There is nothing about December that excites me. And yet, it is the only month that makes me feel its presence.
Summer months shine away leaving a blur of memories behind, monsoon months pass away in drinking chai and eating hot pakoras, and autumn, autumn, sadly never makes its way to my country.
But in the end, it is always December. December with my unexplored ambitions, unvisited destinations, and incomplete resolutions.
If there is one thing that honestly entices me about winter, it is snow. Snow truly makes December more picturesque, more vivacious and more than just a month that needs to be passed over quickly to begin the new year.
Unfortunately, snow in my city is as rare as clean air. All we can hope to get in Delhi is a hailstorm. Being from a middle-class family, I get to see both the ups and downs of this world. My parents come from small towns, while I grew up in various cosmopolitan cities across India.
My most enchanting rendezvous with December was my winter holidays away from home when I was in Begusarai en route to Sikkim. My dad’s hometown. Located in the state of Bihar, the cold here is very harsh, as it is in all of north India. My favorite pastime in my grandmother’s quarters was observing the sleepy township of Begusarai while nibbling on a carrot in my grandmother’s backyard.
The carrot would always be fresh.
Straight from the clean and pure earth, just like the air back then. Breathing in the fresh, cold breeze with a hint of delicious sunshine in it, was the start of my day. I wasn’t allowed to sleep beyond six. And I didn’t mind either.
On Christmas day, my grandmother decided to visit her sister. I recall treading through winding alleys and narrow streets to reach our destination. The house I remember visiting, was a large old-fashioned mansion, in the local dialect, a haveli, located on the outskirts of Begusarai. It was newly furnished on the interior, expelling the notion of a rundown old house on the exterior.
There was little to do that day since Christmas is hardly an occasion for me. I believe December is more than just Christmas and a new year.
While the elder exchanged pleasantries, I climbed on the roof of the mansion. The sunset could take place any minute now. And at that moment, when the sky turned a combination of brilliant yellow-reddish hues, blushing deeply as the sun kissed the cold, grey, murky December sky a goodbye for the day, I found a little beauty in the frosty and lifeless month of December.
I found a little hope in the chilling month of December, just as the grey skies do, when the moon comes up at night, gleaming brightly, reminding the sky to have faith and never forget that the sun will rise again tomorrow. That the sky will turn rosy and warm again, tomorrow.
Later that night, the lights went out. That was when I learned to make the light ourselves. A hundred earthen lamps radiated with the desires and aspirations of the people in the form of light. The earthy aroma of the lamps fills the house, mixed with the calloused winds of December, igniting hope that the light will come again.
Nathula Pass in December is extremely cold. Nestled in the austere valleys of Sikkim, Nathula Pass is one of the borders of India, separating it from China.
December’s unforgiving winter often takes me to the borders of my country, wondering how do the army men over there find the optimism to keep going on, even in this cruel and bitter cold. How they willingly give up their families and homes, to face an uncertain future, never knowing when will they return or will they ever even return. I know I could never have done that.
We had to hire a jeep to take us to Nathula Pass, which was high up in the mountains. The icy, narrow roads, the chilling gusts of wind all seemed to make me truly experience the essence of December. As soon as I reached the top, I remember hurrying to a pile of fresh snow and picking it up in my little gloved hands. Unsatisfied, I removed my gloves, eager to let my warm, bare hands greet the frosty snow. The distant sound of my mom scolding me, asking me to put my gloves back reached my ears. But I ignored it.
Time slowed down. All I could see was the splendor of the snow, as happiness flooded my inquisitive eyes.
Later, we had Maggi in the Indian Army cafeteria. The bowl of Maggi was like a bowl of nectar in this freezing paradise. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to cool down the Maggi before eating. The bitter air blowing across the cafeteria was enough for that.
Surrounded by the army, I heard their hopes and dreams. Some talked about seeing their family, their wives. Some talked about meeting their mothers, seeing their newborns. The happy chatter of their hopefulness left a deep impression on me. And for the first time, I felt truly blissful. The light in their contented eyes, the smile on their worn-out and weathered faces and how they celebrated all their hardships without batting an eyelid, made me proud. Proud to call them Indians. Proud to be an Indian.
December showed me what happiness meant in its raw form. And I began to see this month in a whole new radiance. I began to look forward to December.
On the bare and cold Delhi streets, I see children running about, homeless and hungry. Yet, they find a small reason, a small hope to smile happily.
For thirty-one days, I see the miracle of December happening before my eyes, reminding me of my encounters with faith, the feeling of December.
And I find myself hoping again.
What is December for you?
[The title - Asha - means hope in the language of Hindi. It is a beautiful word, isn't it?]