Hang

Snow sculpture

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on February 14, 2021

IMAGE: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

My sister recently sent me a photograph of myself as a two-year old, playing in the snow, in Sweden. I look like a pickaninny — I know! Forbidden word! — but I’m the one using it, with no intention of suing myself. Plus, it’s perfectly accurate. In black-n-white photographs, I’m a round black smudge, bundled up tight against the bright white snow, grinning wildly.

Sixty five years later, in Elsewhere, circumstances have changed a bit but the snow is still dazzling white and I’m still grinning wildly. Well... probably closer to “grimacing” than “grinning”: My fingers are freezing and as for “playing in the snow”, umm, no. Not exactly. Like any tropical plant, my preferred connection to snow is to spend all day watching giant chunky flakes falling out of the grey sky, while thinking, “Ooh, pretty!” and also, “How nice to be indoors!”

By morning the next day, from my kitchen window, I can see a thick blanket of perfect whiteness lying on the roof of the bulkhead that leads from the parking lot to the basement of my building. I realise now that if I open my kitchen window, I can just lean out and... play with the snow! This is such a charming idea that I open the window and act on my impulse right away.

Of course, my plan is to build that iconic shape, that well-known, rotund, three-spheres-of-varying-sizes figure known universally as a “Snow Man”. The moment that thought appears in my head, a swarm of waspish questions begins to buzz. “Why do we call that roly-poly figure a MAN? Doesn’t it look a great deal more like a WOMAN? Or — wait! Do we call it a “Man” because women don’t like being represented as rotund? Even though there’s the Paleolithic Venus of Willendorf to prove that we once preferred that shape? And anyway, anyway, WHY do we impose gender upon a simple inanimate shape at all?”

However, even as these thoughts are flying about, my hands are sending up howls of protest. “Hey!” they snarl up at me. “Not only are we freezin’ our knuckle-bones off, but guess what? This white stuff totally does NOT hang together in perfect little spheres!” It’s astonishing and absolutely true. Even after half an hour, all I can produce is a grotesquely deformed one-foot-tall Snow Lump! I stick two black beads and a hair clip onto it, then retreat into my warm apartment feeling vast respect for all the glorious, soaring snow sculptures I’ve seen over the years.

Today, still feeling humbled, I make a second attempt. Featured in the picture is my extremely modest offering: A tiny, cuboid, gender-free person. They are dressed in nothing more than an aluminium-foil crown and gold ribbon belt. Their smile and arms are painted on by Photoshop. My hands, who have typed out this tale of woe, have only this to say regarding snow sculpture: “Aaargh! Never again, please!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on February 14, 2021
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