The mercury has dipped but not by much. This is the beginning of December and the third week of Agrahayan on the Bangla calendar. Gone are the days when farmers carried huge bundles of freshly harvested Aman paddy on their heads or shoulders, all the while shivering from chill, to yards or lawns in front of their homes. The country's north usually records lower temperatures because of its location closer to the Himalayan range. However, Sreemangal in Sylhet has the uncanny distinction of registering the lowest reading of mercury.
No doubt, the planet is warming up and it can be felt physically without knowing from climatologists the exact level of rise in temperature. For years wintry chill that once used to shake bones has been absent. Yet last year winter made its presence felt moderately. Albeit comparative, the difference could be discerned without being an expert in such matters as weather or climate. While quilt or heavy blanket became redundant in the winter of the years before last year, those had to be called in service from their closet last time for about two weeks.
How much biting will winter this time be? One prediction, though, can be made safely. It is this: winter will not cause shivering the way it did 40 or 50 years ago. With the population growing exponentially more than three times and the rivers and other water bodies either shrinking or vanishing, the land mass has become drier than before also under the influence of sparse rains on account of depletion of green covers.
Now how have less colder winters affected life and livelihoods of the people in general on this deltaic basin? Today, traditional cakes or pithas make their appearance on the capital's footpaths or at street corners. Urban populace just have poor substitute for what was once a rich rural culture. An array of rice cakes with mouth-watering names was prepared from the newly harvested paddy in rural houses as part of a festival called Nabanna (new meal/dish).
Traditional rice cake is incomplete without date molasses, the sweetest of all with rich flavour. Date juice is also incomparable as a drink. The picture of winter is again incomplete without gachhis (men extracting juice from date trees by shaving branches off one side of those threes at the top) climbing or getting down with earthen pitchers full of date juice. Boiled juice turns into molasses of three types---liquid, thick and solid. The Bangalees' taste buds have discovered one of the most relishing dishes in combination of the two gifts from Nature. Just imagine the inventive mind that made a match of the two different natural products!
Today we wonder at the early arrival of winter crops on the market. Agricultural scientists have their laboratory facilities to do research on seeds and know about the genetic structure and thus can produce all-weather crops and vegetables. Back then our ancestors did not have such facilities but it was their superior sense that helped them invent things we now take for guaranteed. But looking closely, we are sure to marvel at their ingenuity.
Indeed, cultivation of most vegetables is not season-specific. Cauliflower or for that matter cabbage is now available almost in any season. Like weather-tolerant crops, vegetables have been cultured to be adaptable to any season. Thus many vegetables are available beyond their usual times. However, these vegetables do not taste as good as their counterparts grown in proper seasons. In that sense, there are hardly any vegetable that can be tagged with winter proper. Yet winter, however mild it may be, is the time when the gastronomical function becomes more active than other times and the supplies are equally diverse and quite matching. So people in this part welcome winter with open arms. Only the poor unable to manage warm clothes and sleeping in the open cannot do so. The way the planet is heating up, maybe, one day winter will almost disappear causing no suffering to these hapless people.