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”.


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


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.


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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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.


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.


Silent Company

– 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.


Submissions for our June 2021 Issue is open now.

Hurry! Submit your entries.

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.


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


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


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.


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

Untitled by Rohan Rathod

Rohan is an artist from Pune, Maharashtra. He has been painting and drawing portraits since he was a child. For Rohan, a successful artwork is one that balances density of meaning with minimalism and economy. You can find him on Instagram and on Facebook.


Rohan’s painting appeared in Pop the Culture Pill’s April 2021 Issue. Read it now!

Submissions for our June 2021 Issue is open. Send in your entries.


-Athira Unni

to see death in a petal of a flower

is to witness the garden reveal traps

mother’s wish is to send me to sleep

a three-day break I took from that

and counted curtain folds and tiles

when space finally happened between days

shut eyes saw neon honking dreams 

of fast-moving trains and suicides

of chocolate in a vending machine

that refused to open like my eyes

burning from a negligent purpose 

blessed by decaf, pills and a breathing app

waiting for the blast of sound in silence 

when A used to sleep all the time 

in his hostel bed even during exams 

and me unable to during exams 

now waking up to lights and scars

with wondrous leaves clinging to us

like dreams we brush off into compost

a collateral murder took place in sleep

a pimply child with his toy helicopter

once told me he wanted to die 

I took the helicopter and threw it

it flew a distance and kept falling

and falling and falling until it went 

to the place dreams go to die 

and on a blue quilt I made my home 

wrapped up tears in soggy cotton 

waited for my hair to fall and wake up

to the heretic field of death 

where sleep is the ferryman 

and I paid with sanity to sleep

and meet my monsters once again

this, the cycle of my eyelids opening

and closing to your face, is flying 

round and round and round 

helicopters falling from the sky 


Athira Unni lives on coffee and thunderstorms. She is a PhD candidate at Leeds Beckett University, UK. Her debut poetry collection “Gaea and Other Poems” was published in September 2020. She blogs at chocolateandink.wordpress.com.


‘Helicopters’ appeared in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill. Read the full issue here.

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