City City Bang Bang, Columns

The Romance of the Razai

As the winter slips away, somewhat reluctantly, from amidst us, it is time to revisit one of its primary attractions. The joy of lying snug in bed on a winter morning inside a quilt with a hot cup of tea? There is no feeling as complete or as secure and certainly none where we can savour every passing moment so completely, cloudlessly almost. Nothing is sweeter than the gradual browned warmth that seeps into us as we enter icy-limbed into the quilt, and get slowly cooked in our own natural body heat. The clammy separateness of our limbs dissolves into the warm fullness of belonging. The quilt re-circulates our own heat- made of cotton, there is nothing intrinsically heat producing about the quilt; all the warmth created is our own. The quilt suspends the warmth in time and we bask in its gloved affection.

The feeling generated by a razai goes way beyond the functional one of warming us in winters. In fact, perhaps the biggest blessing bestowed on us by air conditioning is that we can continue to use a lighter version of the quilt even in the height of summer. Sometimes, the point of the using air-conditioning is so that we can vail of the charms of the quilt. Of course, it is important the quilt makes us feel warmer, but its magic lies perhaps in the kind of warmth it helps create.

A clue to what we seek in a quilt lies in a closer examination of its cousin, the blanket. The blanket is visibly animal in origin, being roughly fashioned out of hair torn from some beast’s back. It bristles with woollen promise which it delivers with a certainty that borders on the military. The cold is banished with whiskered brusqueness, and no prisoners are taken. The blanket is both peremptory and transparent in its efficiency- the chill is dispatched without any coddling. No wonder hospitals use blankets, military establishments issue them, as do hostels. The blanket is an intrusive presence; it makes us aware at all times that we are in its protective custody, as we lie stiffly in its rough embrace. The blanket brings to mind the grizzly- cheeked kiss of the father, necessary but not enjoyable. The blanket is an implacable enemy of the cold but not a great friend of the person shivering from it.

If the blanket is all hirsute duty, the quilt is all plump maternal impulse. The quilt clasps us to its ample bosom and we surrender to it gratefully. The quilt is both snug and infinite- we lose ourselves in its commodious expansiveness even as we hold ourselves tighter. Like a mother, the quilt is a canopy of forgiveness in a cold unforgiving world. It asks no questions of us and imposes nothing of itself. It makes us bask in ourselves and find redemption without trying.

The boundary between us and the universe gets blurred- in a quilt we belong to something infinite; it as if we are being cuddled by the universe. Like a bowl of hot soup or huddling around a fireplace, the quilt makes us feel good about ourselves in a timeless and universal way. We are soothed by a sense of belonging to something larger than our individual selves, hushed by the comforting oneness we feel with the quilt around us. It is in the razai that we are momentarily able to overcome the curse of the modern age- to always be an individual.

Sleeping in a quilt is a like returning to womb-like bliss twice over. The night is in any case our daily return to the infiniteness of the womb. We let go of our adult individual selves, we abandon the formal logic that our mind imposes on us when we fall asleep and revert to a primitive state of consciousness. We twist and turn in our sleep; we mumble and moan, chaotic images tumble through the mind as we dream dreams full of elaborate improbabilities. The foetal position comes easily to us in sleep; when in doubt we go back to our first memories of comfort. The quilt too is a return to fullness; we are back in a world where our separateness is not emphasised. In a quilt, it is as if the universe has anointed us its favourite child and we can do no wrong.

The idea of warmth as a defining human condition gets re-affirmed only when it is cold. It is then that the idea of being alive becomes synonymous with the idea of being warm. In a tropical country like ours the sun is something to hide from and warmth is a guest that overstays its welcome, the only time that the sun is welcome is in cold winter mornings. The sun seeps into the body and it gradually unshrivels, a roti rising out of the dough that is the body. Basking in the winter sun is a pleasure of the most primitive kind, for no other physical sensation re-affirms the need that we have for the elements quite as much as the virtual imprint that the rays of the sun leave on the body. But the sun is a fickle friend, and cannot be counted upon. It appears intermittently, and disappears with great predictability every afternoon which is when the true value of feeling snug in a quilt is appreciated. The sun might produce the warmth, but we need the quilt to keep it alive by borrowing it from our bodies and feeding it back to us. The warm breath that is life comes alive for us in the magic of a quilt that tucks us in to a world without an end or a beginning.

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