Here in Agartala, the weather starts to change from mid- October. Darkness starts to fall noticeably earlier. It rains occasionally- light but stubbornly continuous; and when it does, the sun refuses to show its face for many days in succession. Foreshadowing the shape of things to come, a white mist sweeps in from the West on some mornings and most evenings. The evenings also have the edge of chill in them- faint initially, growing more insistent as the days shorten.
Even though the flaming Autumns are absent, leaves start to fall, leaving some trees totally bare by January. Since the sweepers have better things to do with their time than compost the fallen leaves, they just wait for them to get reasonably dry and light fires. The birds do not set up their usual chorus in the mornings. There is a definite lull in the atmosphere- of silence and waiting.
One notable exception is the Parijata trees, which grow abundantly here. Each day I wake up to a fresh and fragrant carpet of last night’s blossoms. But these too peter out by December.
My home state, the one which I claim to be from, even though now I have spent more years living outside it rather than within its boundaries, lies to the South-West, nearer to the Equator, and is edged by the sea. The happy consequence of this geography was that I grew up an utter stranger to Winter, which (for me) existed romantically only on Christmas cards, depicting snow covered landscapes.
Later, tossed to a town in the foothills of the Himalayas one October, I became the owner of my first woollen sweater at the age of twenty-three. Thick blankets and a room heater quickly followed. That first winter of North India, caught me off-guard; but then, I had the resilience of youth with me and emerged quite unscathed.
But today, another twenty three years later, I am in no position of resilience. The cold, damp mist and the absence of sunshine takes a toll on both physical and mental health. I am a sitting duck for stray viruses cruising around; my last birthday was spent in bed, unable to sit up or keep the eyes open, hallucinating wildly, BP dipping down and with a wild thirst ravaging the body. I remember nothing of the journey to or from the doctor; and had to force myself to tell him what was wrong with me. Mercifully, he asked very few questions; being a Homeopath, neither did he prescribe tedious blood tests and antibiotics to subdue the virus; just a tiny vial of medicine- two drops to be taken every two hours. I was fine the day after!
Depression and lack of enthusiasm is the other side of the story. Whatever glimmer of warmth or sunshine the day has to offer, is over too soon. The days become an endless procession of chilled greyness. Melancholy tightens its grip- trying to squeeze out all joy and there are days when I fear it will win. Like the Last Leaf in the O Henry story, what sustained me last year was the sight of roses! The rose bush in front of my house, a hardy local variety, blooms every single day of the year- rain or shine. I do not pick flowers- cannot bring myself to do so- and am content to admire the blooms from afar. So pale pink roses it was, not only in December, but January and February too.
Autumn and then Winter following on its heels, both seemingly merged into one marching army of depressing days, varying only in the intensity of the biting cold, are also a space for reflection. A time to face mortality and also a reminder that the Great Wheel is turning. A time to hold up a mirror to ourselves and to see how much, if at all, we have progressed.
I live one day at a time in winter; trying to be friends with my dark shadow self, feeling the absence of warmth and sunshine, yet fighting to stay above it.