What Happened to the Bistarband?


The other day Col Sahib and I got talking, remembering travel in ‘fauji times’ and I got reminded of this piece that I’d written several years ago! Thanks to the Tribune archives, I’ve located it….my ode to the bistarband!

What happened to the bistarband? 
by Aradhika Sharma


THE ubiquitous bistarband or bed-roll, as it was called in its literal translation, was such an essential part of travel that it was with something like shock that I realised that it was almost obsolete. The only people you see carrying these nowadays are faujis on furlough. The realisation came when we were sorting out the store-room one Sunday. From one of the battered trunks emerged a bistarband, looking a bit worse for wear but with its leather straps and buckles in tact. We put it out in the sun to get rid of the mouldy smell.

“Didi, what’s that lying outside?” My young maid asked, when she came to clean up.


“That green cloth thing…

It’s a bistarband! Don’t tell me you’ve never seen one before! I admonished.

“No didi, I haven’t. What do you do with it?’

“You travel with it…you carry things in it.” Although I hadn’t travelled with a bistarband for decades now, I suddenly felt a rush of defensive affection for this symbol of travel in the past, lying on the terrace soaking in the sun. I’d been thinking of donating it to the maid, but seeing the disrespect the girl had exhibited, I decided that she didn’t deserve it.

The girl, supremely unaware that she had failed miserably in my value judgement, cheerfully went about her work, leaving me to reflect upon how much a part of travel the bistarband used to be.

My parents preferred first class train travel and that, for a family of four, entailed two bistarbands (along with a couple of suitcases, a trunk and a surahi to keep water cold, a basket of food and another hamper of goodies). This much luggage was essential for a month-long vacation, to our grandparents’ home in Chandigarh.

The bistarbands were laid out flat on the ground and then packed with neatly folded mattresses, sheets, towels, and if it were winter, blankets or thin quilts.

On either side, which was folded inwards, would be stuffed pillows, and extra clothes for the journey and the books and games that we needed for entertainment. Once my mother even put a watermelon in there (to eat on the way, of course).

After asking everyone, if anything else needed to be put inside, my father would roll up the bistarband tightly and then heave mightily at the thick leather straps to try and make it as compact as possible. It was no mean task, I tell you. It would leave him breathless. In the train, the bistarband would be unrolled and everyone would be handed out their quota of ‘bedding’.

The bistarbands had long lives. I don’t recollect replacing ours too often. They used to come in two sizes — smaller and larger. They were mostly in two colours: dull olive green and a duller khakhi.


Would I carry one for old time’s sake?

Hmm…well…no, actually. I’ll take a pass! Prefer to travel light you know.

And OK…I’ll take my value judgement back! The maid gets the bistarband!


Published in the Tribune as a ‘Middle’ in 2010


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