Winters in the part of Pakistan, where I live are particularly severe. It is, therefore, no surprise that the advent of the cold season is heralded by hectic activity in my house, which includes getting woolies out of trunks, airing quilts and prepping up the heating system. While I am okay with the woolies and the quilts, it is the heating system or more specifically, fireplaces that evoke mixed memories.

There was an uproar as my wife and offspring first set eyes on these fireplaces. No amount of explanations and arguments, including one about gas loadshedding that was likely to render any system except the traditional one ineffective, could placate the situation till such time that I called up the concerned service providers and asked them to install hot water radiators in the building.

I must admit that I have always preferred frosty weather to the sweaty one. A part of this preference is due to my traditional and rather romantic bent of mind, while the rest is driven by the fact that woolies are great for hiding my overweight exterior. The nostalgia stems from childhood memories of our home in Lahore, which sported expansive fireplaces that became the focal point of our winter evenings.

We moved into our present abode towards the tail end of summer and as winter set in, it soon became apparent to detractors of my fireplaces that I was right all along. One day I was approached by the leader of the group, who suggested that since hard-earned money had been spent on the structures, it would be wise to try them out to see if they were ‘drawing’ properly. I immediately dug out my ‘I told you so’ look and in a manner that said a thousand words, agreed to the suggestion.

The first three fireplaces worked perfectly, drawing a loud cheer from the very people who had been their harshest critics, but the fourth chimney belonging to our sitting room, decided that “no chimney was worth a penny if it didn’t blow smoke back into the room.” For quite some time after this incident, visitors to the said room often commented rather apprehensively that they could smell smoke.

I had always had a desire to roast chestnuts over a fire, but while the fire was readily available - chestnuts were not. Not prepared to give up, I finally managed to get some through a friend, who was returning from Europe. We selected an evening which was freezing cold, overcast and very gusty. It was with great ceremony that the family got together around the bedroom fireplace to carry out what for all purposes appeared to be child’s play. Everything worked out just fine, except for the fact that the laws of physics decided to take matters into their own hands. We suddenly realised that something was wrong, when the flue stopped drawing. Within seconds ashes began to scatter around the room to be followed by a scraping sound as a large chunk of carbon detached itself from the chimney walls and fell into the hearth scattering chestnuts, us and the cat, like ninepins. It took us more than an hour to clean up the mess - a situation aggravated by the sight of multiple pairs of eyes casting accusing looks towards me. I could only respond by mumbling that what had happened a few moments ago was much better than the ‘rats’ incident.

I must for the sake of literary flow, narrate the ‘rat’ episode. It was in the early eighties that during the course of my professional pursuits, I moved into an old colonial bungalow surrounded by fruit trees and lawns. I was thrilled to see that the rooms of this beautiful structure sported fireplaces, but chagrined to note that their flues had been sealed off with bricks and mortar. I immediately arranged to have these chimneys opened, in spite of a low voiced protest from the ‘chowkidar’ about reconsidering my decision or I would regret it. I strutted around the house surveying my work and then went to bed. I had barely gone to sleep when something big scampered over me and I found myself staring into a hideous whiskered snout and a pair of beady eyes. I flung away the bed clothes, jumped out of bed and switched on the lights, to discover that the house had been invaded by an army of huge rats that populated the chimneys and had been set loose by my passion for working fireplaces. Needless to say, but I immediately reversed my decision and then spent a whole week ridding my residence of the vermin.

Guests, who come to stay with me in winters, often envy the log fires that create a wonderful ambience in my home. If only they could see a photograph (taken by none other than my own flesh and blood) hidden away in an obscure drawer of my study, showing someone, with an uncanny resemblance to yours truly, but smeared liberally with chimney soot and holding up what was once a chestnut.

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