Something is not right with the seasons these days. I remember the short winter days of my childhood marked by their pale yellow sunshine and long shadows. I also remember the long evening hours (preceding a longer night) that were converted into fun filled activity. Gone now is the pale sunshine or if it is there, we are too busy to notice it from behind our shuttered office windows. Gone are the fun filled family evenings effectively destroyed by television, the X Box and the corporate rat race. My intention in this week’s column is to resurrect a typical winter day of my childhood so that readers from my generation take a trip down memory lane and those from a later age realize what they are missing.
It all began with a call to morning breakfast, which consisted of an omelet, a ‘paratha’ (sometimes two) made in ‘desi ghee’ and a bowl (yes an old fashioned ‘piyala’) of piping hot Kashmiri Tea. Our preferred venue for this meal (away from the cold impersonality of the dining room) was the kitchen, where we plonked ourselves on small low stools or ‘peerhees’ right next to the cozy warmth of the cooking stoves. The flavor and taste of eggs and ‘paratha’ served directly from the pan and the wonderful salty texture of the pink tea ladled from its simmering container is something to be remembered to this day.
Midday meant being picked up from school and setting course for the ancestral home inside the walled city. This trip was necessitated in order to pick up my female sibling, who was a student of Victoria Girls High School. Leaving the car outside Mori Gate, we would walk to Maidan Bhaiyan and the old house, separated from the historic Haveli Naunehal Singh by an expansive bricked space. It was this Haveli that had been converted to my sister’s alma mater (and my aunts’ and mother’s too) decades before independence.
We would make a beeline for the kitchen ruled by a white clad, delicately beautiful, white haired woman – my grandfather’s younger sister. Once more seated on ‘peerhees’, we would be served with a simple yet superbly delicious lunch followed by second helpings doled out with indulgent smiles and affection written all over that lovely face. I have often endeavored to get the females in our clan to reproduce the curries served in that second floor kitchen, but have not been successful so far.
Our home on Queen’s Road had working fireplaces, which would be lit as evening turned into dusk. For dinner, my family forsook the dining room and dinner was served on a ‘dastarkhwan’ spread in front of the roaring log fire. Winter weekends were generally a riot where we indulged in masquerades, theatrical enactments and magic shows performed by family members to the great detriment of professional magicians. A weekend highlight was the cartoon film show run by the eldest son of our neighbors and close friends, the peers. A spare room in our house became the theatre, while the projector was lit by a candle and cranked by hand. In spite of the fact that we often burned holes in the film, we looked forward to the fun.
Contrary to the disposition of children today, we looked forward to our pre bedtime hot beverage known as ‘dodhi’. This consisted of the ‘paanch maghaz’ or five types of edible seeds and almonds ground together and cooked with milk into a delicious hot drink. My mother always maintained that our sound slumber was the result of this concoction.
Once a fortnight we would be forcefully subjected to an unpopular ritual i.e. the rubbing of warm camphor oil on our chest. In hindsight, I am grateful that we went through this massage as it protected us against common winter ailments.
All in all we came to love the winter season and the change of routine. The season offered us unlimited opportunity for fun and we made the most of it. In a nutshell, winter made family bonding tighter and improved relationships.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City.  His forte is the study of History.