Army cantonments have large, high-ceiling houses with cold drafts, pathetic heaters and a few ghosts with icy fingers. That is what I remember of the houses I grew up in. They were lovely homes for summer vacations and for playing dark room with friends. I always found a quiet corner or window sill to occupy with my book and my snack, and the love for the written word must have been born during those idyllic days.
Life would be great till Diwali. Once the winter would set in, these large houses were like refrigerators. Having warm rooms were impossible, and one little heater or bukhari could just make the living room bearable. The days were full of sunshine and games and running and scampering. Come dinner time, and the process of warming the beds would begin.
We had these quilts…razai is the correct word for them. Razais were heavy…they had to be heavy after being stuffed with kilos of cotton. I rarely saw the bright silk cover..razais in our house had to wear their uniform of white cotton covers, and stay in orderly heaps at the base of the bed. There was a specific way of laying out a razai for the night. An envelope was made, with a generous fold at the base, and two lateral folds. One had to sit on top of that envelope and slide into that icy cold packet, shiver and move around till the body heated up the space, and then fall into a deep motionless sleep till the morning. Wrapped up in that heavy razai, there was no question of tossing and turning and opening up the envelope..we all slept like cold blooded crocodiles in winter–like logs.
After AFMC, where I took my heavy razai as part of my college dowry, I was posted to the North East and had to survive five inhumanly cold and clammy winters. Being an officer meant that I had the luxury of a hot-water bottle at the base of the razai envelope. Aaah! the bliss of sliding into the packet and finding that my toes had turned to warm toast–one of the greatest delights of life!
Forward fast to this night. Its around 2 degrees Centigrade and I am going to bed shortly. My bed has been warmed by the electric blanket, so I shall sleep on toast. I will be covered with a warm duvet, stuffed with light polyfill material which is reputed to be much warmer and way more lighter than the cotton stuffed razais of my childhood. I do not need to make an envelope of the duvet and slide in to sleep….reclining and relaxing into my warm bed is more the norm.
I should be happy, I should be sleeping and snoring loudly through the silent night, I should be warm and comfortable. But, as my dear Dad and me shared on the telephone today, sound sleep needs a heavy thick quilt to pin you down and to smother you into dreamless REM sleep. These light, luscious and luxurious duvets of today just slide off the bed or the body and the limbs can toss and turn till dawn.
I miss my heavy razai. I miss my immobilized state of slumber.I miss the special status of my toasty toes… but I am not throwing away the light duvets, or switching off my beloved electric blanket either. I have just added an old blanket to the bed. It throws its weight on the duvet and immobilizes me in the bed. I feel as if I am back in my childhood bed with my heavy razai and I drift into a warm, deep night of sleep.