– Tenzing Palyon
Around the bustling side of a city where billboards with few sentences inscribed on them stood like monuments and a hundred feet below pieces of paper wandered with undecipherable letterings like vagabonds; where during the active hours, the buildings enveloped emotions and aggressive drivers introduced two-legged freighters to lessons on pedestrianism.
Surrounded by the razzle-dazzle of the city, one night, a man struggled to sleep in a parking lot. He felt miserable, lying there like an ignored dead body in a mortuary. His shawl was long enough to cover his feet but its width was not enough. His elbows spilled out like ears.
He could see the effulgent floodlights on sky-rise buildings and frenzied bats that moved like blurs of shadows. If he stared at the night sky, he could spot the red light blinking beside the white ones. It was close to midnight and he tried to sleep, pressing his eyelids against each other to form an umbra. Closed, the back of his eyelids created a firmament where he tried to lose himself among planets, stars and galaxies. This creation of a universe by shutting off the world outside allowed him to forget his predicament for a while. But the weight of the lights was too much for his glabella to hold. He wished there was a switch-off button he could press. The intruding white light tore his pressed eyelids and halted the conjuring.
For him, to sleep was to lie against any hardened surface he could find. He didn’t need a pillow or much comfort to persuade himself to sleep. He needed just two separate pieces of cloth to sleep all his life, one which he could use as a bed cover and the other to cover himself with. From afar, he would look like a human eye. He was a slave to melatonin like most around him obeying the command of a mechanism that repeated itself every night. That night he couldn’t sleep; he had to stay awake. It was his first day at work. With each minute he felt like his body was aggressively demanding his company, trying to talk to him. He tried ignoring the constant request for companionship that was extended to him with a yawn.
He understood sleep in terms of a pseudo-scientific analogy that seems ludicrous now. He wondered how one could stay awake sleeping. Sleep reminded him of a Ferris wheel at a fair. The ride made him feel calm until it gained speed.
Sleep has laid down many foundations in the history of human beings, he thought. In his various readings of texts and hearing of stories, he remembered instances where individuals had written dossiers that they had dreamed in sleep to alter the world. These individuals lived in a different world in their sleep and compared the conscious world with the unconscious. He saw them as revolutionaries.
The bandicoots scuttling around him were surprised to see something so big lying in their domain. The rodents peeped through their secret burrows, which during the day looked like tiny fissures. The chirping of crickets seemed never ending. The water drops were a constant reminder of the degradation of the building. One could hear the drops only at night. The wind was chilly, and the dust blew like a sand storm. The pungent air was a mixture of rotting garbage that did not mix well with the stench of diesel. The careful whispers and the light promiscuous banters found their way through the main gate. The tress and its branches looked like burnt arteries ferrying the daily load of the city’s pollution. The buildings surrounding him looked like chess pieces frozen in time. The cool wind came at a cost; it brought dust along with it. He was told night was a decorated blanket bejewelled with stars. But that night felt like a labyrinth. He tried hard to imagine a ‘jhoomar’ inside an enclosed dome to light the many paths in this labyrinth.
He was stressed and thought of how he couldn’t sleep any longer. He remembered the person whom he would replace at the job speaking aloud, “Sometimes, the best thing to do is to sleep, and getting paid for what you do best is the most beautiful gift.” He remembered how his laugh echoed the room even in the morning. He had decided to start work that very night. He had nowhere to go so he tried walking around the street, but he didn’t feel comfortable because there seemed to be a price tag on everything he saw. He returned quickly and reported to duty four hours before his reporting time. He stood there waiting. He didn’t look at what was inside; it didn’t bother him. He was only trying to recreate how he felt when he slept with ease — the moment when everything colourful gets absorbed into darkness and then reverts to a colourful world the next morning. He tried recreating that moment but he couldn’t.
Sleep was like falling into a deep dark abyss without fear, looking for comfort during challenging times. Sleep tends to heal both from the inside and the outside. A remedy for our body to feel fresh and rejuvenated. In the past, he had the leisure of sleeping for a good 8-11 hours and also the misfortune of sleeping for 3-4 hours on average for the past 3 years.
He thought a new surrounding would bring a change to his sleeping habits, so he returned to “All Beings Mortuary”, which he remembered as the last place he had slept without any disturbance.
Tenzing is a member of the faculty of the Department of English at St. Claret Pre-University College. When not immersing himself into Dalit literature, Tenzing thinks of creative ways to teach his students. You can find Tenzing on Instagram.
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