Sunday, 3 February 2013

Cold Comfort



Winter, for most people, is about to end in a few days in Delhi. Winter, for me, ended two weeks ago.

For as long as I remember, I have suffered from this ‘condition’ or ‘ailment’, as most of the people view it, of not feeling cold. 
Being from a tropical country, this can be quite an ostracising ailment. Being a Bengali, this is an outrage!

For aeons the Bengalis have been afraid of the dreaded cold; the ominous cry of ‘thaanda lege jaabe’ [ you’ll catch a cold] has frozen many a Bong heart. The banner call of George R.R. Martin’s House Stark is what Bengali horror stories are made of. A Bong who does not feel cold is almost like a practical joke played upon the entire community by mischievous gods straight out of Pratchett’s world. Under these circumstances, my life has been a constant rebellion, especially during winter.

 In my childhood, this would mean a continuous resistance to parents when they wanted you to wear pullovers or jackets, because obviously according to them (and a million others), it was cold. Most of it led to feeble protests which often had little or no effect. We would reach compromises such as Okay no monkey-cap but you must put-on this sweater. This helped little, for I would continue to swelter inside winter clothes that, for others were deemed necessary, and almost live-saving if you were a Bengali. Finally, deliverance came one day when a combination of thermal innerwear, a full sleeved shirt and a half sleeved pullover at 3˚C caused me to nosebleed! My rebellion had now turned bloody! After that my parents pretty much left me be, and like all parents accepted the hand of fate in having a natural aberration in the family. Grudgingly, with time, so did my extended family of aunts and uncles, but not before I had become an adjective to define an unruly kid who resists winter clothes

But my troubles were far from over.

Soon I was thrust unrelentingly into a cold world full of warm people! Friends, acquaintances and complete strangers – all of whom, at some point, questioned my ‘ailment’.

Let me, first, in my defence, say that it is not that I do not feel cold at all. It is merely that my tolerance to low temperatures is more than the average tropical person. So I am perfectly comfortable in temperatures of 9-10˚C, without wind-chill, in a T-shirt. Till about -4˚C (from personal experience) in just a jacket over a T-shirt. With wind-chill, I am comfy in two-layers of clothing in the upper body till 2˚C. And never have I worn leggings of any kind in the temperatures I have faced so far up to -4˚C.
Also, the tips of my fingers and nose tend to turn cold to touch, without me losing any sensation or feeling cold, at much higher temperatures. At times, especially when stepping from an inside environment to outside, I do tend to shiver for a few minutes till my body reaches a sort of ‘thermal balance’, where after I am fine. I do enjoy sleeping under quilts and blankets during the winter and warm showers – both of which I can do without and have done without.

Unfortunately though, many times these would be brought up as ‘proof’. Many an associate, who claimed I make them feel cold by not wearing requisite winter wear, or not, have at times ‘caught’ me shivering or taking a warm bath and gleefully presented it as proof that I’d been faking it all along, and that I do feel cold. Well, what can I say?

I have endured disapproving looks from complete strangers for moving around in summer wear, while they struggle with their jackets and mufflers. I have been subjected to disbelief when taking early morning cold water showers in 3˚C. I’ve been dismissed as a lost cause.

Most endearing, however, was once, when cavorting around the all-Bong heartland of Delhi in shorts and t-shirt, a group of balaclava-wearing elders sitting around a fire, declared me as ‘mad’. Only to be dismissed by one of the group as a proof of the degradation of traditional values due to western influences. 

I have tried seeking answers for my ‘ailment’ to no avail. Numerous forums and internet searches only revealed insights that apply to specific genetic pools. Science has answers to increased cold tolerance of Eskimos, Nordic men and South Korean deep sea divers, even to certain aboriginal Australians, but draws a blank when the genetic pool says Bengali. 

So here I am, an aberration among my people, waiting for science to provide some answers and forever dodging winter wear.