A common sighting at highway dhabas or courtyards in rural India is half-a-dozen charpais (‘khat’ or cots) that are often found strewn under the shade of trees for weary travellers or for drying chillies. The lightweight beds were once also carted by Sikhs who were recruited by the British to be stationed in Malaysia. So, back in the 19th century, a number of the simple charpai were a common sight on the streets abroad as well.
Not many may know the expression ‘sleep tight’ originated from a ‘rope bed’ that needed tightening every day. While the rope beds were invented only in the 16th century, and were done away with after the invention of spring mattresses, the humble cot or charpai, from the Persian ‘chihar-pai’, is believed to be at least 5,000 years old.
The strong weaves of the charpai are a bit more complicated than the plain rope beds. The bed with four legs (‘char’ ‘pai’) are often woven with intricate plaits of ribbon or cotton strings.
The lightweight bed, which could be carried on one’s head, even finds mention in Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta’s travelogues, who was very impressed with its simple design.
Fast forward two centuries, and the Indian cots are still a thriving topic for those living abroad. While the Indians might take this rather painstakingly made, historical piece of furniture for granted, a New Zealand-based company, ANNABELLE’S, is selling the charpai for a whopping NZD 800 (approximately Rs 41,000).
The once common Indian household item is now being marketed as a ‘Vintage Indian Daybed’ at the discounted price from an earlier retail price of NZD 1,200.
This price mark up is a 5,000% increase, as the cost of charpais in India may not exceed Rs 800.
The discovery of the cot on the brand’s website sent a few netizens in a tizzy as they vehemently voiced their discontent with the brand. A few even joked about starting this ‘million dollar’ business in foreign lands. This resurfaced another ad by an Australian who was selling an ‘Indian daybed’, which was ‘100% made in Australia’, for $990.
— mainakde (@mainakde) October 5, 2017
After designer Gucci’s kurta priced at Rs 2.5 lakh and Zara’s checked skirt, which was essentially the Indian lungi, one can only imagine what item of everyday use in India the foreigners may fancy next and package with a pretty marketing spin on it. We perhaps await another ‘turmeric latte’ phenomenon. Your guess is as good as ours.
Under product description, the website mentions the words ‘one-of-a-kind’ and ‘original’ for the charpai. Perhaps those at ANNABELLE’S have not been privy to the comfort of sleeping on one of these ‘vintage Indian daybeds’ that are lying by the dozens, unattended on the side of highways.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)