhood is a bit wanting. Now, I have to specially make a plan to visit Ma Baba on a Friday to have the pithas. That is how winter warns me, that maybe it’s time to take up some more responsibilities, that maybe it’s time for me to learn how to make pithas and jolpaier achaar like Ma does. 

But then, I don’t want to learn. What if that jinxes it? What if learning Ma’s secret recipe means Ma cooking for me no more? That would not be mayer pitha anymore. It is the love that matters, not the recipe.

Maybe that’s why I love winter: The memories of the love that I once had in abundance. It’s not the November rain, not the festivities, not the winter vacation in my faculty office, not the office picnics or field visits or weddings that make winter loveable. They are the just the ingredients, a recipe of winter life in Bangladesh. It’s the memory of love, the nostalgia, the escape to the days of winters past, that offer a warm comfort to the ever forbearing adult life.   

Arpeeta Mizan teaches at University of Dhaka and facilitates iProbono as its Legal Analyst (Bangladesh). 

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