The girl would remember that winter fondly as the one when they made their last snowperson.
Her elder brother and sister and two girls and another boy from the neighbourhood had developed a ritual over the years. Every time it snowed substantially, they would leave all but one of their kãgers at home, put on their Duckback boots and homemade woollen gloves and head for the clearing between the walnut trees behind their mohalla. Once there, they would roll the snow from all around the trees and gather it behind the biggest walnut tree. Then they would put the rolled snow cylinders on top of one another till it was high enough to be almost beyond the reach of their hands. After this, they would take a smaller cylinder and carve a sphere out of it with their gloved hands and shavings of wood. They would put the sphere on top of the cylinder. Then they would use the wood shavings to smoothen the surface of the cylinder so that it looked like a human torso and carve a neck under the spherical head. They would insert willow twigs into the shoulders to resemble arms extended in the air. A small carrot would be the nose, then they would pick up two pieces of unburnt charcoal from the lone kãger they had brought with them and draw a smile under the nose. Then, they would put the two pieces of charcoal on either side of the nose, giving the snowperson its eyes. Finally, they would delicately carve ears with the wood shavings.
According to the system they had devised, every alternate snowperson they made had to be a woman. They would carve breasts in the cylinder of the torso. If the boys tittered, the girls scolded them for being such babies.
There was a dispute on whether they should put small pieces of wood in the ears when they made a snowwoman. The girl’s elder sister argued that girls were not born with earrings and many boys wore earrings as well. Basit, their sixteen-year-old cousin, who had been blinded in one eye in a pellet firing by the armed forces during the summer, wore an earring in his left ear.
So they avoided putting earrings, sometimes putting them only in one ear. After they were done with their snowperson, they would ask their parents and other elder people in their families to come and take a look at their creation. The adults had to walk in a row in such a way that the walnut tree hid the snowperson from their sight. They could only look once they were in front of the snowperson. Over the years, the girl and her gang had become really good at making snowpersons, and would add a few new details every year—a muffler, buttons of wood, even a cigarette in the mouth one year (for which they were roundly scolded). The adults would express genuine admiration and astonishment at the creativity of the kids.
That winter, it did not snow at all in December, a first in almost four decades. Even January was dry and it seemed that all records would be broken and it might not snow at all in January as well. But then, in the afternoon of the 22 of the month, dark clouds started to march out from the mountains in the west. The clouds soon took the sun into their woolly bosom and kept moving across the sky till they had covered north, south and, finally, east. By evening, icy winds were blowing the last leaves of autumn across the desolate landscape forcefully. Everybody hurried inside. The kids had an earlier dinner and were put to bed. When it was stormy like this, or if it snowed, the electricity was bound to go out sooner than later. Not long after, it started to snow. The whoosh of reams of snow falling off the rooftops occasionally interluded the silence of a snowy night.
When the girl and her gang woke up in their respective bedrooms in the morning, the sun had come out. As they drew the curtains and looked out, the landscape had been transformed. There was snow all around, for as long as you could see. The whiteness brightened the bright early morning sun. The girl was excited and woke up her brother and sister. They quickly had breakfast which consisted of some nun chai (salty pink tea), a lawaas with butter spread over it, apple jam and boiled eggs. Soon they were ambling towards the clearing between the walnut trees where the other boy and girls were waiting impatiently. The kids started to roll the snow.
An hour later, they took a few steps backward to gaze at their creation. It was their best snowperson yet and they were very proud of it. They could not wait to tell the elder folks at home and hear all the praise. Behind the clearing, a JCB earthmover had cleared the road of snow and vehicles had started to ply again. The kids went home and almost dragged their elder siblings, parents, uncles, aunts and cousins to take a look. This took another hour or so.
It was almost noon. It was quite a hot day and all that work and running around made them even hotter, so they took off and kept their caps, mufflers and gloves at home. Like always, the adults were filed in a line in front of the large walnut tree. They walked one by one, with eyes closed, and stood in front of the snowperson. Then, on the count of three from the children, they opened their eyes to look at the creation of the children. It was even more beautiful than even before—bigger, with a more humanlike torso and neck, and a head which finally looked like a human skull rather than a football. The kids had even managed to carve out a chin. It was an amazing sight.
But then they suddenly noticed that something was wrong. The charcoal in the eyes was slowly sliding down. There were two long vertical channels on the face of the snowperson, down which tiny water droplets were trickling down. It was as if the snowperson were crying— literally crying its eyes out. The girl and her gang noticed the expression on the faces of the adults changing from delight to sadness so they also turned to look again at the snowperson to see what was wrong with it. Everybody was silent. After a couple of minutes, when all you could hear was eagles swooping down on small underground animals who had come to the surface after the snow, the charcoal eyes fell off the face of the snowperson, followed by the carrot.
The girl started to cry. Basit took her in his arms and tried to comfort her. She looked into his one good eye and asked him, “Arshid baya, what is happening?”
“Sehar sweetheart, it is the heat, the black charcoal is absorbing the heat from the strong sunlight and melting the snow,” he explained.
A few vehicles zoomed pass them on the road behind the clearing. The girl noticed that the snow nearest to the road had already started to turn black. “There are so many vehicles in the valley, and there are so many, many more vehicles outside the valley,” she complained, “And then there are the factories with their chimneys and black smoke. How will snow survive?”
A dozen tiny runnels were already flowing out from the black-soot covered snow next to the road. “The snow is dying, we are killing it, Basit baya,” She wept, “And it is weeping.”