Bright Pink Razais

Bloggers Note: Today’s post is written by Robynn Bliss (née Allyn), a fellow Third-Culture-Kid and invisible immigrant. A Canadian who grew up in Pakistan, she married an American and then lived in India for many years. She has entered into the western hemisphere and now lives in Kansas with her husband Lowell, and three children Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn. She is as bright, alive and colorful as her writing.

Bright Pink Razais
We have two little girls that began their childhoods in India. Just before we brought them to the US they received bright pink razais for their birthdays. Each razai was bordered with a red, black and quite pink block print. They were gloriously Indian. They were cozy and comforting and warm. The girls loved those blankets.
The razais covered their beds those last months in India. They were the last things packed in to the suitcases for the long journey into their new world. They were the first things unpacked in our new home here in Kansas. The pink bulky comforters were immediately spread on their new bunk beds on top of the pale bedspreads that had been provided by generous women from our church. In a way the razais represented the identity of these little girls.

The razais said” We are Indian. We are bright, we are alive and we are not from here. We are different.”

Traditionally a razai is a thick cotton stuffed comforter. A large brightly patterned cloth bag is blown full of white fluffy cotton. That stuffed balloon is sewn shut, trampled down and harnessed with stitches and knots to keep the wild, wind-blown cotton in place. These blankets, to the uninformed might seem like carpets. They are heavy and immovable. During the winter in the villages, when the goats are tethered and the water buffalo are fed, families circle around a metal brazier filled with hot coals. A thick razai covers the coal plate and everyone’s toes and knees and arms. And under the light of a lantern and the weight of a razai stories are told, rumours fabricated, news exchanged. The razais serve a limited purpose each year. The temperatures drop surprisingly low in the desert. But the winters are short and the razais are locked into large aluminum trunks for the long summers. Modern razais are filled with polyester. They’re much lighter in weight, easier to wash, easier to roll and to store. But the colours are still as vibrant and the purpose is still the same.

Over these last 4 years since our return to North America the girl’s beloved razais have served as tents, as sleeping bags, as magic carpets, as reading companions, as dear friends. Although now our girls have picked more subtle bed covers, the hot pink razais remain among the blankets. Our older daughter prefers to have her Target-purchased, light pink and pale green floral bedspread on top of her razai. It’s still there, but not as visible as it once was. She still pulls it up to her chin at night, sees it, smiles and reaches for the bedspread.

Our younger little girl, however, vacillates between her two options. Some days the bright Indian blanket is on top, other days her lavender and mauve striped comforter rises to the surface. She’s our child that struggles to remember India. And it grieves her. I can see it on her face. The razai for her assures her that her birth place is a vibrant part of who she is. She snuggles up under that reassurance with stuffed elephants and tigers to keep her company. Some mornings the American cover is kicked off. On other days the pink razai is balled up at her feet and her only covering is her newer, softer bed spread.

I pulled the pink razais out of the wash machine yesterday morning and tears flooded my face. It comforts me to have bed-clothes from Asia enveloping my girls as they sleep. Somehow the connection to my own Pakistani childhood is strengthened. These heavy, bright, seemingly silly blankets keep me warm and remembering in the cold blast of a place I still struggle to settle into and embrace.

31 thoughts on “Bright Pink Razais

  1. Beautifl post and incredibly insightful.

    I teared up at the part about your daughters at the end, building forts and all that! I think it is so poignant the way they have two comforters now, both girls, in different ways, dealing with the process of transition. So powerful too, for your daughter to remember that India is a piece of her! I moved from Egypt when I was just 4 or so yet it is still so engraved in my heart and identity!

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    1. Stefanie… I wish you could meet our Bronwynn. I think she’d like you. She’s brave and adventurous and funny and passionate and merciful and very much part Indian. I hear similar things about you! Thanks for interacting with this….

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  2. Wow there are not many people who have lived in India, Pakistan and North America. I have lived in three different countries myself and I don’t know if this has been your experience or not but even with the diverse cultures, traditions and practices don’t you get a sense that at of the end of the day people are just people and we have more in common than we think!

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    1. This is gloriously true! While being abroad I would look at the night sky and it was simply night! People are people and places are places, it’s wonderfully comforting to know this.

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      1. There are without doubt a lot of commonalities and Stefanie’s point above is good. I think the struggle is moving into a place where we can see those commonalities and move into friendship. But also even within some of the commonalities – like joy, sadness, laughter – is the cultural difference of expression. So my joy could be expressed quite differently than anothers leading to a cultural disconnect. At the end of the day it is totally worth moving beyond that difference into a point of connection and friendship getting to the place that you and Stefanie both describe.
        So glad you are reading and commenting.

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    2. I remember a moment when I was attending college in Canada. I looked up at the night sky and spotted a familiar constellation. It was a collection of stars that looked like a capital R to me. I first discovered it in a remote village in the Thal Desert in Pakistan. It thrilled me to see it again in Canada. Years later I found it in the Indian sky. And now here it rests above me at night in Kansas. It is true that some things never change. I take comfort in the One who never changes and is culturally at ease wherever He is. And He always Is!

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  3. I am a missionary kid, raised in Pakistan. I was wondering where you, (Robynn and Family), are in Kansas as I also live in Kansas…Wichita.

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    1. Dave – Robynn will probably respond but it would be great if you all could connect! They are a great family and working in an environmental project since coming back from India.

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  4. Thank you Robynn. I’m reminded that not only missionary kids (and their parents) struggle with identity when leaving one culture and entering another. Our world is diverse and it is more like the norm nowadays to find others in the same boat. Often moving from one state to another or one community to another demands changes. Life is like that for all of us in one way or another: change, change, change. There is no end. However, at some point we reach the place where we accept the fact that life is fluid, always moving. Continuing adjustments and adaptations never end. In the process we discover our core. We are individuals. Acknowledging the good, the bad, and the ugly from yesterday and the good, the bad, and the ugly from today assures us that we are who we are, a pilgrim on a journey. Challenges are part of the journey. Perhaps we can identify with David Bottoms, a writer from Georgia, who has written, “The past and the present are walking now together. They are singing a hymn.”

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    1. Well said, Bettie. Great post, Robynn. Your perspectives are both refreshing. Fluidity is all too often disconcerting to me personally, and I am glad for your reminders that there is no escaping it. As a third culture citizen myself, it took me awhile (longer than I certainly wished) to recognize that I had developed my own core–a fairly confident sense of my own individuality. I am mostly grateful for how organic that core feels now. There’s hardly a day goes by that I don’t respect and value my desire and need for a sense of community, where there is laughter, friendship, justice, love–which means there is openness to seeing others and their perspectives.

      And that reminds me of why I enjoy Marilyn’s posts and blogs these days. Thanks for the ways you engender dialogue and community across boundaries, dear Marilyn!

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      1. I just saw this comment – thanks for your lovely affirmation! You have, since I was an awkward junior high boarding schooler, been such a model of laughter and love for me. This has been a gift of a reconnection.

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  5. Wonderful post, very well written. Does Robynn have her own blog?
    Where did she live. Growing up in urban Maharashtra, the descriptions of village life sound like a lovely story.
    But for all that I loved my Razai , it was filled with cotton and was heavy when I was a kid, it was also homemade. we have cotton ones even now but much lighter. Recently we bought some in Kuwait and I think only the cover is cotton while the stuffing is probably fiber.
    What I missed here, were cotton mattresses and semul pillows. when I went to India there were a number of expensive mattresses available but finally I topped mine with one of finest cotton, which is bliss to sleep on, and even managed to find some pillows of pure semul.
    So much of what we took for granted growing up, is now disappearing, replaced by artificial materials. the silks and pure cottons are becoming harder to find, they are there but not in every shop as they were before.

    This post though is not about Razais. It is about who we become when we are exposed to so many cultures and ways of life.
    I was thinking today that there are two kinds of expats; there are those who hold on tight to their way of life, culture, festivals, dress, language, food, friends, everything from back home. they make small communities of their kind wherever they go and rarely mix with the others they find in these places.
    Sadly when they go back home they find that much has changed and many of the customs they treasured are now only preserved in their entirety on foreign lands.
    There are the others, who are actually a minority, those who throw themselves wholeheartedly into a new culture, who are greedy to learn and adapt and experience new thing,explore different thoughts ,ways of life, make friends from all walks of life, pick up different languages, try out different cuisines, etc.
    They too come home to a strange place but they come home much richer and in every way they become more rounded and balanced for their foreign exposure.

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    1. I want to be that second type of expat you describe….. the one that is open to explore and experience what is new… especially as I seek now to embrace the continent of my parents, the country of my spouse. Certainly I’ve had such a rich life. Lord forbid that I should trade it in now for the poverty of living in the past and holding on to the familiar. ouch!

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  6. When I first arrived in Pakistan, I was in Multan for Language study. The saintly German nurse I lived with went each evening to have devotions with her Muslim neighbours, who were later baptised.

    It was cold and we always cuddled up under their rezais, drank chai and had a lovely time -me understanding not a word

    She was an amazing woman, never talked of how one could catch something or get bitten. I never caught a bug with her, nor did any bug bite me!

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    1. What a sweet memory. Thank you for sharing it. I wonder if my own mother or my aunt sat horrified as we all jumped under more than one razai to keep warm in the chuks! I don’t remember any bites….

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