Sleeping Under the Stars

In June 2021, I shared a photo with my classmates of my school in Jabalpur, of my bed covered with mosquito net on the terrace under the night sky. I reconnected with classmates during lockdown 2020 ( I can share anything and everything with classmates. After that photo as they were asking my experience I shared with them that in Bombay it is usually not possible to sleep under the stars due to various issues. Ever since I moved to Jaipur in 2010, I opted for sleeping under the stars the very first summer, as we did in Jabalpur. People tried dissuade me with weak suggestions such as, ‘no one sleeps outside now’, ‘it is scary’, and ‘too much traffic at night’ and so on. Sleeping inside within heated constructed walls and roof is unhealthy, especially for me. Most people have taken to coolers and AC, which too is problematic for me. Jaipur gets cooler at nights than Jabalpur because of it being in dessert land. It has been unusually hot past few days. Last night after a sand storm it became cool, this too is a usual phenomena in dessert lands. I had to get a thicker sheet to cover myself. In fact everyday during summer afternoons (around 3.00 p.m.) a mild soothing breeze starts, again because of the sand getting hot and heating up the air, thus creating the comforting breeze.

Memories are built with experience, either personal or someone else’s. Many of this generation have no idea about what it is to sleep at night in the open so no memories to even to fall back on. My school mates all had a feeling of warmth as shared experiences of sleeping outside in Jabalpur. Sleeping under the unlimited sky and stars is one experience I would not want to wish to miss personally. I would like to wish the same for all, as this is one of the luxuries of life. Mosquitoes love me so have no option but to put the mosquito net but I am ok with it, any day better than heated concrete walls.

In Jabalpur which is my birthplace there was a courtyard in front of the house where beds were put during summers. The courtyard used to be sprinkled with cow-dunk (gobar) water to sanitize it against insects but there was no way to sanitize against Jabalpur mosquitoes. There would be provision to put mosquito nets with either iron rods at four ends of the bed or thin bamboo rods put in cross and stuck under the legs of the bed which stood fast with the help of the net on top. Every night laying the mattresses was my job ever since I could pick them up. My sisters would pitch in. Also picking these up and putting back in allotted place had to be done. These could not be left out in the Sun, which is too hot for comfort during summers. The sleep under the stars is refreshing and the feeling of being one with the star filled sky is an experience beyond words. I would sleep with my grandmother till I was ten and we shifted to the quarters near Baba’s office. The sleeping out during summers continued even then. Even after my marriage when we went to Adipur, Kutch, a dessert the hot summers compelled us to sleep under the stars but in Adipur the mosquito could not survive the dessert heat so we did not need mosquito nets!

In Wright Town my childhood suburb of Jabalpur there would be different kinds of vendors selling various eatables in variety of accessories to sell with different kinds of lanterns. Sugarcane guy would bring cut sugarcane pieces in a tokri, a broad open vessel made with bamboo slits with an open flame lantern dancing in the tokri. The most fascinating was kulfiwala slowly gliding his trolley with earthen pitcher (matkaa) in which the frozen kulfis were safely insulated. The lantern on the trolley was covered with glass. The kulfis were served on leaves deftly taken out of the container and slit in pieces with a knife, eaten with a wooden spoon. Today kulfis have acquired world fame. Still for those who are unaware it is milk with sugar and sometimes cardamom boiled till it becomes thick and then frozen. One of those things which has to be experienced to know like most knowledge in the universe. The fascinating part for us children was also the moving images of shadows gliding on the houses as the trolley slowly slid on the road as if it was a live show going on. The sugarcane vendor’s open dancing flame would create scary images of larger than life shadows. My sister reminded me of colourful small bowls for ice creams and these would make colourful movies on walls with light reflecting from them.

My Baba got special bed made with thick iron sheet and provision for holding rods for mosquito net. He would ask us to wet his mosquito net and put a fan outside which would work like a cooler. He would sleep bare-body with nothing except cotton home stitched longish under wears. I used to sleep with a cotton home stitched peni-frock till I got married! Mummy, my mother-in-law in her consideration asked me to wear salwar kurta for sleeping as my sari would come up and she would cover my bare legs while I blissfully slept unaware of my nakedness! Strangely I did not get aware on this front while most women are drilled about their bodies. Maybe it is acceptance and affinity of the naked star filled sky. ‘Maybe’ is all I can say as I do not know for sure what formations in my head did not socialize me to constructed norms/notions of ‘being a girl/woman’.

I think these stars, the moving shadows and collective sleeping out in the dark have been partly responsible for my fearlessness. Irrespective of what sleeping under the stars have given me and many of my generation and people sleeping on footpaths in Bombay, this one experience if we deny the children, then it is a crime against humanity. We need different definitions for crime!