The pheran, the blanket, and the kangri
barely warmed the bones during the forty days of Chilai Kalan.
The icy air poured in from the drafty windows.
Each bed was like a tent: we slept completely covered.
When the morning broke we heard the sounds from the kitchen
mother making tea on the smoky stove
father saying his prayers after his bath in icy water.
When he had finished it was time to roll up our beds
and assemble around the breakfast sheet.
There was only one blazing kangri.
We took turns to cook the coldest part of the body:
feet, stomach, face, or hands
and waited anxiously for mother to make hot lunch
sitting cross-legged at our book desks
pretending to revise our class notes
or playing cards made out of cigarette boxes.
In the afternoon the washerman staggered in
with the pile of laundry on his head.
And then the middleman with his horoscopes
seeking mother's advice about suitable girls
with discrete gossip about many relatives.
My sisters made countless pots
of kehva and sheer chai.
It was then that I learned to sit still
listening to stories about a hundred different people
perched on my seat wrapped in blankets.
Visitors gone mother began humming tunes
as she did her knitting
and how we longed for spring!