Humour: Winter is coming
It’s a perverse pleasure to use Game of Thrones references considering I abandoned the first episode midway. Not for me the gruesome intrigues of the cold and damp North. My winter, as a Mumbai dweller, has slightly different connotations. Having just returned from a trip to wild Ranthambore and choking Delhi, I’m tuning myself into the subtle pleasures of winter by the sea. The monsoon outstayed its welcome in the city, and to add to the confusion, we had cyclones followed by (gasp!) blue skies and clean air. It’s time to settle into some familiar end-of-year routines and to construct yet another losing argument against those who claim Mumbai has no winter.
Winter is when Mumbai flirts with culture. From film and literature to music and theatre, you’re spoilt for choice. Like every festive season, I began this one too with noble intentions. I solemnly resolved to attend the screenings, show up at the discussions, walk through the installations. In short, to absorb the zeitgeist and to become a walking emblem of good taste and high thoughts. So far, I regret to report online bookings and distant locations have dampened my annual evangelical zeal. I haven’t earned a single badge of honour: those official tags that admit you to the hallowed rooms where culture is transmitted.
In my defence, I did watch two films in the hope of being edified. Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in America and Todd Phillips’ Joker, both in ordinary theatres, both to an underwhelming response. To redeem myself, I signed up at a local library. But F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night has been staring at me accusingly from the bedside table for weeks now, still half-read.
The importance of seasonal friendships
As always, one finds better luck with culinary pursuits. It’s that time of year when shakarkand roasting on roadside carts makes me feel like I’m in a Hindustani short story written in the early 20th century; it smells of other people’s nostalgia. Often you see carts wheeling by, heaped with just carrots and peas – a local tribute to Christmas. And tea stalls have more than their usual share of customers spiking their day with an oversweet confection. In shiny stores, of course, you’ll find every hedonistic delight, from roast turkey to sticky pudding. Meats marinated, cheeses smoked, juice cold-pressed. It takes a very austere soul indeed to resist these enticements.
But the real treats lie elsewhere. ’Tis the season to renew friendships with undhiyu-making households. A gentle hello, followed by an affable chat and vague plans to meet long-ignored folks, all in the hope of being served the Gujarati winter treat. The gastronomic ignoramus in me has never bothered to find out what goes into its making, but all those veggies and masalas – some familiar and others unidentifiable – are completely worth the social effort. Insider’s tip: keep the friendship going at least till aamras season.
Occupation of the pink army
In our troubled era of climate change and environmental damage, Mumbai isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a natural haven. Last winter, I visited a part of the city that convinced me otherwise. Every winter, the Coastal Marine Biodiversity Centre in Airoli receives a large number of migratory birds flying in from the Rann of Kutch. The greater and lesser flamingos are the big draw here, covering Thane creek in a pink haze on a cool day. On a boat ride along a thick mangrove cover, you can greet egrets, herons, ibises, ducks and sandpipers, too.
Having lived in this city my entire life, I’ve never come close to such a serene and fulfilling outdoors experience. (The odd school picnic to Borivali National Park or Vihar Lake did come close.) The naturalist on the boat wasn’t exactly David Attenborough, but she did try to engage the kids with well-intentioned questions. I’d strongly recommend you visit the sanctuary, and take your own kids, or borrow your neighbours’, for the visit. Somewhere not too far away is a bunch of pink flamingos that still finds my city hospitable. May this winter idyll forever remain.
Rehana Munir’s debut novel Paper Moon is now on stands
From HT Brunch, November 24, 2019
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