Sleepless in Dhaka
Until a week or so ago I was one of those
lucky people who could sleep anywhere be it in a moving car
or on a hard floor. Not that I ever suffered from narcolepsy
but falling asleep had never been a problem.
last week I met up with an old friend who had been away from
Dhaka and, indeed, Bangladesh for a year. She looked thin,
haggard and worn out and initially I thought she might be
ill or bereaved. I probed her on this and she replied, sighing
no. I am just tired," and yawned. Listlessly, she continued,
"What is it about Dhaka? The city breeds insomnia."
thought nothing of it and we parted an hour or so later.
night I lay in bed reading, allowing my eyes to droop and
finally close to a blissful slumber. I awoke an hour or so
later having forgotten to switch off the light. Rectifying
this, I concentrated on trying to get back to sleep, but I
became restless. Lying on my back listening to the sound of
the rhythmic click of the fan at the end of my bed I realised
that something had unsettled me about what my friend had said.
city breeds insomnia."
did it mean? I had always associated Dhaka with rickshaws
and traffic never sleeplessness that accolade was reserved
for Seattle surely but now I wasn't so sure. My friend had
planted a seed of doubt and I was wide-eyed and alert.
tried, I really, really tried, to sleep again, closing my
eyes and thinking sleepy thoughts. It was impossible. It is
a universal truth that when you desperately want to, and know
you must, sleep, you can't.
only is sleep a time for us to rest but also dream and everyone
knows that. Whatever Freud thought, I maintain that, in the
same way that we organise and store our clothes, our minds
have to organise and store our thoughts and emotions of the
day. If one is deprived of sleep, one is deprived of dreams
and therefore it is up to the individual to sort through the
debris of thoughts from the day.
mind raced as I tried to do exactly that, the irony being
that I was too tired to think and analyse effectively, yet
too awake to dream.
turned on my side and tried a mind game to help me sleep.
Choose a theme, take each letter of the alphabet, and think
of something relating to that theme. I began. A, B and C were
easy but D was more tricky.
said aloud, "D!D! D is for…?" I searched for
an answer. Nothing came to mind, so I carried on through the
alphabet. By the time I reached K, I thought about D again.
Effectively, I had cheated by not finding an answer. Did this
matter? Is one under a moral obligation not to cheat when
playing mind games? Tired sleepless, senseless paranoia had
gripped me and played on my conscience and insecurities. "Did
this mean," I thought to myself irrationally, 'that I
was a cheat by nature or was there something more sinister
behind my 'cheating'? Is cheating at a mind game symbolic
in someway or am I over-reacting?', I tossed and turned trying
to decide if I was being ridiculous or not. Eventually, bored
by my abstract thought process, I fell asleep. It must have
been 4 AM.
alarm screamed at what seemed liked seconds later and despite
the lead weight of my eyelids I dragged myself off to work.
I was clumsy and irritable all day and had a blinding headache.
at home, I desperately wanted to sleep but was almost afraid
of failing. I read for a while, turned out the light and lay
in the dark waiting for similarly dark and paranoid thoughts
to return. They didn't but I was kept occupied by a stream
of menacing cockroaches that had somehow found a way into
my bedroom. Cockroaches send shivers down my spine. I loathe
and detest them, more so than mosquitoes and spiders, well,
small spiders perhaps.
screamed, well, actually I was too tired to scream. I croaked
and threw anything at hand at the filthy beings. Ironically
it was a book I had not been enjoying that saved me from sure
the semi-massacre was over I was almost crying form exhaustion
but by then I was extra-alert lest there should be more six-legged
visitations. It was light by the time I fell asleep.
woke a few minutes before my alarm from an extraordinary dream
in which I had found cockroaches in my socks, which in itself
is bizarre given that I don't wear socks, which then morphed
into giant human roaches saying only 4 words in menacing rasping
whispers, "The city breeds insomnia. The city breeds
the day, my tired, bloodshot eyes rendered everything melancholy
and slow. Flowers looked forlorn and laughs became empty.
I needed cheering up. Actually I needed sleep and cheering
up but had resigned myself to another sleepless night.
met my friend again. Although I partly blamed her for planting
the paranoia of insomnia in Dhaka, I reasoned that at least
we could be insomniacs together.
to my surprise, my friend was bright, breezy, smiling and
irritatingly refreshed and a far cry from the gaunt figure
of a few days ago. When she saw me her face became full of
concern and it was her turn to ask me if I was upset or bereaved.
no," I answered despondently, "just tired,"
and yawned. "But you! You told me you too were tired.
You told me that the city breeds insomnia".
looked at me, strangely, saying, "Did I? What an odd
thing to say. It must have been the jet-lag."
was furious with my self. Jet-lag! I had let a whimsical,
vaguely poetic remark said in a state of semi- conscious delirium
affect my rationale and, what's more, my sleep.
returned home, lay on my bed and slept for 15 hours.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004