It doesn’t snow here in Dehradun. Our coldest day this week was 37 F (that’s a little under 3 Celsius) and with a daughter in Chicago (6 F; – 14 C) and a son in Boston (25 F; – 4 C), I know enough not to complain.
Except! We live in drafty houses in Dehradun. Our floors are made of cold, hard stone and our windows don’t close properly in the winters because the wooden frames swell during the summers and get stuck during the monsoons. No one has central heat. We have little space heaters which warm beautifully as long as you are sitting right next to them, as long as there is electricity and as long as the voltage is high enough to make a difference.
Three variables in an Indian equation usually add up to being cold.
I started writing this on January 9th, 2015 and I will never forget January 9th, 1995.
20 years ago, but that day is as clear to me as if it were yesterday.
I have never been so cold in my life – before or since – and remembering it is almost a pleasure because it reminds me of how far we have come in our acquisition of creature comforts.
Because in those days, we were poor. We lived in a 3-room house and all three children slept in our bed not just because it was the Indian thing to do but because it was so much warmer that way. We had one small heater which we used only when the children were dressing after their baths. The rest of the time we wore layers (think: sausages) and tried to keep moving.
January 9, 1995 was cold and rainy. Ravi had left for his office at 10. The electricity had gone off at 8 AM and wouldn’t come back until 5 that evening.The children (Anand, Cathleen, Moy Moy) and I were home alone. It was freezing, wet, dark and dreary outside and in. There was simply no way to get warm. We just had to get through the day. We played jumping games for as long as we could and then we tunneled into bed for a long afternoon nap.
Today was cold too. The electricity was off for a good part of the day and though it was not dark or rainy, it was very cold. But now we have an inverter, heaters in every room, geezers in every bathroom, a fireplace.
Candles, I am now convinced, are key. We can’t control the weather or the government nor can we ensure a 24-hour supply of electricity.
What we can do is light candles.
Small ones; big ones; many; a few. It doesn’t matter. Candles are the answer.
We know how ephemeral they are yet we all light them anyway. Against the dark, against the sadness, against diminishing hope and rising fear.
We light candles.
I have now been through 30 cold winters in India. The rest of the world thinks India is a HOT country but I know differently. Every country has its cold days. India is no different.
Candles help us make it through to the other side.
Small flames. Tiny beacons of light.
We find them where we can and we treasure them, fanning them when they flag, sheltering them from the winds and the cold gusts of winter.
They are small and delicate. They go out easily. It is our job to keep them alive.
It is our job to keep them alive.
Being cold in India reminds me of so many things: how important it is to stay in touch with the real lives of real people; how big small things really are; how every day is actually just one day and how well my entire life can be summed up in this one question: “How many jackets do you really need to own?”
One. One. Only One.