Once I bought a small model of a charpai from a handicrafts shop, to be sent outside Pakistan as a symbol of Pakistani culture for a cultural exhibition. Interestingly, the children accompanying me, born and bred in urban Pakistan, couldn’t relate to the phenomenon of charpai. One of them could recognise it as something representative of ‘poor people’s life style’ as he had seen them in use of domestic helpers, a piece of furniture that belonged to the ‘servants’ quarters’. Charpai is a light bedstead traditionally used in subcontinent, made up of woven webbing stretched on a wooden frame consisting of four legs. Over time, charpai has also been molded into a new and convenient make of steel frame with a nylon webbing which makes it even lighter, movable and waterproof. Charpai was an indispensable part of everyday routine in Indian subcontinent. It was the most essential and sometimes the only piece of furniture in a rural household. ‘Peerhi’ was another associated accessory, a stool modelled on the same pattern as charpai. The legs of the charpais and peerhis were a piece of art in themselves made in sharp colours with floral patterns, something like the truck art. They were an essential feature of the gifts given to a bride on her wedding and their quality and quantity depended on the economic status of her parents. Honesty was norm of the good old days and a good quality charpai or peerhi would last for generations making a grandmother claim with pride that it was her ‘kahaiz ki charpai’ her grandchildren were sleeping on. Every now and then charpais needed to be tightened. It was often done by a family member or there were professionals who would come to streets calling out “charpai/manji banwa lo”. Besides being an everyday usage item, charpai is symbol of cultural traditions of collectivity. Dalaans or sehan (a courtyard spacious according to the economic status of a family) was used the way a lobby is used in contemporary times. Charpais were placed here covered with khaes, a handmade thick bedsheet prepared on hand looms in sharp colors. A gesture of hospitality for some special guests was placing the best charpai in the home for them and covering it with the newest khaes. Kitchens were often open-air ones, made in a corner of the dalaan and all cooking and household chores could be performed while chatting with the family members or guests. Old family members would sit on their specific charpai and do some embroidery or knitting and stay involved in the household management. They could help in taking care of the infants while their mothers were busy. Charpai served as a convenient mechanism here. A sort of hammock was placed on one side wooden frame of charpai, often using a dupatta of mother and the child was conveniently placed in it. It gave the feeling of being protected in mother’s womb. Another view was that sleeping in this posture helped shape the head of baby and save him from choking. Babies would sleep for hours in these hammocks, may be due to the protective posture or the scent of mother’s dupatta. A human child is surely the most dependent of the living beings, dependent not only on physical and financial support but also emotional. Till some decades ago even in urban areas people preferred to sleep outdoors in summer. Industrialisation, modernisation, technological development and globalisation of culture changed a lot. Air conditioning facilitated our lives in ever increasing temperatures. Modern architecture excluded dalaans from our houses When the night time approached, the charpais were moved to the rooms in winters and served as beds. In summers they were placed in the dalaan in a line according to the number and status of family members. In the evening the courtyard was watered and the fragrance of plants like motia and raat ki rani combined with the wet soil created a mesmerising aroma. Dinner was served right there, and it was a nice family time. Writing this reminds me of a scene from my all-time favorite classic movie “Pakeeza”, where the hero brings his beloved home to be introduced to his family and she is given a charpai with rest of the ladies of the family in the dalaan. Her being unwelcomed by the traditional set up is symbolised by her ouster from the dalaan, the family domain. I have memories of my childhood visits to our village in summer vacation. All of us have our subjective definitions of luxury. I still miss the luxury of sleeping outdoors in the spacious dalaan of our village home. That was the only time I got to see the sky in a clear mode. We didn’t get to watch many stars in city nights due to artificial lighting and a polluted environment. My brother and I along with our cousins used to revise our geography lessons. We would identify the milky way, the ursa major constellation, the North Star. We would then ask our aunt who was a specialist in story telling to tell us some horror stories. We enjoyed the dramatic details of the narration and then the trees and the surrounding mountains would look like ghosts in the dark. We would then bring our charpais closest possible to each other claiming that we weren’t afraid. The summer night breeze in my village’s courtyard remains my fondest memory. Best possible air-conditioning cannot ever match the coolness and tranquility. I think I am justified in feeling deprived of the “luxuries” I can’t afford in my urban life style. My kids have missed the luxury. I remember when they watched their favorite, “The Lion King’, I used to promise them to take to our village in summers where they could see the stars like Simba and Mufasa could. Till some decades ago even in urban areas people preferred to sleep outdoors in summer. Industrialisation, modernisation, technological development and globalisation of culture changed a lot. Air conditioning facilitated our lives in ever increasing temperatures. Modern architecture excluded dalaans from our houses. There are lawns used for flowering and in some households still for evening tea, if the family members can make it to home at that time. University and office schedules with a maddening traffic make it difficult for everyone to join for a cup of tea and then there are so many things to be done for the next day. Some assignments need to be completed and the rest of the time is spent watching television or engaging in social media interactions. Perhaps platforms like Facebook are the modern day dalaans. Charpai and peerhis are now abandoned pieces of furniture. They just don’t fit in the modern scheme of decor in our homes, just like old traditions of collectivity. Our new generation is too sensitive about their privacy. Everyone has a separate room with specific personal requirements. Sleeping outdoors is out fashioned. Even if an old school of thought like myself insists on trying to revive the tradition, I am warned of the law and order situation. It’s just not safe. We must lock all our doors before sleeping and ensure the security alarm system is on. We just can’t depend on our governments to assure us of security of our lives. We are on our own and sleeping outdoors means inviting burglars, dacoits and terrorists. When we calculate the loss, terrorism has caused us in terms of economic resources, we must remember how it has negatively affected our cultural system and behavior pattern also. We live an atmosphere of fear, missing the good old days when some households even didn’t have any boundary walls rest aside high-tech gates, a simple latch would do. Desire for a modern life style and multiple insecurities have made us latch ourselves from inside. For our young generation charpais remain something to be seen in some servant quarters and as a model in a cultural exhibition or they are placed in memories of the last of us who ever used them for sleeping in dalaans surrounded by loved ones. I am fine with the pace of changing life patterns but when we are discussing getting ourselves some newly introduced comfortable foam mattress or a sofa I think of finding time to visit my village sometime and sleep in our dalaan on an artistically painted charpai covered with a colorful khaes and look at the stars, a luxury my children like many of our young generation have not experienced! Published in Daily Times, June 3rd 2018.