Having checked my flight status and found that it hasn’t been cancelled, I’m somewhat relieved, sipping deep into my cup of coffee, my eighth since morning. The collective concern about flight cancellations threatened to reach epidemic proportions among the international students in the dining hall of St. Aidan’s, until last week, when the snowfall stemmed itself with a somewhat warmer heart. The locker under my bed is a bizarre crowd where a copy of Mrs Dalloway rubs shoulders with pickle jars and shirt hangers. A peep into the order (or the lack of it) of what lies beneath my bed is sure to scare someone with a frailer heart, like a stare into one’s subconscious.
With this clumsy attempt to tidy my room for the unsuspecting soul who stays in it during vacation, I am all set to head home with the lightest luggage I’ve had since my school picnics. The tricky bit is to decide what to wear while leaving. The immediate cold would slaughter me if I stepped into it early morning tomorrow without my overcoat, while having it on in Dubai and then in Kolkata would most definitely evoke the smirks usually reserved for the awkwardly overdressed. Guess I would have to leap into the taxi tomorrow with a lesser wrapping of wool in the end, with the hope that the Newcastle Airport would have the welcoming warmth of central heating.
The beauty of snowfall having being replaced by the slipperiness of hard ice, walking down the streets in Durham is less of a romance these days. With the advent of Christmas, the sight of a fellow walker falling on ice evokes the there-but-for-the grace of God-go-I sensation instead of the guilty giggle within. My last meeting for the term with my supervisor ended after an hour in which I surprised myself with a passably sensible sense of structure for my thesis. The walk back to the library was a sad affair though, with me having to return the lovely set of books I had managed to hoard for months. But I promised myself to keep a tab on their movements online and to reserve and recall immediately any one of those charming books that some unsuspecting soul chanced to borrow. With the massive readership of The Bubble in mind, I am quite aware I am giving myself away as the automatic suspect of the mean hoarder of books on literary Modernism and 20th century cultural modernity. But the winter with its snow brings with it a certain strand of shamelessness for me. It was the same shamelessness that saw me bang the planks of my bed against its wooden edges in a bid to snuggle in my copies of Virginia Woolf, pickle jars and hopelessly wrinkled shirts. It was purely due to the decency of the fellow inhabitants of my lounge that I did not receive a well-deserved warning call from the reception. The ones who know me personally probably figured that the racket at midnight was more a result of clumsiness than a sadistic urge to raise hell. This mixture of patronizing kindness and the knowledge of my hopelessly cack-handed self has seen me through many escapades that were perfect recipes for disaster.
As I write my last column for the term, the immediate thoughts in my mind are a cross between the joy of heading home and the sorrow of leaving Durham behind for a month. I have never stayed away from home for so long before, and I never knew how a place so far away and so different from the one I have grown up in could become so much like a home with its people and its charm. Durham, like its lovely magazine, is a bubble; one that grows as more and more colours float into it and one that takes you in, not to trap, but to show how the very intimate can become the very intense, even as the leafy-green becomes the snow-white through you. So as I look through my window as the Thursday evening settles down with chimney smoke and the rustlings through the snow, I find myself looking forward to meeting my family in India even as I think of the road that swirls to the river Wear, past the graveyard where the snow piles to show the stones where peace rests, down to the market place where the Sunday mornings with their merry-go-rounds make the big banks look more romantic than they should.
It’s not wholly true that I’m leaving Durham behind for a month. You couldn’t do it even if you wanted to. This place grows in you like the winter snow that settles on the rooftops, staring at a sun that does not have the heart to melt it yet. The Christmas would see me away from it all but I’ll be here again when the January skies begin their summons to the snow, that knows best why the leaves must fall, and why the birds must go.