It has been the longest and the most severe winter within living memory. I thought it would never end till it took me with it. I kept up my spirits by repeating in my mind Shelley’s line “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" It did not help. Lohri which marks the depth of winter came and went but the cold and icy winds did not loosen their grip. Came Basant Panchmi (11th February), regarded as harbinger of spring by the Indian calender but the temperature in the early hours of the morning was only a couple of degrees above freezing point. Normally we have a winter monsoon between Christmas and Republic Day; this time there was a passing drizzle or two but no rain worth speaking of. I asked myself "what is all this talk of global warming?" There were no signs of it in the chilly atmosphere that prevailed. How right Gueterman was in saying “Unwelcome winter, that old reprobate, is always early; spring is always late.
I was unable to sit in my little back-patch I call garden. The sun was a watery pale and gave no warmth. There were no flowers. My peach and mulberry trees were stark branches without leaves. Few birds, no butterflies, Prem Mohan Kalra who I have inherited from his father took pity on me. He sent me flower pots with Chrysanthemums in full bloom. A little life came back: some birds and butterflies appeared. But nothing like what it was at this time in the years past.
Two days before Basant Panchmi, I stepped into my garden to see if my peach and mulberry had any life left in them; if not, I’d have them chopped up and use as fire-wood to keep me warm in the evenings. Lo & behold ! despite the inclement weather, nature had kept its date. There were a few fresh, green leaves and three or four pink blossoms on the peach tree. There were dots of green on the bare branches of the mulberry, and most heart-warming, was the appearance of golden flowers on the yellow jasmine creaper along my verandah. The sight raised flicker of hope that at long last, winter was on its way out. It was truly noted by Jean Paul Richter that spring makes everything young again except an old man. And I am very, very old. "In spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love," wrote Tenyson. My thoughts took me back to my heated bedroom or the log fire in my study. An apt summary of my state of mind I read in an issue of Playboy: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by central heating."
Being a crusty old buddha, full of malice, I wish the weather would last till Holi and keep urchins who turn it into hullarbazi, huddled together in their quarters. Fortunately, that did not happen. Though delayed by the third week of February, winter gave way to spring and all was green and beautiful. I recollected the immortal words of the song of Solomon: "Rise up my love, & come away, for 10 the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth and the time of singing of birds has come."
Buchi Kanga was born in Calcutta; she earned fame as Bachi Karkaria in Bombay. She was one of the team which made The Illustrated Weekly of India, the most widely read magazine in the country. Besides journalism, she wrote several books, including the biography of MS Oberoi, founding-father of the chain of hotels named after him. For years I have been nagging her to write a definitive book on the Parsis who have given their adopted home land more than any other community. She is a Parsi and very proud of being a Bawaji. But she is too busy writing her weekly column Erratica, attending conferences round the globe and making a quick buck. A recent example is an illustrated book on Calcutta’s famous Swiss confectionary Flurys. It is indeed an important landmark on Park Street. I’ve known it ever since I first went to Calcutta. It was usually my last port of call before leaving the city to buy cakes and pastry as nothing of the same good quality was available in Delhi. A commemoration volume written by Bachi Karkaria is like putting powdered sugar on a chocolate cake.
Her other offering is a lavishly illustrated Mumbai Masti, jointly produced with Krsna Mehta (India Book House). It has more full-page pictures, in garish colours than text. Also, the emphasis is not on city’s beauty spots and gracious living on Malabar Hill but on the congestion, filthy slums of Dharavi, the prostitute quarters of Kamatipura, the chaotic traffic on rail and road. The author’s heroes are not Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan or Ratan Tata but dhabawalas, who are a unique Mumbai phenomenon. They deliver home-cooked meals to office workers in Central Mumbai. It is true to life Mumbai has become a city of vulgar opulence obessessed with Bollywood and ruled by the fascist Shiv Sena. If you do not sing praises of the goatee bearded Bal Thakerey clad in saffron kurta, dark glasses, seated on his throne chair, his son Udhav is there to give you an injection i.e. have you roughed up. It is not Bachi Karkaria’s fault that Mumbai has become a cess-pool; she admits it in so many words:
Jostling, squeezing, sweating, belching Bombay-Mumbai is always on the move. The bus queue is orderly only till the bus arrives But truth be told, unlike Delhi’s killers our red monster has a heart of gold when the flood waters take their toll.
To be driving in Mumbai, oh Yeah?
But even with that you won’t avoid
The transport Rap
Run or get run over.
This is Bombay,my love,shove it
To the Transport Rap.
Take a look at Mumbai Masti. Turn over its pages and you will come across a full page picture of a wall with graffiti written in English and Hindi. If you can read the two languages, you will be impressed and pleased with the freedom we enjoy in publishing bawdy language without getting into trouble with the police.
The reason why
Question: Why is Afghanistan so much in debt?
Answer: Simple; Because its President is named Karzai (which means indebted.)
(Contributed by KJS Ahluwalia, Amritsar)