Another winter is upon us and that too rather early. The weather and along with it, the seasons appear to have gone crazy. The Pundits of Doom say that the theory about the Mayan Calendar appears to be manifesting itself (if you do not know the Mayan Calendar thing, I shall write about it, one of these days). We are witnessing flash floods in Saudi Arabia and torrential rain that washes out a cricket match in the UAE (optimists say good show – the deserts will turn green). There are reports of tennis ball sized hailstones somewhere in Australia that killed sheep and wrecked vehicles. At our own doorstep, we had snow as early as late October and November. If winter is coming before it usually arrives and is bringing freezing cold with it, we should begin thinking about keeping ourselves warm and snug, which brings me to the subject of this week’s piece.

Now I am not an arsonist by nature and certainly not one by occupation, but I can build a mighty impressive log fire to warm up the room with a touch of romance or for that matter even a ‘bonfire’. Let me assure you that successfully lighting a log fire in, what is known as the ‘aatishdan’ is pure science. Logs (and dry ones) will only burn, when enough heat is generated for them to ignite and there is a chimney that ‘draws’. Let us take these factors one by one. The right temperature is created by putting an ample supply of tinder in the ‘hearth’ and creating a draught for the fire to be fed. This ‘tinder’ could be newspapers you don’t like, but have to buy because your better half does or old love letters, which you don’t want your wife to lay her hands on, since you failed to tell her about them on your wedding night. Next, cover the paper with a generous heap of twigs (or better still – pine cones), starting with the thin ones and ending with ones that are thicker. I strongly recommend adding bits of the old wooden chair that has drawn blood on many occasions as you stumbled across it engrossed in some intellectual introspection. Now comes the most critical part that will save or sink your reputation as a ‘Master Fire Builder’, i.e. the meticulous stacking of your firewood. Remember that this wood should have been cut to size, not exceeding two feet. You should have by your side, a picture of an American Indian’s Tepee, since your logs once placed, should resemble a miniature wigwam - converging at the top and encircling the tinder and twigs at the bottom. The moment your family and your cat have been waiting for has finally come – the lighting of your painstaking handiwork. This cannot be truly accomplished without some showmanship. It is strongly recommended that this must not be overdone as according to a wise man of old “an escape route should always be kept for face saving purposes, if something goes wrong”. This can be accomplished by dropping hints such as “I took the word of the ‘taalwala’ that the wood was dry” or “I saw a couple of mynahs fly out of the smoke stack, which I hope hasn’t been blocked by a nest”. Now light the match and apply it gently to the ‘tinder’. As the paper catches fire, run for the day’s news paper and hold its editorial page in a manner so that it covers the fire place opening leaving a slit at the bottom. What happens next proves the notion that hot air rises. This rising current of air will lower the pressure in the fireplace and the slit at the bottom of the newspaper will suck in air creating a draught that will feed the fire. Do not forget to step back dramatically from the fire place after the flames begin rising up the chimney and take a bow before the assembled audience. You can then celebrate your success by consuming copious quantities of peanuts, while staring into the flames and throwing the shells into the conflagration, for good measure.

Once you have mastered the art of an indoor log fire, you will have no difficulty in impressing one and all by duplicating the indoor procedure outdoors. However make sure that if you do not want your reputation to suffer, build a bonfire in a custom made pit of stone or bricks and not on the expensive turf that the ‘queen of the house’ had laid just two weeks ago. So good luck and go light a fire!

The writer is a historian. 

Now I am not an arsonist by nature and certainly not one by occupation, but I can build a mighty impressive log fire to warm up the room with a touch of romance or for that matter even a ‘bonfire’.