Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sleepless Nights

Can I sleep with you?” the young boy asked the woman 15 years older than him. She gave him an understanding smile. An onlooker intervened, “There isn’t enough space here – go to your own bed.” The young boy spent a sleepless night without even realizing that he would never ask a woman that question ever again; or that, for the rest of his life, he would never get such an excuse. Later, he realized that that incident had left two lasting impressions. First, that taught him to deal with children as people worthy of being kept at a safe distance. Second, he was troubled by the everlasting doubt, “If I had slept with her, would I have become a writer like Mario Vargas Llosa?

Can I jog with you?” the young lady asked the adolescent boy 4 years younger than her. She was fit and energetic, a badminton champion at the State-level. He was a laid-back athlete with a best time of 11.7 seconds for 100-metres-dash and his morning exercise schedule included a casual stroll and long moments of thought. She asked him that question when he had boasted that night about being a regular morning jogger on a 5-km circuit. She took his silence for an aye and told him to wake her up at 5 am. He spent a sleepless night with worry, shame, adrenalin and testosterones waging a cruel war within. For the first and last time in his life, he knocked at a young lady’s bedroom door at 5 am; and, wished that she would not open the door.

Can we sleep in separate bedrooms?” the young man practiced that question studying his reflection in the mirror. It was the night before the first night. He was not worried about the day ahead: the tiresome wedding, the unavoidable mushy vegetarian feast or the long hours of feigned geniality. He was not even worried about sex or the improbability of that after a long exhausting day. He spent a sleepless night dreading that first night on the following day when he would have to share his own bedroom for the whole night. He had read in great books that the English had, during the golden age when they could afford enough rooms, lived without such worries.

Can men cause sleepless nights?” the middle-aged man pondered alone. “Yes,” he recollected two incidents.

The first incident took place in Naples. He was invited to give a lecture at the University. Following the custom of academia, he gave a forgettable lecture for which he was paid handsomely and then, collected maps and directions to see the famous city. En route to the nearest subway, he was nearly mowed down by a silver Ferrari. Though shaken, he stared at the beautiful lady sitting next to the driver-cum-owner. Before the advent of expensive motorcars and its drivers, Shakespeare mistakenly thought ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. The driver felt grievously injured with the divided attention he received and made the universal gesture of the throat getting cut from ear to ear. This shook our hero more than the near-accident. Instead of seeing Naples, he locked himself in his hotel room expecting that driver to pay a bloody visit. He wasted that sleepless night reading a crime novel about ‘a headless body in a topless bar’.

The second incident took place on a campus near Delhi. Three ruffians, with a remarkable resemblance to the Neapolitan driver, accosted him near the staff quarters. A sheet of paper was thrust at him and he was told to sign. He signed without protest. He made out that it was some signature campaign concerning ‘Ayodhya’. The ruffians were not in the mood to explain their position. Later that day, he met another set of ruffians who resembled the former lot. Again, a sheet of paper was thrust at him and he was told to sign. This time, he protested, “I have already signed.” The dark reply was, “Acha, you signed with them…” Neither were they in the mood to explain their position. He realized that he would soon join the long list of martyrs who met their fate with blessed ignorance. On that sleepless night, he read Wilfred Owen’s poem on ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ (a quotation by the Roman poet Horace, meaning ‘It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country’).

With wisdom fighting a losing battle against advancing senility, his sleepless nights had been a rarity till recently. Seven days back, he wrote to a dear friend, “I am leaving these blogs.” She asked him kindly, “Why? Is it because you have no readers?” He replied with rare wisdom, “No, I have finally read my own blogs.” It had taken less than a day to complete that task. It will take many sleepless nights for him to recover. Introspection is a great theoretical idea but in practice, it is an awful path to self-realization.


[1]"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"
• The correct quotation is "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/ Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." by William Congreve in The Mourning Bride of 1697.

[2] "Dulce et decorum est" by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
• One of the best known poems of the First World War. Wilfred Owen died fighting for England in WW I, a week before armistice. My favourite lines in that poem are:
• ...
• If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

[3]"Headless Body In Topless Bar"
• The New York Post penned this famous headline in 1983.

No comments:

Post a Comment