Why Calcutta Seems More Home in the Winter

There is a reason why we call winter ‘the holiday season’. Though days are shorter, destinations suddenly become more hospitable.  
Photo by Dilwar Photography/Moment Unreleased/Getty Images.
Photo by Dilwar Photography/Moment Unreleased/Getty Images.

Every September, my father is the first to feel a “light nip in the air.” Autumn brings to Calcutta the convoy of Goddess Durga and with her, predictably, comes expectation. Battered by humidity, the city breathes a sigh of relief each time the Puja pandal begins to interfere with its traffic. Winter is coming. Sweaters, blankets and monkey caps all come out when the cold finally arrives in November, but the mercurial Calcuttan does also soften when the temperature allows for more picnics and adda in the sun.

The American novelist Paul Auster had once written that it helps to talk about the weather. It affects us all equally. In Calcutta, nothing breaks the ice better than talk about the fog or the chill. Suddenly a holiday destination for foreign tourists and local travellers, the city puts on a show. Park Street—Calcutta’s centre of sorts—is lit like an opulent Christmas tree through the season. Terraces are decked with fairy lights, and the amount of tea Calcuttans consume during this time could well give the British a hangover. Usually not one for moderation, Calcutta does get the permutation of the elements just right.

Wanting to escape the bitter cold waves of the north, my cousins in Delhi would often escape east in December. As children, we sang carols and put stockings on our windows. The cheer of our vacation made it easier for us to believe we had been good enough for Santa. But even while my hometown supplied us with an abundance of that festive spirit, my parents did at times like to interrupt our winter with a holiday. “Let’s go the hills,” my father would say. “It’s our only chance to see snow.” Apart from the one Kathmandu compromise, my mother never did let him have his way. Puri remained her favourite destination. Its beaches, she said, were prettier when the water was cold. Winter was surely the best time to travel. Though places showed us their best side, we were still very glad to return home.

If my father were to pick up this issue, he’d certainly say, “This Ghent looks very promising.” My mother, however, would campaign for Ahmedabad. “Gujarat will be too oppressive in the summer,” she’d prudently argue. Oman would give my mother her beach and Thailand would give my father his Buddha. Always looking for a ticket to the Middle East, I would hope a gentler sun would make them opt for Bahrain instead, but it would perhaps be Jamaica that would win the day. The odds would sadly be against my mother’s favour. Much to her chagrin, Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”, is the one song my father and I can both sing along to in perfect unison. I hope that as you sit around your living room, our suggestions for your winter break fuel a similar debate. This time we’d like to heat things up.

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    Shreevatsa Nevatia never travels without his headphones, coloured pens and a book. He is particularly fond of cities, the Middle East, and the conversations he has along the way. He works as the Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.

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