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     Volume 4 Issue 16 | October 8 , 2004 |

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Sleepless in Dhaka

Lally Snow

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.

However 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 with melancholy.

"No no. I am just tired," and yawned. Listlessly, she continued, "What is it about Dhaka? The city breeds insomnia."

I thought nothing of it and we parted an hour or so later.

That 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.

"The city breeds insomnia."

What 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.

I 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.

Not 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.

My 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.

I 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.

I 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.

My 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.

Back 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.

I 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 cockroach hell.

After 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.

I 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 insomnia."

Throughout 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.

I 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.

But, 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 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".

She looked at me, strangely, saying, "Did I? What an odd thing to say. It must have been the jet-lag."

I 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.

I returned home, lay on my bed and slept for 15 hours.



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