Oh! Glorious December! This is month I thrive in; I rejoice and I celebrate! As cold winter comes down on the plains of North India, suddenly everything looks beautiful in the afternoon sun, with all the roses in bloom. It is cold, very cold, but it brings with it a stark beauty of merry making and joy and smell of woodsmoke and delicious foods like Sarson ka Saag (a puree of mustard leaves), home made white butter and gajar ka halwa (a pudding made of Ghee, milk, jaggery, dry fruits and carrots) all served hot! This is a month of such wonder and here are some pieces that illustrate the unstinted beauty of the month!
“May and October, the best-smelling months? I’ll make a case for December: evergreen, frost, wood smoke, cinnamon.”
― Lisa Kleypas, Love in the Afternoon
“December is a bewitching month.
The grey of cold teases
to explode into something worthwhile,
into a dream of cold,
a starlight shower you can taste,
a cold that does not chill.
I’ve lost my memory
of my first snow–
did I gasp at a field of white?
Or scream at the freeze
untill my cheeks reddened?
The crunch underfoot is satisfying
and the thrill of virgin snow
― Joseph Coelho, A Year of Nature Poem
In December ring Every day the chimes; Loud the gleemen sing In the streets their merry rhymes. Let us by the fire Ever higher Sing them till the night expire!
―Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Of all the months of the year there is not a month one half so welcome to the young, or so full of happy associations, as the last month of the year.
– Charles Dickens
And finally, one of my personal favorites, originally shared with me by the wonderful people at Daak (they are treasure trove of sub continent’s culture, art and literature. You must check their website or Instagram handle for some hidden gems) describing the beauty and the daily life of winter in Kashmir with lyricism, simplicity and great humor. This was penned by Mulla Muhammad Tahir Ghani, known as Ghani Kashmiri, who lived in Srinagar, around 17th century,
In this season where the water is frozen
Every bubble has become a glasshouse.
The stream flowing across the garden
Looks like a line drawn on the page.
The minstrel’s hand is without a drum.
It seems the dewy song has frozen too.
Cold has turned water into ice.
Etching it is like etching a stone.
In all this, the duck in the water croons
‘Lucky the bird that’s become a kebab.’
The spark too has been struck by the chill
And has hid itself back in the flint.
The spark and flame are together no more.
The chilly drought has torn them apart.
No sooner does a spark rise from the fire
Than it turns into a hailstone.
Such is the nip in the biting air
That the moist eye resembles a stony glass.
Scared to their bones now men are of water
Like the mirror they hide it under the earth.
The means of living are in the hands of Chinar
Which in autumn has provided for fire.
The fish offers itself to the hook
In the hope that it might see fire
So cold has the oven of the sky become
No longer visible is the bread-like sun
Can a stream flow on the face of the earth
When the sun’s eye itself is frozen?
Release from the stinging cold does the fish find
When it slits itself with the icicle’s sword
No fear of water does the snow show.
It floats on its surface like foam.
The ember glowing in the brazier
Looks like a gem in the casket.
He who relaxes his hold on the chair
Finds himself skating on the ice.
And he who breaks his leg on the ice
Is plastered there on the wooden plank.
His joy knows no bounds if a sad soul
Gets hold of a few flint stones.
How could one walk on the murky earth
If it were not covered with planks of ice?
Agonized such is the fish by the chill
It seeks to flee from all that is wet.
Every sigh that soars up to the sky
Becomes a snowflake and falls to the ground.
Behold the game that the winter plays
Fashioning myriad mirrors from water plain.
Though a flame hides within its breast
The leaf of chinar breathes no warmth.
And he whose life leaves him in this chill
Prefers hell to escape the cold.
As children make their way to school
They practice skating on the planks of ice
He is wise who in this season
Clings to the stove like a madman.
Narrating this, my tongue is coated with ice.
My breath, it seems, has frozen to make another tongue.
And when the chill turns chillier still
Like the ear, even the mouth turns still.
The tear which drops from the crying eye
Freezes like the wax dripping down the candle.
All this is known to the wise ant
Which entombs itself when alive.
This winter’s tale I can no longer narrate
For the tongue is now an icicle in my mouth.
I leave you with some beautiful illustrations from Kashmir, Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, Illustrated by E. Molyneux, which captured the beauty of this land in some wonderful watercolor imagery. Circa 1887.
Painting 1 – Lotus Lilies at Dal Lake
Painting 2 – Shalimar Gardens
Painting 3 – The Temple, Chenar Bagh
Painting 4 – Sunset on Jhelum