Forty Winks - and Counting
“What is the longest you’ve slept for?” asked Arindam over the rim of his glass.
I had been recounting days of yore when I had the ability to fall asleep immediately and anywhere. It had never occurred to me to keep count though.
“Seventeen hours,” announced Arindam quietly triumphant. I went to sleep at 10 pm and got up at 3 the next afternoon”.
“And what were you doing before that?”, I countered.
“You know what,” the self-congratulatory air suddenly turned accusing. “I was working on architectural drawings. It was my first year at IIT and some final year architecture students hauled us up to help with finishing their drawings. Three nights I didn’t sleep. Three nights’.”
“Yes, that does happen”, I acknowledged the perils of studying architecture, or even with architecture students.
Feeling a trifle guilty for the deeds of my fraternity, a bunch of unknown architecture students in another space and time, I quickly dredged up my own memory of school day stupor.
It was one of those blisteringly still summer afternoons in Delhi. I was alone at home, sleeping next to the cooler in our first floor flat in the sleepy Delhi cantonment. I awoke to discover that all was no longer peaceful or pleasant. The cooler and the fan were off. There was a lot of noise.
Venturing reluctantly out to the hot balcony, I saw the harried faces of my parents surrounded by practically all our neighbours. My father was home on leave, and he and my mother had braved the heat to finish some of the many pending chores that had piled up in his absence. They had rung the front-bell repeatedly, banged and called for hours. Finally, someone had the bright idea to turn off the electricity mains. And a short while later I had emerged from the depths of sleep to finally let the poor perspiring things in.
“Ha!” retorted Arindam. “Let me tell you about what I did. This was when I was as old or as young as you.” He swivelled around to Treya. “How old are you? Six? Eight?”
“Twelve”! was the affronted reply.
“Well, then I was younger than you. We had a test every Friday at Xavier’s. That week it was Bangla. So on Thursday evening I went to the bathroom.”
I steadfastly met Treya’s bewildered look.
“I desperately needed a nap, which, I was sure would meet with vociferous objection from my mom who was bent on my passing the Bangla exam with flying colours", explained Arindam. “So I chose a dry corner of a large bathroom, picked up and spread out a used sari and settled down for forty winks.”
“You’ve seen the house,” Arindam turned his large gaze on me, “you know how big the bathroom is. It was very comfortable. I don’t know when I awoke. There was some activity on the other side of the door. So, I opened the door—but I pulled the flush before I did so to make it look convincing.”
“Just in time, too. There was a big guy preparing to bash in the door. It is solid teak, but it had already got a crack—almost 4ft long— it’s still sealed with tape. If you visit the house you can see it even now.”
He continued happily, “Much crying on the other side, mother, aunts, and uncles. I had been inside for hours, and they thought I was gone. They were so relieved to see me that no one scolded me, ha ha.”
“And how was the Bangla test”? I enquired.
“Oh that! Who remembers?”
“I could really sleep”, continued Arindam, his big eyes staring unblinkingly at us. “One time, I was sleeping with my grandmother, in her bedroom on the mezzanine. She locked the door or I did, and in the night she was unwell. My parents had to break the door down to get in. Fortunately that wasn’t as solid as the one in the bathroom.
But it still took some doing. The next door neighbours, whose house was a good 100 ft away, heard the commotion and thinking there were dacoits raiding our house, pulled out a rifle and fired a few blank shots. All this I learnt the next morning”.
“Well, I suppose that is a gift too,” I ventured. “Do you sleep just as deeply now?”
“Oh, I have had insomnia for years,” answered Arindam.
“That’s awful,” I exclaimed sympathetically.
“Its no problem at all. One sleeping pill every night,” replied Arindam insouciantly.
“But, popping a pill every night - isn’t that bad for health?”
“Not at all, I sleep beautifully. One pill at 10 pm and I wake up only around 8, very well-rested.” And picking up his glass, he took a well-earned sip.