Winter on my skinWinter means many things to many people-- the dread of dark and cold for some and for some, a chance to look for warmth.
Winter spills out into my room in the form of jumpers. I happen to call them jumpers. Maa calls them sweaters. Is it because their job is to make you sweat, you once asked me. If so, why are jumpers called jumpers?
Maa is always going to insist they are sweaters. Grandmother used to knit them in bright colours and complicated patterns, as though crossing needles all year was a way of mentally preparing for the Kathmandu cold that would arrive at her toes, threatening to bite them off in chilblains.
Winters were harsh. Some mornings, she woke up to a layer of ice on top of the water left overnight in the washing tub. She would first crack the ice with a finger and then dip it in slowly, almost afraid.
Throughout winter, her toes and fingers would itch from the inflammation caused by exposure to the cold. At night, laying next to her husband, a bunch of babes on the other side, she would turn to him and say: Warm my hands please -- they are prone to chilblains.
Read also: Stealing a dog, Pratibha Tuladhar
So winter spills out into my room anyway, out of duffle bags and old trunks and the high shelf in the closet. Those are their place all summer. They remain tucked away, their warmth made obsolete by the summer sun. They shy away in different nooks of the house, perhaps sighing and waiting until it's time again.
And today is the start of that time.
Bring them out and leave them in the sun, Maa says. This should have happened in the month of Gunla, while the sun was still strong. Just at the heels of the monsoon, you know, she says.
But Maa, I protest. We lost track of the monsoon this year. Didn’t it rain all the way through Dasain?
And so today is finally the start of the time. The jumpers are a bunch of colours, ranging from tangerine to black -- a splotch of yellow and blue here and there.
Why do you buy so much black? she asks.
And there are three bags of black nylon stockings. Some of them have run ladders from being worn for too many years. Why does a woman need 35 pairs of stockings? Maa likes to speak in hyperbole.
I am not sure I need them, actually, I say. I didn’t even buy them. One pair of holey stockings was gifted by Funa last year. But when she was opening the delivery, she accidentally ripped a hole with the scissors into the packet. And so, all of last winter, I walked around in a pair of holey stockings.
I don’t know any woman who walks around in torn stockings, you Hippie!
Read also: Memory of a conversation, Pratibha Tuladhar
Wear me out
Clothing items become worn out when they are worn well. In that wearing out is the residue of the days it has carried our limbs, torso, etcetera. And so they begin to develop holes, collect lint, scrunch up in certain areas where the rate of friction is more frequent.
They gather the memory of some wall you were leaning against while you waited for your paperwork to come through in a government office. The loop of wool sticking out of an old jumper is a reminder of how a stray nail gently tugged at you as you stood up to leave your desk one evening to go meet a certain friend.
One of my oldest black jumpers has sleeves that hang all the way to my finger tips. In the newsroom, when I worked the late news shift, I would pull them all the way down and roll them in a fist, depositing them on my lap as I watched the late night news, waiting for my turn to get on the air. Gloves and mittens never warmed my hands the same way.
Next to me once sat Ram Chandra, asleep on an adjustable office chair, the room heater at his knees slowly eating a hole into his fleece jacket.
The almost accident left a charred dark patch on his jacket. Perhaps, if he still owns that jacket he looks at it and thinks of how I might have rescued it by waking him up, instead of sitting next to him gawking at the screen, my nostrils flaring in the air at the hint of something burning.
“Not very smart, are you, didi?” Ram Chandra later asked me.
Darkness of the street
Against an old Kathmandu house, supported by struts, sit three women with their goods spread before them in a molehill. The little hill is made up of fleece items-- colourful trousers, jackets and more trousers and some socks and beanies. Their colours reach you even in the darkness of the alleyway, beckoning at you like winter. But the women do not make an attempt to sell. They merely stare at me, perhaps wondering if I will buy.
I have too much winter clothes, I make a mental note.
Read also: The light of feet, Pratibha Tuladhar
When we were growing up, bringing your winter clothes out during Gunla was a ritual, explains Maa. Kathmandu winter demands that you get prepared in time. So, we used to bring it out and leave it in the sun all day before folding each item carefully and shelving it in cupboards where they were easily within reach as the temperatures started to drop after Tihar.
No one has that kind of time now, Maa. Also, we have things hanging in the closet all year now, so what would be the point of having the coming out occasion for clothes?
But the pile in my room does seem to be having a coming out per se, as warm colours peek at me. I touch an old cholo belonging to my Ajee, which was passed down to me as her souvenir. Bright red with black flowers, she wore it for many years while Aaja was alive and then it went and sat in a trunk in the store. Like we stock up summer clothes at the start of winter, Ajee’s clothes of colour had all been swiftly stored away when she became a widow. None of them ever saw a Gunla sunny day out. They just stayed there.
But today, in my room, the bright red and the dark flowers of the cholo catch the sun.
Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.
Vignettes from war, Pratibha Tuladhar