Call for Submission – September 2021 Issue

While submissions are open to all, we wanted to take this opportunity to call Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi creators to bring their stories of food, culture, and identity through poetry, short fiction, essay, art, photo essay, graphic narrative. We also encourage LGBTQ creators to send their entries.

Tenzing Palyon, one of the editors for this issue, came up with the theme based on his tryst with his kitchen and longing to ditch takeaway containers and embrace a dine-in experience once again. The initial idea was to focus on COVID and its impact on how the world consumed food. Seeing that the pandemic only increased the disparity in food consumption, nutrition, and safety, we decided to broaden the scope to include the wider social, economic, and political context of food.

Send us your submissions at popdacultpill@gmail.com

Let Us Sleep

– Ayatree Saha

“तू मुझे मार डाल… लेकिन मैं नहीं उठूंगी। ख़ुदा के लिए मेरे हाल पर रहम कर।”

“उठ मेरी जान, ज़िद न कर। गुज़ारा कैसे चलेगा।”

गुज़ारा जाये जहन्नम में। मैं भूकी मर जाऊंगी। ख़ुदा के लिए मुझे तंग न कर। मुझे नींद आ रही है।”…

“देख मैं हाथ जोड़ती हूँ… मैं कितने दिनों से जाग रही हूँ… रहम कर… ख़ुदा के लिए मुझ पर रहम कर।” (Manto)

The cry of the woman was loud and stern. She begged, she demanded sleep. She was a woman whose labor constituted an important aspect of the economy. She was a woman who was sleep deprived. She was a woman who wanted to respond to her bodily needs, rather than earn to survive another day. She was a woman who lived in a room with a bright light that blind-sighted men. She lay on a floor mat with a dupatta-covered face, unaffected by her starving body. The labor that she had to put through acknowledged neither time nor space. She had marked a space of her own enclosed in darkness, only to be lit by a bulb powered like a hundred candles.1

Poetry, play, art and many other forms of literature have depicted sleep in myriad ways, with multiple interpretation, as necessary, associating sleep with darkness and even death. Medical and scientific studies have explored the process of sleep extensively, so much so that now there are sleep clinics and health associations dealing exclusively with the domain of sleep. However, this does not reduce it to a mere biological phenomenon; the very occurrence and reproduction of sleep, the multiple ways of enactment, and thereby the effects also make sleep what Vilhelm Aubert and Harrison White proclaim as “social event” (Aubert & White, 1959, p. 46).

Saadat Hasan Manto in his short story “सौ  कैंडल पॉवर का बल्ब”, narrates an event of a February evening when things went haywire during an encounter with a stranger. The story revolves around a prostitute, the pimp and the customer. The prostitute incessantly demands to sleep but is denied by the dalaal (pimp) as her labor is the mode of survival. The story evades clarity — the characters have no names, the ending leaves questions unanswered, and the beginning doesn’t give any hints at the unexpected turn in the story. The story ponders over fragmented pieces and ruins that speak of bloodshed. The colour red present throughout the story, whether it is being washed off or worn, hinted at the aftermath that would continue haunting.2 The woman upon continuously begging for sleep, finally gets to sleep, with the dealer dead beside her and a brick covered in blood. It speaks volumes of the labor of women, in this case a prostitute, as well as the kind of inequality and exploitation that prevails. She is the person who meets the needs of survival by selling her labor, which, however, is controlled by the man. Despite that, it is the woman who is sleep deprived and the man continues to have the luxury of sleep. This is true in the context of working class women, who might work as an equal in factories (for instance) to their male counterpart, but the inequality is visible within the domestic space, where not just the emotional labor but every other household chore becomes her duty and responsibility, and the men continue to sleep in front of television (based on Franca Rame’s play “Waking Up”).3 Franca Rame, an Italian playwright and theatre actor, in her monologue from the performance “Waking Up”, portrays the frustration towards her husband, who continues to sleep, without bothering about cleaning, cooking, washing clothes or even talking to her (Fo & Rame). The laughter-inducing performance brings to light the inequality of labor that constitutes the patriarchal structure. 

Both these events are from the previous century, but continue to make statements that are relevant today. With conversation around sleep gradually gaining prominence within the popular and digital culture, the importance of time comes to play. The quotidian of every individual is different, which allows construing different forms of the mundane. The banality of sleep that is embodied and is intrinsic to our everyday lives has been portrayed beautifully in the Bengali film Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labor of Love), directed by Aditya Vikram Sengupta. The film includes no dialogues but rather reflects on the mundane that we all experience, by lingering on details that we more than often miss. The movie depicts a day of two factory workers (husband and wife here), throughout their day, the woman in her day shift job and the man during the night shift. Their daily chores are similar to any Bengali household. Their sleep is scheduled by the industrial time and job that demands the characters to shape their lives accordingly. Our lives have intertwined with this industrial time, often making the physiological time obsolete. When we sleep is no more determined by sunrises and sunsets, but rather the late-capitalist enterprise that has moulded time. 

Scientifically, sleep has moved from being considered a dormant act when little happens to something that is an active process (Sloan & Shapiro, 1997, p. 7). Sleep deprivation has become one of the foremost areas of research, especially in a society driven by a 24/7 demand for labor in this late-capitalist enterprise (Crary, 2013). Sleep does not evade governance nor does it escape negotiations on part of practising sleep. Sleep can be a privilege for some, in who sleeps when and how. But sleep also allows subverting the expectation of constant labor and productivity, rationality and activity. The expectation of women to sleep less and work more in a patriarchal household, requires the need to bring attention to sleeping as an act of resistance. However, it still would entail only a minuscule fraction being able to do this. Sleep has not only been capitalized now, as seen through the entire market that has come about, intending to regulate and govern sleep, but it has also provided the package of “efficient sleeping”. This is where individual and collective negotiations allow liminal spaces of resistance in the intersubjective world. 


1This is based on the story “Sau candle power ka bulb” by Saadat Hasan Manto. The particular scene has also been portrayed in the Movie “Manto”, directed by Nandita Das. The scene remains as powerful in its screen interpretation, depicting the prostitute in dire need of sleep and the pimp demanding her to wake up and meet the client.  

2Here, the friend of the client, who witnessed the scene of death and blood, was literally haunted in his dreams.

3In ‘Waking Up’, Rame mocks how men tend to get rid of their responsibilities and rather burden women with more work, which isn’t even considered work as all of this continues to be unpaid labor. As Marxist feminists argue, the economy would fall if women started demanding for the unpaid labor that is constituted as part of their “duty” and “responsibility”.


References

Aubert, V., & White, H. (1959). Sleep: A Sociological Interpretation. I. Acta Sociologica, 4(2), 46-54.

Crary, J. (2013). 24/7 Late Capitalism and the ends of sleep. London and New York: Verso.

Fo, D., & Rame, F. (n.d.). Waking Up. 62-63. Retrieved from http://www.michelledanner.com

Manto, S. H. (n.d.). Sau Candle Power ka Bulb. Rekhta. Retrieved from https://www.rekhta.org/stories/sau-candle-power-ka-bulb-saadat-hasan-manto-stories?lang=hi

Sloan, E., & Shapiro, C. (1997). An Overview of Sleep Physiology and Sleep Disorders. In C. M. Shapiro, & A. M. Smith (Eds.), Forensic Aspects of Sleep (pp. 7-28). John Wiley & Sons.


Ayatree is from Durgapur, West Bengal. She prefers calm and quiet, but indulges occasional noise from people around. She is a sociology major and research scholar with interest in gender, body and everyday life. Currently, she is working on sociality of sleep at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata. You can find her on Instagram.


The essay was published in our April 2021 Issue. Read the full issue here.

Sleep: Two artworks by Coco Spencer

Sweet Dreams

Water Bed

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Coco Spencer is a mixed-media artist who specializes in analogue collage. She is originally from California, now based in Chicago. To see more of her work, visit cocospencer.com

You can also find her on Instagram.

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Sweet Dreams and Water Bed were published in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill magazine. Read the full issue here.

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Loneliness Is a Half-eaten Energy Bar

-Ankur Animesh Surin

The half-eaten energy bar 
peeks at me when I 
open the fridge 
at night.

Cold escapes in a wooly flight,
disappears around my ankle.

I could have sworn it swirled 
an anklet around, 
tying my fate to the bar,
before disappearing in search of shadows 
in my LED-flushed room.

Domestic adventures that last 
less than two minutes 
deserve no post-it mentions 
on refrigerators, so
I take time and care 
to boil my noodles 
— self-love doesn’t conquer carbs.

The cool of darkness is reassuring.
A room bereft of memories
is a sore sight. 
My eyelids scrape off what remains of 
the emptiness lit 
by nosy street lamps projecting 
silhouettes of restless mosquitoes.

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Ankur is a cinephile, photographer, and writer-editor. He loves Asian cinema and swears by Tsui Hark and Johnnie To. He is working on a fantasy novel.

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The poem appeared in Pop the Culture Pill’s April Special Issue. Read it here.

Tonight’s Ghazal

– Tenzing Palyon

I read a Dalit was dragged till her skin peeled off,
But my back will find a mattress tonight.

The drunk across the street has locked his wife out.
She isn’t sure if sleep too would mock her tonight.

The glare from street lamps lays sand in their eyes.
“Get the lights, Darling. It’s your turn tonight.”

The tribal girl scrubs the floor and then sleeps on it.
The employer has told her to sleep on the bed tonight.

Stars have lined up in a pageant across the sky.
Yet many can’t afford to dream tonight.

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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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Darkness and Beyond

– Icarus

There comes a time,

beyond twilight,

upon the fall of dusk,

when the city escapes existence

unto sombre slumber,

until the day comes to life.

Yet there breathes a time,

beyond twilight,

beyond the darkness,

its silence unbroken; when

the winds howl in suffering,

for all else is quiet and in dismal,

the butterflies caress the wind’s wings

no more;

words wade in the wind’s waves

no more;

I sigh with pain unto the wind

no more; as I lay hidden

within my deep slumber,

the winds howl in suffering,

for all else recognises it

no more;

the winds howl in suffering —

a desperate attempt,

at waking us up —

it screeches, “HELP! HELP!”

but you and I hear it

no more;

and the moon,

ah, the moon!

she breathes the loneliest of times,

a time and place even the wind cannot reach.

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Icarus is a pen name after the character from Greek Mythology – ‘the man who flew too close to the sun – and such is the purpose of his existence: to write words with his fiery feathers until he crash-lands into a dying ember. Fret not, for he is still close to the sun. It is a long way down until he writes about the death throes of his soaring wings.

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“Darkness and Beyond” was published in our April 2021 Issue. Read the complete issue here.

Submissions for our June 2021 Issue is open. Submit now!

Embroidering (in) Dormiveglia

– malaifly

i.

When sleep shies away

from the light within

that burns in shades

of softened mauve

in moonlit tones;

Not dark enough

to distinguish 

what shone,

of the shallow 

light of dusk 

from the muted 

bright of dawn

ii.

Throughout the night and day

Bouts of uninterrupted 

inertia.

Staggered tiredness

dispersed freely

in varying intensity.

Dispelling the ambit

of asleep and awake

With constant subconscious slumber,

seeping into 

perceived 

triumphs to wake;

and continuous restlessness,

stirring when stilled

until, distressed.

Inverted insomnia,

perverted to ensure

no respite to be had, nor

reprieve to any before.

iii.

Oh how wishes swallow wonders

senses somehow wake 

enter response

even night takes special little efforts speaking

games spinning gusts sweep pieces 

starry yield dramatically yawned

distend disenchant 

through hollow winks scattered

decrepit twinkles scream

metered drawings

spelt twisted

direct to omen

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malaifly is an Indian artist-poetess who compulsively composes poetry. Having always thought in words and written in poetic prose, malaifly has been writing all her life and knows she couldn’t stop even if she tried. She expresses herself both in her words as well as their presentation, from hand-lettering to accompanying with photography and illustration. You can find malaifly on Instagram.

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The poem appeared in Pop the Culture Pill’s April 2021 Issue.

Submission for our June 2021 Issue is open. Send your entries to popdacultpill@gmail.com

Numb Nights

-Samira Ahsan

I don’t know if it makes sense

To damage someone beyond repair

And put them on the fence.

I wonder if anyone can hear

The screams; fading echoes

louder than night waves

sharper than a prey’s fear.

Yelling in the pillow –

yearning to be expressed

But nothing.

Just failure.

If you can hear the howls I swallow,

Show me a way of life to follow

I sleep and sleep away my pain

But it’s always there when I awaken.

When you ask me why I don’t want to fall asleep,

It’s only because I have to wake up and

build myself all over again.

So far, I do, eager to free this chain

I sleep to escape, wake up to remain

Yet nothing.

All in vain.

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A nocturnal being, Samira studies Architecture and Design. She is a professional over thinker and a part-time procrastinator filling blank pages with contemplation. She is quite fast at typing messages but never picks up phone calls. You can reach Samira at samiraahsan20@gmail.com

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The poem appeared in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill. Read the complete issue now!

The Winds

-Ashwika Chhabria

The winds caress me

So does the moonlight

My limbs stretched and free

I slip in to slumber and my dreams take flight

I’m pulled into the ground

With tenuous hands soft

I feel like I’m floating above the crowd

Seeing myself from high above, aloft

The blades of grass sway

Singing me a lullaby

I’m lulled asleep in the middle of the day

On nature’s bed I lie

The winds caress me

So does the sunlight

I sleep to dream and dream of sleep

I’m Icarus, but my wings will fly

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Ashwika can fall asleep anywhere, doing anything, except walking, perhaps. It’s a bit tiring to wake her up every time she dozes off before dinner. She hopes her poetry can rouse you enough to feel alive, if not sleepy. You can find Ashwika on Instagram.

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The poem appeared in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill. Read the complete issue now!