Freezing winter evenings with a strong wind howling through the chimneys and falling sleet that penetrates woolies like icy barbs, is what I like about winters. Before anyone jumps to the hasty conclusion that I have perhaps lost my marbles, let me clarify that it is the opportunities that such weather opens up, which excite me. How else can you sit before a blithely lit fireplace with your cat on your lap, munching dry fruit as the aroma of burning apple wood spreads in the room? Where else can you justify enjoying a hot mug of cocoa, sipped while nibbling on a freshly toasted slice of bread, lightly flavored by salty butter. And how on earth can you not be ecstatic, when on haltingly suggesting to the Queen of the Kitchen that a dinner of bread and sausages, freshly roasted in the bed room fireplace would perhaps be in order - miraculously get the nod of approval.

My love of the cold weather that many people rate as depressing, uncomfortable and ‘unhealthy’ (I have never really understood the ‘health hazard’ logic) also stems from the fact that I can hide my ‘paunch’ under loosely fitting jackets and freely go about, without my family thinking that I was the apple featured in the William Tell story. My passionate affair with freezing temperatures is perhaps shared by my cat, which under normal conditions ignores my attempts to cuddle her. As the first gust of North Wind heralds the arrival of Jack Frost, a change comes over this feline. She follows me around and misses no opportunity to leap onto my lap, emitting the satisfyingly therapeutic purring sound that ‘makes my day’.

Another reason for happily embracing winter is the fact that I am a sucker for soups, no matter what their contents. I can ingest litres of this wonderful comfort food three hundred and sixty five days (and nights) of the year. My yen for this culinary wonder is however ‘doused’ by the looks I get from my better half, when I order it in a restaurant during spring, summer and autumn. It is the winter season that lends me the strength to stand up for my rights and defying all opposition drown myself in hot, steaming soup. I have however found a way to ‘combat’ the anti-soup alliance through cultivating my eldest female offspring, who follows her mother in our domestic hierarchy. This young lady has, with painstaking efforts, been won over to my side by a heavy investment in feeding her the best soups available in the Federal Capital. I can now see a glimmer of success and unstinting support, when next I order two bowls of the stuff this summer. If the Prime Minister or any member of his staff is reading this, they may well like to use this formula to win over the Opposition.

I have often wondered as to why is a soup plate tilted forward to scoop up the last spoonful, in formal banquets. Our local wit is of the opinion that in its original form and at some obscure historically insignificant moment, this ‘tilt’ may have been used by a male guest to signal a female guest sitting across the table. Impressed by its efficacy, the practice may have become a part of western table etiquette.

It appears that soups are not only popular amongst ordinary people, but extraordinary ones too – such as witches. Proof of this notion is there in the term ‘witches brew’ and Shakespeare’s classic tale of ‘Macbeth’, featuring the three broom riders cooking up, what can only be soup in their cauldron. Islamuddin aka Baray Mian, a long gone member of our domestic staff and perhaps the last of the ‘daastaangos’ (story tellers) often held us spell bound as children, by narrating the adventures of the prince and his vilest foe – ‘Tabal Shaitan’, who was always found sitting in the forest stirring up a soup or its cousin in a ‘karhao’ or gigantic wok.

Whatever be the case, the age old concoction consisting of meat, veggies, herbs and water has been the food of kings and subjects alike since ancient times. It has helped humankind survive hunger, poverty and tyranny. It is a form of sustenance that warrants respect and it is here as long as mankind exists.

 

The writer is a historian.