The warmth of fat old quilts

The warmth of fat old quilts

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This winter we decided to change our quilts.

It was like the passing of an era.

For years we’d used the ones I’d carried from home when I moved to Delhi for my first job, decades ago. These weren’t the light fluffy ethnic creations one finds these days. Nor were they anything like modern comforters.

These were big fat heavy cotton quilts encased in old-fashioned paisley patterned cotton cloth.

Up in the North, seasons are well defined. Winter is winter and summer is summer and the twain barely meet. Sometime after October when the days began to get shorter and the nights slightly cool, it would be time to pull out the quilts. Quite a ritual, that was. We waited for the massive storage boxes to be opened and the quilts taken out, officially heralding the arrival of winter.

They’d be laid in the sun for a day to rid them of the smell of naphthalene balls. Then, encased in crisply ironed white cotton covers, they were ready to be snuggled into. When you pulled one on, not the slightest whiff of a draft dared enter. They were the best partners to have on long winter nights when your teeth chattered and your feet refused to warm up.

If the rain gods decided to visit, the quilts would be out all day. We’d sit long hours wrapped in them, despite the heater burning bright. We’d munch peanuts with coriander garlic chutney and tell endless stories. And when it was time for bed we’d shake them off to rid them of peanut husk and cuddle down for the night. The faint smell of naphthalene balls mingled with that of peanuts and mum’s Lakme moisturiser and lulled us into the best sleep ever.

After years of use, the cotton would gather together in bunches becoming a thick, tough, heavy mass. Then it was time to look out for the rui dhunane wale. They roamed the streets calling out ‘rui dhunwa lo’ accompanied with the twang of their instrument. They’d get out the cotton and bit by bit transform it back into soft and fluffy balls to be refilled into the case. Freshly filled it would be carried up to the terrace or laid out in the courtyard. Then, our grand moms would sit for hours in the afternoon sun, their daily chores done, gossiping about friends and family as they threaded the quilt. Once done it was ready to use again, good as new.

Those weren’t just quilts, they were a bit of my childhood, perhaps that’s why I clung onto them for so long. But then, old has to yield place to new, and so we finally gave them away. As we turned in for the night in our brand new comforters the Husband said, so very rightly, ‘Woh baat hai nahin in me. They’re just not solid enough!’

For more winter nostlagia do drop by my older post here.

28 Replies to “The warmth of fat old quilts”

  1. Dear Tulika,

    You post is replete with the warmth and fuzziness of those yesteryears. I say yesteryears, as we got rid of those Razais long back, as they were far too cumbersome to store. But you are so right, getting buried in their cosy confines, was one of the most enchanting memories of winters. And that twang of the Rui dhunanewala’s instrument just kept playing in my head as I read that paragraph.

    Love this post oozing with nostalgia, yet so reassuring to read that it was an intrinsic part of your lives up till now.

    We need more such fuzzy, comforting posts in todays times. Keep writing. I love the way you effortlessly pour your heart out, crafting each moment into a world of evocative feelings.

    And we still do that peanuts and chutney ritual huddled in your quilts. Such an out of the ordinary experience, I say. Hygge to the core – the Danish concept of cozying up and lending our being comforting emotions.

    And we were on each others blogs at the same time. :))))

    Thank you so much. More power to your pen, wordsmith. <3

    1. Ha ha.. that’s such a coincidence – commenting on each others blogs at the same time! Thank you for the warm words. Those memories are really precious as were those razais. Of course they were heavy and cumbersome and coming from a joint family, we had one whole store room devoted to storing them during the winter. So they had to go but we can keep the memories always, right? We’ll always have enough room for them :-).

  2. This post took me down the memory lane. While I read the line about Rui dhunanewala, I could actually hear the twang of his instrument. I have myself done the threading in the rajais in my childhood. The first time I saw the big needle for threading and heard its name ‘sooja’, It was rollicking and fascinating in a childish way. Light chali jaati thi, phir petromax ke bagal main rajai le kar baithna aur haan mungfali (my father’s favourite) khaana, bahut maza aata tha. Mungfali is a part of every childhood in North India. Ab kabhi kabhi shikayat ye bhi hoti hai ki light kyun nahin jaati kyunki kuch kaam na kar paana aur bas baith kar baatein banana, wo bhi din the.
    Anamika Agnihotri recently put up this amazing post…Family Dynamics – Who loves whom? #MondayMusingsMy Profile

    1. When I began to write this post I thought no one would have heard of those rui dhunane wale. And I wondered if I should include pictures or a video to explain. But it seems I didn’t need to. Isn’t it wonderful how many experiences we share despite being so far apart? This is my absolute favourite bit about blogging – the way it connects people through their experiences.
      Oh I remember what it used to be like when the light went off. We were much more patient back then. Now we get so annoyed and impatient of the inverter doesn’t work. Then, we’d simply sit in the dark and enjoy.

  3. So warm and cuddly it is. I loved the image of ladies sitting on the quilt and gossiping. So cute. Its a bygone era. I have not seen a rui dhunane wala for ages in Mumbai.

    1. Oh those gossip sessions were epic. No one was spared, everyone from the family and also from the neighbourhood was taken apart. We’d drowse close by and catch just bits of it but it was a lot of fun. It really is a bygone era – even terraces and courtyards are almost all gone.

  4. Such a gorgeous post, Tulika. You know I grew up mostly in the South so I never experienced the North Indian winters. But my 5 years in Nairobi were spent under quilts and comforters. So I can totally imagine the warmth you speak of.

    This is such a gorgeous, evocative piece of writing. I can almost smell the naphthalene balls.

    1. Thank you Shailaja. It’s been a while since I experienced proper winter – over two decades now! Somehow our childhood memories never leave us. As I grow older the memories seem to be getting clearer and I seem to be missing it all even more, strange as that may sound.

  5. When I read that quote at the start, I knew aaj baat dil talak jaayegi 🙂
    Beautiful nostalgic post and I so want to write now. About those mumphalis and sitting around an angeethi. About lal wala namak hai kya? And those kids who would burn the socks in the angeethi and someone would shout out – kuch jal raha hai kya?
    You know in Bangalore I don’t have a rajai but then my brother in Delhi still uses the one I had in Engineering days. I have told him to keep it for me. Your post made me smile and maybe I will write after the little nudge from you in the form of these memories.
    Parul Thakur recently put up this amazing post…Gratitude List – January 2019My Profile

    1. Happy you liked it Parul. Do do take it forward and share your memories too. When I wrote this piece I never thought anyone would actually identify with it all. But it’s wonderful to know that we share similar bits of childhood. This is what I love about blogging and writing – this connection that we form.

    1. Padhne ke liye dhanyawaad :-). It’s a tussle between the head and the heart. The new ones are prettier and more practical too, but the old ones are closer to the heart.

  6. Your husband is right, you know. Nothing like the comfort of an aged quilt that somehow wraps you up so comfortably. We recently bought a new one too and I just cannot bring myself to use it. It is silky and soft yes, but somehow not comforting at all.

    Such beautiful memories you have evoked here, Tulika.
    Soumya recently put up this amazing post…Action Replay + Gratitude List: January 2019My Profile

    1. Hai na? It’s the same with us. Of course we like our new comforters but it’s not the same.Sigh! What to do – things have to change. Where will I go looking for someone to redo my razais even if I had kept them on?

  7. THIS is the reason why I LOVE your posts, Tulika! They come from the bottom of your warm heart!
    Your post reminded me of the winters I spent in Gwalior–my native place. How I loved those quilts and the snugness they offered! I miss it all in the modern blankets we use. But, yes, I do get that warmth in a special quilt I have–mum’s old cotton saree which she folded once and sewed at the borders to make a thin quilt for the Mumbai winters. I know my quilt is nothing as compared to those thick, fluffy quilts, but each time I wrap it around myself, I feel as if mum has held me in a tight hug!

    Thank you for such a lovely lovely lovely post! Feeling soooo good! 🙂

    1. Thank you Shilpa. Your warm comment means the world to me. A quilt made from mum’s sari is really really special. When H and N were born my MIL made one of her shawls into a tiny quilt for them and though I’ve disposed off most other things, this I don’t want to. Somethings are just meant to be kept with us forever, just like some memories which never go away.

  8. Oh yeah I remember that dhunne wala too – he would pull on the string to make that twanging sound. Death of old traditions with modern day technology and also the machine era where demands have to be meet supply head on!!

    What memories your brought up with this post Tules – loved your write up. Its cosy and warm enough for me to bask in! 🙂
    Shalzmojo recently put up this amazing post…#MyMojo – 10 books that will get one out of a reading rut by VeniceMy Profile

    1. Aw thanks Shalini. Some sights and sounds are so much part of my childhood. It felt good to write this post. It’s sad that things have to change but inevitable too.

  9. Ah! love the imagery of your winter memories !! We have not really experienced those kind of winters in these parts. Though in our current home, its really quite chill compared to other areas and quilts are our saviours 🙂 But yes, i remember the rui dhunane wale (not sure what they were called in these parts) And, the twang of their instruments !! Enjoyed reading your post OM 🙂

    1. We don’t have much of winter here too which is why perhaps I miss it just a little bit. Although I used to be the most padded up person on the planet during winters :-). But some memories are so much fun.

  10. ahh the warmth of Rajai… that were are our makeshift igloos too. This was a ritual in my house as well. The dhunane wala with their instruments would visit our home for a couple of days as we get all the rajai fluffy and warm. Yes, the feel of the rajai is different than what we get today.
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  11. So many bachpan ki yaadein in this post, Tulika. You could as well be talking about my home and those cozy razais. I remember that large aluminium baksa which stored all winter stuff. After marriage parents had gifted us two beautiful woollen blankets, thick and comfortable that I had lugged along to the US. I still have one of those. But we bought US style warm comforters when we came to live here. Every year, I wash them and stow them after winter is done. Lighter and prettier. But those rui ki razai. Sigh!

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