A spell of winter worth its salt can teach you a lot. For one, it shows you what a good conductor of electricity the human body is: a lesson learnt by the frequent twitchy withdrawal of your hand from a surface as innocuous as a doorknob when you are jolted by a tiny spark of current, eventually leading to a fear of all things metallic. Winter also teaches you patience – through long cold nights, through eager days spent waiting for the snow to fall and then for it to melt.
To my unaccustomed eyes, the first blizzard I ever saw was a marvel. Even as I went about my chores, I kept hovering by the windows last Friday and Saturday to watch the snowflakes careening into one another and floating to the ground, piling up in thick sheets, burying cars and plants. How could there be so much snow? How could it fall for hours on end without a break, the wind growing stronger every hour? It started carpeting our balcony and we looked forward to building a snowman once the worst of the storm was past us. We couldn’t waste this opportunity though, so we wrapped up and went out on the road to feel the snow fall on our faces. I sank calf-deep into a powdery blanket of snow that I didn’t realise was as thick. A few hardy souls went running, loath to give up their exercise even in this unholy weather. Sadly, we weren’t among them: after a few minutes spent pretending that this was a post-apocalyptic world from Cormac McCarthy, we were driven back indoors by the gritty particles that rushed into our eyes and noses.
The snowstorm was exciting while it lasted, but I cannot deny the pleasure that waking up to blue skies gave me after the blizzard ended. The whole event could almost have been a dream – except, when I looked out from my window, the downy snow was beginning to be gathered up into blackened piles, much like the foam floating out of a few of Bangalore’s polluted lakes. This wasn’t a pretty sight.
However, being cooped up at home meant extra reading time. I read Edith Wharton’s Bunner Sisters and resumed The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I’d somehow abandoned midway (I cannot imagine why). One thing led to another, and having finished the book last night, I’m prepared to pay Neil Gaiman the high honour of likening his writing to Ruskin Bond’s. Few people understand little boys and girls who spend their childhood with their noses buried in books and write about them so compellingly.
Though my bedside table was already tottering under the weight of unread books, I decided to take myself off to the library for a while. Clearly, I didn’t really need to borrow any more, but I also panic often about a certain mood seizing me and not having something to match it. I wanted the comfort of stacked bookshelves around me. I walked gingerly on the slippery pavements, the melting snow now running in rivulets down them. It wasn’t always unsightly though; it looked invitingly pristine under the trees, a ray of sunshine glinting off its surface through the branches. It reminded me of a certain RK Narayan sentence that I think of whenever I’m attracted by something shiny: “The morning sun came through a glass tile and touched with radiance the little heap of uppumav on his plate-a piece of green chilli and some globules of oil made the stuff sparkle, catching Jagan’s eye insistently for a moment, making him wonder if he had made some strange edible gem-set for his son rather than merely frying semolina and spicing it.” (This is an excerpt from The Vendor of Sweets.)
This little moment made up for the heaps of slushy snow piled up on the roads. I didn’t think of them as “sinister” at all, an adjective I’d used when describing how I felt about melting snow to a Canadian professor at university, leaving him bemused. That, and the red “Open” sign in the library window, took the edge off any vestiges of irritation that might have been simmering deep inside. That my favourite librarian wasn’t at the counter didn’t bother me. I returned my books to the fresh-faced young man who was there instead, and asked him where the graphic novels were.
“Graphic novels.” (Gr-ah-phic. I wasn’t going to change the way I pronounced it.)
“Graphic novels. Oh. Okay. For…adults?”
He clearly likened graphic novels to something out of Vatsyayana.
“Yes.” The tetchiness was returning. But he didn’t ask for my ID and thankfully guided me to the right shelf, where I spent a leisurely ten minutes choosing two books, then went around the other shelves, hoping to be surprised. I agonised over Somerset Maugham and Tobias Wolff, picking the latter in the end. I set off homewards recharged, a filled backpack on my shoulders, the nippy wind nibbling at my nose and ears even as the sun began rapidly dipping into the horizon. I was at peace with the world. A cosy home, a bedside table stacked high with books, the prospect of hot chocolate with marshmallows and cookies to ease the march into February: what else can one ask for?