This post first appeared on The Pendora Magazine.
Every winter morning, I open the blinds and look out the bedroom window of my suburban house in Ohio to see if there is a tinge of red in the sky. My furnace would still keep me warm if the sky is overcast, but the presence of the sun’s rays transport me to a day, filled with bonhomie and warmth which comes with the sun, in my home back in India, where my parents live with the childhood I left behind.
My retired parents live in Uttaranchal, India where winters are gelid. Their house, like most Indian houses, does not have a central heating system. They have electric portable heaters around which they huddle but since the demand for electricity is more than the supply, there are frequent and long-lasting power cuts.
The only reliable source of light and heat during daytime for my parents is the sun. It is the center around which not only the Earth but their daily routine revolves.
Soon as the sun is out, my mother pulls folding chairs out into the porch, for her and my father and for the neighbors who are always expected to stop by. My parents then enjoy a hot cup of tea with Parle-G biscuits, wrapping both hands around their cups to allow warmth to seep in, gazing at the sunny rectangular patch, which starts at the top of their iron gate and quickly reaches their toes.
As the warmth stirs in, my father takes off his woolen hat, thick sweater, and socks and stretches his aching limbs out in the sun. He also rubs Ayurvedic oil on his stiff knees as the sun provides the fomentation.
Neighbors start getting out of their abodes, meeting and greeting each other like it’s a day-long fete. One elderly gentleman, who has been a neighbor for years, always comes and sits with my father and they talk about how many days are left till the next pension or about politics. This social connection for the retired men is possible only in sunlight.
My mother arranges her chores around the hours of sunlight. She keeps her jars of vegetable pickles, with a muslin cloth covering their mouths, out in the sun. These pickles, she packs with me and my sisters when we visit her.
She pulls out her decades-old Singer sewing machine on the porch, oils it and begins to repair old clothes or starts sewing a new shirt or dress for one of her grandkids, mixing and matching the scraps of fabric and laces she has in her trove.
By noon, she starts lunch preparations − shelling green peas or chopping the spinach, outside, on her tiny table. She soaks the daal in water and sunlight before cooking it in the pressure cooker. This lends a special softness and flavor to the daal, which cannot be replaced with any other spice.
She then runs the laundry enthusiastically, hoping the clothes will dry the same day. The washing machines in India do not dry the clothes; they have to be hung out on the clothesline. On foggy days, the drying process can take two to three days. The clothes need to be brought inside the house, hung on doors or window pelmets, in the evening to escape dew and frost and again hung out in the morning. This makes them smell musty.
Later in the afternoon, street vendors with their bundles loaded on their heads, bicycles or rickety carts start flooding the alley in front of my parents’ home. They shout out loud to sell items, ranging from onions/potatoes to laddoos and from dishtowels to faux mink blankets. My mother and other women stop a vendor, examine the merchandise critically and bargain vigorously until the man leaves and then returns back to sell at the women’s price. It is considered a victory if the price dwindles from 500 rupees to maybe, 200 or 250 rupees. This small victory lends piquancy to the women’s humdrum lives.
The hustle bustle continues until maybe four in the afternoon when the sun rays begin to recede and everyone recedes into their homes with them.
The sun plays the montage of my parents’ life in winter, in front of my eyes, and makes me believe that life, in their corner of the world, is good.