Whenever my students and cadets ask me for truly some serious advice, I advise, “Learn to do your own work, especially prepare your own bed to sleep.”
My students go away laughing at me, saying, “Sir is still from the last century, he will never change!”
However, I am serious. Doing one’s own work is a mark of personality, a testimonial about being a name different in the crowd, a distinctive face of one’s individuality. Do not leave it to your mother, sister, or the house help; it will become their manner of work or bed, and you will have to change your persona to suit theirs. Apart from that, it is a theme of self-cultivation.
Many years back, as an Associated NCC officer, I went to Naogaon, Assam, to participate in a National Integration Camp with ten cadets. We were put up in an under-construction hospital near the forest which was abandoned by the authorities due to threats of ULFA terrorists. A separate room was allotted to me for the next eleven days.
After completing all the paper formalities, I went to my room for some rest. My bed was smartly made, too good for my taste. I opened the bed cover and found a small black cobra welcoming me with funnel upraised. I cannot kill any one of God’s creations without necessary grounds, and so, I called the PI staff of the NCC. Using a can (which they ingeniously use in many ways, by the way), they tipped the snake into a large plastic bucket, opened a window, and threw the snake out of the room.
Returning to the room, I decided to re-arrange of the bed, and on lifting the mattress, found an entire family of snakes. Disturbed by my intrusion, scores of small snakes were soon scuttling about the bed. Alarmed, I shouted for the staff again. The PI staff room was near to mine and immediately, they shifted me to the guest room where I spent the rest of the night. Better a guest room bug than a forest snake!
Circling back, doing my own work, especially making my own bed was very important for me. It was something the NCC taught when, as a cadet, you were at the mercy of your seniors, the PI staff, the NCOs, the ANOs, and last but not the least, frequent pranksters. You were trained to make your own bed, wash and iron your own uniform and clothes, polished your own shoes and clean your camp area.
Occasionally some dirt would annoyingly infiltrate your sheets and you would do your best to hide it artistically, preferably with a neatly folded towel. The “English” style was popular back then. You reorganized the sheets in such a shrewd way that any guest resting on the bed would be oblivious to that inextricable dirt. All this meant that the NCC taught you to be very caring of your bed and work.
I became rather rigid about my habits and making of my bed. I shifted to Meerut as a young student and stayed with a friend’s aunt to take care of her in the absence of her family. She was like a mother to me, and expectedly, I had a clash with her when she tried to make my bed. She persisted that I was her guest and had the right to take care of me, to clean my bedroom and to make my bed. Yet, I would get ahead and make my bed myself, which she would counter with remaking it herself. At times, she won, at times, I. We finally reached a truce; she would make it in the morning so I could leave in time for my classes, and I would make it at night, so that she had time to cook dinner.
During winters, she prepared a hot-water bottle to keep my feet and legs warm all night. Her motherly care finally triumphed, and I surrendered my bedmaking tasks to my gracious aunt. This was the first time I did such a thing in my life. Good meals and a warm bed – after all, what more could a young student want?
Food isn’t generally a problem as I am content with simple vegetarian meals; it is the beds which always trouble me. Sometimes, there are too many pillows; I cast them aside before I go to bed. I always loosen the sheets and mattresses as well; they are always tucked in very tightly and sometimes the mattresses are too soft and springy. At times, I prefer to sleep on the floor, using a thick carpet, a sheet, a pillow, and the blanket, all borrowed from the bed.
My reputation for insisting on making my own bed precedes me. Once, I was staying at a hotel in a different city. I was standing in the balcony, admiring the new view when I sensed some movement in the room. As I had left the room’s door unlocked, I hurried inside. Upon entering I saw a lady sitting on the bed, luggage and all. She was in the wrong room (tip: take extra efforts to remember your hotel room number as all the rooms look more or less the same). Thankfully she remained cool, and she also apologised generously.
Then she seemed to recognise me but could not recollect my name.
“Aren’t you that writer who used to talk about making one’s own bed?”, she asked smilingly. “Come on, let’s go have a drink.”
She was one of my college mates.
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