My family is originally from Shimla in North India and we pride ourselves on our familiarity with cold. Most Indians from the warmer regions never get to experience the kind of winters we do. Snow, skiing, we’ve seen it all.
So when we moved to Canada many years ago, I was unfazed by the thought of the infamous Canadian winters. Been there, done that, I assumed. Falsely, as we soon discovered!
For nothing prepared us for the bone-numbing cold of our first winter. Back home, when it got cold, we lit a fire. The well-to-do actually had large fire places, but the majority huddled around angithis (clay buckets with coals) or small heaters. We had the small heaters, but I much preferred the cosy angithi. Our family would sit around one, eating roasted peanuts in the shell, swapping stories, stretching our fingers and toes to the heat.
Which, as we all know, is not how one deals with winter in Canada! As the temperatures dipped and the house began to feel more and more cold, we figured it was time to turn on the heat. Except that we didn’t know how. We have a gas furnace and I thought one had to call the gas company to tell them to turn on the supply. Or something like that. So I called and got this very polite young man at the other end. I explained our predicament and told him we wanted to turn on the heat. He waited, wondering, I’m sure, what he was supposed to do. And I waited for him to tell me what to do.
Then I had to come right out and ask. “So how do we turn on the heat?”
There was a pause. Then, “You will see a switch on the wall. You see it? Good! Now turn it to ‘On’.”
I thanked him and put the phone down, imagining him convulsed with laughter.
– SOHAIL ZAIDI
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