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I didn’t have a Schengen visa yet but I did have the UK multi-entry tourist visa that was expiring on Jan 03, 2013. So, if not anywhere, I was certain that I was going to England. Since the plan was to be away for a month, I picked the date 02-12-2012 as the date of my departure and 02-01-2013 has to be my return date from London. I didn’t quite have much choice but to pick December as that epic month of travel.
December seemed perfect in every way. December is strangely my happiest month of a year. It is strange because no matter what the state of my mind, affairs, health or condition, I find myself happy and gay around Christmas time. I went to a Catholic School and Christmas meant celebration, joy, love, lights and cake. I always loved the lights and cake part best. It is also the idea that a good majority of people are celebrating worldwide, that people are happy. So every Christmas until this year was spent in anticipation of great celebration, lights across the city, exchange of greetings and gifts but since India only has a minority of Christians, not many share my enthusiasm, except of course my Christian friends who never bother to congratulate my jubilant mood or involve me in their celebrations.
I always end up having my own solo celebrations, bake my own cake, buy my own gifts, light my own candles, play Frank Sinatra in my room. It’s a hopeless, lonely, celebration but one I never missed.
To imagine being in places where Christmas is in every corner was more than just exciting. It meant, not being lonely in my celebration anymore. It meant lights everywhere and loads of cake that I didn’t have to make. There would be mistletoes and churches with choirs, there would be Christmas trees and colour and love everywhere – there’d be celebration! Mighty, massive celebration and my heart would sing at the sight of every lovely thing!
To imagine being in London around Christmas time leant meaning and romance to the countless hours spent reading Christmas stories set in London – most importantly, The Christmas Carol. I’d have a Dickensian Christmas, though not quite set in similar times but set in the ever-romantic city of London and that’s enough.
The same goes for New Years too. ‘New Year’s Eve is everyman’s birthday,’ said Charles Lamb and I agree. I like a little bit of New Year revelry, to be amongst a sea of humanity, start the year with adventure and energy – and right in front of me was a possibility – celebrate New Year’s Eve in London, with who, how and wear what, I didn’t know but I knew I’d figure that out.
A South Indian girl doesn’t know what winter cold is like. Sure I spent a winter in New Delhi and it did get chilly there. My response to the new stimuli was embarrassing, I spent my days tucked tightly in bed, had the heater on 24/7 through winter and dreaded venturing out. Europe’s winter would certainly be harsher than my coldest winter ever seen.
I was curious, excited and very interested in knowing what this cold is like. I asked several people to describe it, help me in my imagination and almost every answer scared me further – ‘Oh it’s going to be very cold,’ ‘you are not used to this cold, you’ll find it very difficult,’ ‘pack very warm clothes or you will freeze to death,’ ‘can you really handle it,’ I hated all f those answers until Artur set me free. Artur, my friend in Longtown laughed that I was nervous about the cold. I thought he was being snobbish as he’s from Belarus, a very cold place in winter. But he described it perfectly for me – ‘Mubin, you have experienced England’s chilly weather in summer, December’s cold would only be a couple degrees under. Don’t worry one bit.’ That was all I needed to hear.
Could it be possible that I would see my first snow? My friends told me that December was too early for snow in Western Europe but maybe Austria would have some around the time that I will be there – Christmas. At the very first mention of that, my mind conjured mages of a ‘White Christmas.’ These images, this visualization of snow outside while Julia’s family and I celebrate Christmas indoors with lights from Julia’s window illuminating pristine snow in her garden remained with me as I went to bed and woke up each morning. My imagined airport rush of people trying to get to someplace, the leisurely laughter, sales shops and their gift wrappers, sweet cribs at old churches and shining stars all filled me with great joy.
The moment I could confirm my travel plans and dates to myself, I began the news-sharing business with my friends and strangers. Nobody really asked me but I always added ‘I’ve never seen snow, maybe I will see my first snow.’