Most days now the temperature rises to a maximum of 4 ̊C and sinks to -4 ̊C by midnight.
A cardigan will not of course do. Nor would even a well-padded parka or wind-cheater. You must have a combination of both to keep winter’s devilry at bay. If you are going to some occasion, your jacket has to have the added layer of a heavy overcoat. I dislike carrying all this load, but I have no option.
This is not all when the mercury sinks further. I have to wear thermal vests and underwear and remember to put on extra-thick socks. I have to wear gloves, not the slick ones that look as elegant as the waiters’ at Ritz, but heavy gloves of the kind that loggers or drillers use. Worst of all, since I shave my head and am vulnerable to snow and sun alike, I have to put on a cap.
Since my earliest days I have associated headgear with decrepit old men. Or at best with with policemen and soldiers, for whom I hold no great admiration, thanks to my exposure to those arrogant classes in colonial India and racist USA. Yet, now when I brave an early-morning jog or a late-night carousal, the keen cold air induces me to take on a Sherlock Holmes look and cover my head. A generous friend has gifted me a dark French beret that I find much better than a hat or a cap. Particularly as I can fold it and put it in my pocket and not lose it in trains, libraries or restaurants.
Once dressed in all this regalia, I step out. I walk along the familiar trail to the lake nearby, large trees all around me. They are all denuded, shorn of their leaves, still royally holding their ground and waiting for spring to bring them a green splendor. There are no ripples in the lake; the surface is iced. There is a sign warning enthusiastic skaters to stay away, for the ice layer is thin and fragile. The sun is beginning to glint on the ice.
As I walk back, I don’t see any of the regular walkers on the road. The freezing air has kept the others indoors. For easy-going like me, the elaborate robing and disrobing may also be a damper. I miss the lighthearted Hello and Good Morning that passersby throw at each other. Never mind. Bravely, I trudge along, though my heart craves for my warm living room and a warm cup of coffee.
Just as I had given up the idea of meeting anybody else on the trail, suddenly there appears a young boy, coming this way, almost rushing. As he comes close, and I am about chime a word of greeting, the person speaks, and I realize it is a young woman. She is covered in a heavy overcoat and her hair is neatly tucked in a rainbow woolen cap, but her voice is that of a woman. It is plaintive.
“Excuse me, could you help me, please?”
We rushed to the spot. Fortunately, grandpa hadn’t hurt his head or broken a bone. Unfortunately, he wasn’t easy to lift, for he was a corpulent man. I am no Samson and weight lifting is not my strong point. Anna, the granddaughter, and I maneuvered to get him to sit him upright on the road, and now lay the tougher job of getting him to stand. Anna was too small to help much. After a number of false starts, I was finally able to heave grandpa to his feet.
But he seemed too uncertain on his feet without any support. There was no option but to put his heavy right arm on my shoulder, grab his waist and slowly inch our way to their home. It wasn’t far, but making it was still a near thing. When I dropped him on a soft in their drawing room, I sighed with relief and prepared to leave.
But grandpa would have none of it. He thanked me extravagantly and went to the hyperbolical length of declaring that I had saved his life. I suggested that he should have himself checked by a doctor if he felt any serious pain after a few hours. In return he suggested that I should stay back and have a cup of tea with me.
Anna had taken off her heavy coat and cap and quickly produced a very welcome cup of tea.
As I was sipping my tea, I noticed in the corner of the room a wooden box with sets of small iron bars of varying weight.
I asked Anna if she did exercises with the iron weights.
“Not me,” said Anna, “Grandpa uses them sometimes. You see, he used to be a champion weightlifter.”
I resisted the temptation to claim that I was the greater champion, for having lifted his weighty frame without any training at all.