Saturday, 17 January 2015

Jesus Wept

There was a time when i was a staunch believer. On sundays was 'sunday school'. I had a crush on a boy there. His name was Ryan. He was in the choir and the last memory i have of him during teenage was that of his voice breaking and him being upset about not being able to sing. 'It would never have worked between us', owing to my absolutely poor sense of music, i used to tell myself, back then. Now when i think of it i feel like Mouchette in Bresson's 'Mouchette'. Always getting a note wrong, ridiculed and later pelting stones with a vengeance at her classmates. Later i learnt that Ryan had got in some college in US. I just went 'oh!'. I felt nothing. Same old crush story. It peters out. Always.

Sunday school was also where i learned the shortest line in the bible. It was 'Jesus wept', we were all taught. The question was sure to pop up in all tests. My favourite exercise in faith during those days was to impress my grandparents; appachan and amma with all the stories i had leared and in particular the ones at sunday school. Both of them were believers and liked it when their children or grandchildren talked bible. I would write letters to them describing my adventures in school and give constant reminders to amma about the ice cream that i wanted to be ready during Christmas holidays. And thus it was that amma's freezer had three tubs full of ice-cream during every christmas. Scooping out my third helping from one of them and watching appachan wash dishes because 'amma's arthritis means she can't wash dishes', one day in december i decided to impress appachan with 'jesus wept'. Out of the blue i sprung the question 'Do you know which the shortest line in the bible is?'. 'No?', he said, trying to put on his best histrionics coat. 'It's jesus wept', i said, proudly and gulping another spoon full of vanilla and milk. But when he asked me if i knew when it was that jesus had wept so that the line could be there in the first place, my mind went blank. I didn't know. 'Hey, that wasn't the question we were taught', i protested in my mind. Appachan then told me the story of Lazarus and his sisters and jesus' friendship with the family. He never stopped telling me tales.

Appachan and amma died years ago. I am an atheist now and proud of it too. During december, however, i still think of amma's ice-cream in the old godrej refrigerator. Nothing fancy. Full of love.

It was almost December when i first came to Kolkata. As a madrasi, and moreover as a bloody mallu, i had never lived in a place which was so cold. And kolkata winter hadn't even started! In kozhikode, kerala, during 'winter' we would just have pleasantly cold mornings and evenings. A jacket while riding, may be. In my room which i was sharing with a bengali from delhi, i was quick to station my bed next to the window. People try to make any place they are in as close to home as possible. Only natural, survival mechanism. At home i would leave a window by my head open and the other closed. I thought it was a clever move so that burglars couldn't lay hands upon my phone, radio etc and yet i could have all the wind and light come in. Grumbling about what a ghastly sight the mosquito nets affixed there was, i let all three windows open on my first night in Kolkata. I tried sleeping and couldn't because i couldn't even stay still because of cold. I was shivering and still not thinking of the open windows. How could windows have anything to do with cold! Cold was only in the morning. Till 3 am, i was in foetal position, trying to enfold my body in my body, occasionally clutching my feet tight with my palms to make it warm. Nothing worked. Then there was a gush of wind. Then i felt the cold which the wind brought in. And then i realized why it was so cold. I shut them goddamn windows.

January was colder. I really thought i was going to die. My blanket was flimsy. I had a huge thick jacket which a friend had gifted but even with that on i would always, somehow be cold.

Then she called.

After telling her all about the people i hated- which was everyone on campus, about how i had started cooking, how i felt even the curry masala in bengal was slightly sweet i told her my problem with winter in kolkata. She had seen many a winters. Much colder. She had seen snow. Then she gave me that priceless piece of information. It's through your feet and hands. That's the path through which cold enters you. Damn! She was right! She was always right. Why didn't i think of it. How stupid could i be. Cursing myself i started wearing socks even with slippers. Forget fashion, warmth is the key word. The coming year Calico gifted me woollen gloves. By then i had a smart phone and it made typing a little problematic. I stopped texting people. Warmth, remember.

This is my fourth winter in Kolkata. I am equipped like never before to fight it. My blankets are thick. Jackets are plenty. Steaming coffee, hot water baths. I ask appachan in my mind 'Do you know what the shortest line in my kolkata chronicles is?' Now he is genuinely at a loss. He adjusts his thick framed glasses. Dramatically i deliver a high pitched 'Winter wept'. He loved alliteration. Should be impressed.

Oh but for the heartaches and cold sting of grief, there are no gifted mittens or socks. I don't think even she knows where that enters me.

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