Winter Yearning, Commonly Known as ‘Melancholy I Can’t Put My Finger On’

by Naina Rathi

For three years as I walked in and out of college: away from the same dead-end, down the same street, towards the same train, everything remained the same. Almost everything. In all those years, for all of the year save winter, a creeper hung from a balcony. With pretty orange flowers decorating a pretty corner of a house that was too huge to be pretty. Gone during the winters, leaving me lonely again.

It wasn’t unconscious, no, but had become second nature for me to look across and find them hanging down. Fiery orange against marble white. Until then, I hadn’t really like orange. I still don’t – some things never change – except that one pretty shade. They weren’t a brilliant painting or a streak of light in the dark or had an otherworldly shape or smell. They were pretty in a slightly more than normal sort of way, the way most pretty things usually are. So normal that I believe most (not me, but most) people wouldn’t notice them had there existed other flora around them. But I would, I did. Because, to me, it was unfathomable how such a beautifully normal being could bloom in a place I had only associated with plain dread. Plain because it fell short even when it came to being terrible; it was a tired sort of dread like it was bored of its mundane nature, of how uneventfully uneventful it was. But those drooping flowers were orange as hope. As though life was trying to escape the locked mansion, even if it meant having to jump down.

That was many many years ago. 

Back then, I didn’t know what it was like to have one’s hands weighted down. Not by gravity but by something much stronger, more powerful, tiring and hateful. I didn’t know what it was like to have winter bring me down. I didn’t know how winter brought with it a sea of sadness that wells up your eyes before you can end a sentence. Uembarked goals and silly regrets that flash before your eyes before you can end the year.

Because it’s not just the season turning, it’s the homecoming of all your heartbreaks and unfinished dreams. October days are fine, the promise of chill soothing out a year’s worth of heat, the winter sun warming your bones. But November opens its doors to winter’s permanent companions: yearning and melancholy. A yearning for warmth that must accompany the bitter cold. Familiar warm hands that must dissipate the cold. And melancholy that must end up replacing the lack of them both. 

Because it’s not just the season turning, it’s the time for rituals and festivities: year-end trips, office gatherings, weddings, homecomings, Diwali. The time of year when everyone’s hopping from one Diwali party to the next while you’re reminded you have none to go to. All your favourite people are celebrating Diwali in chillier continents (although yours feel bitter-er). You imagine what would you do if you were at one of yours: you had your people, your place, your food, your laughter, your songs, your cheers; you remember that good things become better and best only when shared. However, all you can see is one girl, cornered in her own home, flashing her teeth and the brilliant lights never shining her smile. You find that loneliness rips through your imagination too. The happiest time of the year suddenly reminds of you your adult incompetence to form meaningful friendships. Friendships that change into family. But how many families can one have the strength left to build after having to rip themselves, year after year, out of each?

Because it’s not just the festivities, it’s the year ending. And you cannot help but feel like a loser. We have a terrible habit of tattooing our failures and never remembering our wins, it’s what unites us all. Every year, this time, a ringing noise invades my brain. A voice from the year before I first saw the orange blooms. A voice that told me I would never accomplish anything in life, almost like a premonition. Throughout winter, I’m told I’m a failure who will quit before she can be challenged, who will not weather through any storm. Whom do I convince that it’s not for lack of trying?

Because it’s not just the year ending, it’s the time for longing. For throughout the year your aloneness is not threatening but winter begins to crack your walls, shake your bones. In winter, solitude morphs into loneliness. Loneliness jo kaatne ko daudti hai, that’s chasing me to take a bite out of me. How do I possibly explain that my loneliness doesn’t run deep, it spreads across the horizon? Everywhere I look are endless, empty skies…of me. Alas, no one else but you will do. I long for your familiarity, for you who know me. I long for parts of myself that I’m losing and for you to please pick them up for me. 

Because it’s not just the season of longing, it’s the time for melancholy. Melancholy; the old English word for sadness they couldn’t put their finger on, for what they didn’t know then to call depression. That’s what sadness in winter feels like: something old and ancient, that you simply cannot put your finger on. While I’ve prided my memory for its top-notch bookkeeping, this winter the ink’s running dry and I’m missing many entries, time and complete days. I’m told and know that that’s common for both melancholy and depression, they freeze your memory and no matter how much you skate, the ice won’t break.

It’s November again and I’m ready for melancholy to knock at my frozen door, bring despair with it. They are my familiar companions now.

Winters change, years shift but they remain. 

I returned to my place of learning some time ago, walked down the path that was once my favourite even if it led me to a place I merely despised not even fully hated. And it was while leaving that I remembered about them, the wildflowers. I remembered them because my head turned of its own accord, not even knowing it hoped to see something, and found that the creeper was gone, as was the balcony. The house had stayed but it had changed, it had gotten bigger. Home of the plants taken away to make room in a house already too huge. My flowers were missing but my hope believed that they finally escaped.

I realised I only remembered them because they were gone, and continued to walk on.

Author bio:  Naina Rathi is a writer and filmmaker (wannabe) from Hyderabad where she has lived most of her life. She studied media and literature, worked in advertising and this year, finally quit it. She now freelances for the Times of India and always struggles to her make bios wittier.

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