Rajais Cotton and Phoren….life in Simla of the Sixties

Why I preferred Palampur as a place to settle down has, amongst many others factors, one very simple and personal reason for me! The charm of rajais throughout the year! And no one else except my friends from Simla would understand the pleasure of this simple joy of life.

While at Palampur, just like my Simla days, I cuddle inside a heavy cotton rajai….throughout the year! No fan, no AC…just a fluffy rajai tucked inside at my feet, at my sides and that’s it! Ah..it is almost divine….and to match up for it the cotton Talaiis to straighten your back on would double the pleasure.

During our simple life in Simla of the Sixties…Rajais and Talaais were quitessential items in any household. The small houses in the narrow bylanes of Lower Bazaar Simla teamed with extra rajais, Talais, blankets and if course, the ever faithful, khinds and khandolus!

Every single morning we would fold our rajais very neatly to the size to fit on the big trunk, kept in the corner of the last room. All the rajais would find a place, one over the other, the talais, too, would go up the heap and the blankets and khinds as well. This big heap was covered neatly with a large bedsheet to give it a semblance of some respectability. This would be our playing place as well but only when Amma would not be at home… We would climb up this heap and jump down! What a pleasure it would be…. Amma would know, on her return, of all this….although we would straighten up the big bedsheet as neetly as we could but she would know! I would wonder why does she scold us for such a simple game….but Amma would alyas say, “रुइं टूट जाती है!!” Period.
Now this was something which would never make any sense to me…how could “cotton” break…it was not glass which would break!

But sometimes when I would put my head inside the rajaai when the hundred watt bulb was still on….and try looking up at the bulb….the truth of Amma’s saying “रुइं टूट जाती है” would dawn on me as there would be some gaps in the inside filling of cotton, visible only when watched against the light! Amma was right, I would think….she is always right, now I was sure of it.
But how could रुइं break….was still a puzzle to me….was it not so soft? But it would harden after being in use for two to three years…a bit flattened, and broken at few places! A call for rehauling…operation quilt making to give a new life to the sagging spirits of quilt would begin in the small home..
We, the kids, would be assigned the task of undoing the stitches that held the cotton to the cotton covering. Though the cotton had become old, rigid, tattered and having lost its shape…..the thread bonded it so tightly to the cotton cover. It was something which I wondered at, at that age, but could not understand. Amma would ask us to use scissors to cut the thread…I remember getting a cut ehen I tried pulling the thread using my fingers. The thread was so strong!

Today at this ripe age of 65 I can understand the secret message….cotton is the love…full and fluffy when new…saggy and shapeless when old but if the thread of love is strong…it would cling to whatever cover it is filled in…otherwise…it would a tattered piece, useless, and beyond repair! I could understand why Amma would prefer special thread, a little brownish, for stitching her quilts with… We would use the same for binding our books as well for the love of its sheet strength!

Once the cover would be separated from the cotton….we would try to split open the cotton junks…and it would be white and clean from iside as compared to the dirty outside!
Amma would get a new cover for the quilt to be sewn in. A shop opposite to the tunnel in the Lower Bazaar had so many on display….called “Chande”…
The special feature of these would be multi-colourd, big flowered designs on sone side and a plain cloth on the backside! They were specifically maded for filling in the cotton quilts.
We would carry the old रुइं tied inside the new चन्दा तो थे cotton mills of Kesar Singh, a neighbour. Bauji would carry it through the Baljees stairs to the middle of the stairs. The cotton would be weighed on a big taraju….and Bauji would ask them to make it of 5 Kg ! I would pero inside their workshop where the workers, with their faces covered tightly in cloth…their heads full of white cotton flakes, would be, with a wooden stick, putting the cotton in a machine….and fluffy white…light cotton flakes would come out from the other side…. The dust accumulated in the layers of the cotton would get separated from the flakes…. Since it was old cotton…the used one…he would put it back in the machine till it was clean, light and fluffy.

The चन्दा would be spread wrong side up on the floor and the aerated cotton would be spread evenly on the चन्दा spread neatly… Every corner of it would be covered with cotton…evenly…very evenly…so that there may not be awkward bumps at some places and few under fed portions at other places….equitable distribution all around. Once the men would be satisfied…they would roll over the whole चन्दा, holding tightly from the open sides and pull back…..
This was the moment I would, most patiently wait for…..Lo and behold…the beautiful pattern of flowers in bright hues on the चन्दा would be there before me. I had learnt in General Science book how a butterfly emerges from a caterpillar…and watching the flowered patterned चन्दा fluffed with cotton …looked the same to me….beautiful, soft and vulnerable as moving it would disturb the cotton fill, still raw and unstitched! Deftly folded and tied by those experienced hands as Bauji would prefer to have it stitched at home, it would be handed back to him.

We would come back carrying this fluffed cotton rajai-in-making. It would be spread in the middle of the room, cleaning and moving aside some objects to make space for it. Like a queen…it would lay on the floor of our humble small house spreading a majestic and stately ambience all around. Amma would stitch the opening of the चन्दा and by that time Bauji will get the long and strong bamboo stick kept under one bed. Ah….the queenly beauty…lying on the floor…flabbergasted with fluffed cottonuld get a harsh beating. How cruel in fact. Bauji would beat the cotton…bringing it more evenly where he found the gaps….the bumps would get the beating and not the hollowed one who should be caressed with more of the denied share of cotton fill. When satisfied of the evenness of equal distribution throughout the stately spread, he would leave the further task in the hands of Amma.

I would look at the poor quilt-in-making …deflated of its bloated ego and lying evenly. What a lesson it was for persons with inflated egos only if I could understand it at that point of time in my life!

Amma would start stitching, using the special thread, with a long needle called “Khandooye” …long enough to cover maximum length in one go…. And by evening the quilt would be ready…warm, soft and colourful but all the inflated egoistic pieces of cotton, kept in place, by the strong thread binding it to the cloth!!
We would ask Amma to allow us to use it without cover for just one day….to get the feel of queen’s quilt but it would be so difficult to get tucked in….it still was vain in its beauty.

Amma would stitch for it a Markeen cover and once it’s vain pride would be subdued under the plain looking cover, it would be subdued like a tamed mare.
I would tu k in from down, fold in from the sides….and would smile at the dreams I would have cuddled in its warmth and softness!

On my retirement my son got for us Downs feather quilts from the US saying, “These are for my oldies…. so good for Palampur home!” And I thought of my neavy weight cotton filled rajais which I have got remade, for my Palampur home, reliving my childhood days living in Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties

A difficult choice indeed….A catch-22 situation!!

One thought on “Rajais Cotton and Phoren….life in Simla of the Sixties

  1. Jagdish Singh

    Just went through, all your posts in one go, since my last comment. For me, your writings has a magical connect, I hope there are lot more like me. Blending a personal experience with all graphic detail in first person, your posts are like a tale mirroring diverse reflections, hitting so many, warmly here and there… Being 65, and still unstoppable.. keep it that way. Cheers !!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s