Sleepless in the city

I MAY not be in Seattle, but have been sleepless all these days. Chronically sleepless. Interminably sleepless. Terminally sleepless. It’s a malady with no cure: it refuses to alleviate, allay. No matter what I do. Sometimes, I so miss the childhood lullaby that used to put me to sleep instantly, magically. With adulthood it’s different. As with adulthood comes a certain awareness — of the world around — and certain edginess too. Adulthood brings its own set of nightmares, taking your innocence away, leaving you shorn of serenity.
There is something impatient and obstinate about self-expression — when it comes it sweeps you off your feet, leaving you inundated with countless streams of thoughts. It just needs to begin. Get started. And once it does, it knows no stopping. Becomes relentless, unstoppable.
Tonight, when I sit down — after ages — to scribble a few lines to give you a glimpse into the goings-on in my world, a fresco of fractured thoughts seeks to be healed, to be jointed, to be unified. And I don’t know how to weave the various strands of thoughts — throbbing with life — together. I would talk randomly, distractedly, haphazardly. Of many things. Of one thing in a sentence, and quite another in another. That’s how it is. That’s how it’s gotta be. Till I sharpen my gaze, regain my focus, reclaim my direction, purpose, method.
I’ve been so sleepless, it has engendered all sorts of problems. Sometimes I feel I am sleepwalking — a part of me keeps floating on the surface, while another part keeps perpetually fatigued by sleeplessness, yearning to drift off to sleep, pining to drop dead in bed. I exaggerate, of course! 
When you are sleepless for too long, it’s not long when you become listless. And laidback. And what not. You can see things happening around you, but your eyes don’t allow you to soak in the sights and sounds. Your eyelids keep drooping, you keep drifting in and out of yourself. That’s exactly how it has been for me. For long.
When you are sleep-starved, another problem that plagues you is that you can’t distinguish between dream and reality. What happens in your dreams, you assume it actually happened to you. It can create another set of complications. You know what I mean!
Even as I am writing these lines, I am wondering if I am actually doing it or is it one of those dream sequences. I pinch myself hard to reassure myself it’s all real. “It’s real. It’s real,” I utter, massaging the bruised skin of my hand.
As you sit and think, mind goes footloose, traversing strange alleys. Now, you see yourself walking down the city’s alleys, loneliness leaping at you in bustling streets, loveliness lurching at you in ugly corridors. Contradictions abound here, at every step. The city, at times, seems to be a great emptiness to me. A lovely city, but a lonely city (or a city full of loners?). Everyone seems to be constantly trying to keep the façade of happiness on their faces. Everyone seems to be living his/her life to the fullest. But whenever I look at glowing, beaming, happy faces, I don’t know why I can almost always see something sad lurking behind that veneer. Something which says, “Life is perfect, but…” It is as if I can see the imperfections of each of their lives. It is as if I can get a peek into their private pains, their daily tragedies. Each of their stories is uniquely different. And each one of them is battling with their own set of odds, constantly trying to sort their own set of things out. Isn’t it strange that even as we think we are leading the most perfect, happy and contented life, there are so many things that keep getting fucked up, every day? Relationships flounder, trust gets broken, betrayal breaks hearts, loyalty sneaks out of secret doors, faith is faced with crisis, loved ones are lost, losses inflicted. All kinds of loss — emotional, material and physical — keep staring us in our faces all the time, even as we set out to “gain” a lot, scripting one success story after another.
I keep wondering whose losses are those losses and whose gains are those gains! What do we lose actually when we lose, and what do we gain when we gain? The whole of the world’s activities seem to be a choice between loss and gain. What do we gain when we do a particular thing or what do we lose? This seems to be the only operative.
The metropolis provides you with all kinds of material. There is just so much going on. You only need eyes to see. It is a city that fascinates me immensely. I revel in its beauty, and, at the same time, get repulsed by its ugly sides. But I am never ever less fond of it. It’s a city that I would do anything for. I was not born here, but it’s a city I love, warts and all. And if there is anything called a second life, it’s here that I would like to be reborn, even if I have to spend my entire life sleepless.
It is all so surreal. I stay put at my place, resisting all urges to embrace the world outside at hours when I am so tempted — so incredibly tempted — to. And yet it is the vistas of the outside world that keep coming in my way — the vistas of which I was an inextricable part not long ago. It is rare, these days, when I ever feel like stepping out, preferring the shell of my cocoon over the wide arms of the outside world —wide and warm and welcoming.
It has been ages since I hung out with the bestest of my pals, ages since I watched a movie in any theatre —I don’t even remember which was the last I did. I haven’t gone to watch any play too. Sucked in by the phantom grind of the daily rigmarole, I have been consumed by the everyday routine (and I don’t mean just work), totally, wholly, obtrusively, left with little time to think, reflect. There was no time to stand and stare as weeks flew. It has been the same for about two months.
April and May had been the cruelest months. They saw me shuttling between writing my exams and rushing to work. It was difficult to manage. And whenever I picked a paper to study, fainting at the sight of the syllabus (I had often just a day to prepare), I could feel the ferocious hunger rage within. Mostly, it happened in the case of poetry: The prescribed poets included: Robert Browning (oh! I can’t tell you how much I loved Porphyria’s Lover and Andrea del Sarto), G.M. Hopkins, Yeats, T.S. Eliot (I almost spent my half day wandering into The Wasteland), Auden, Dylan Thomas, Hughes, Heany, Ezekiel, Ramanujan, Walcott, Frost, Wallace Stevens, Whitman, Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, Judith Wright, Michael Ondaatje and many more. I devoured their poems. There are many of them still lingering on my table — many of their collected works peer at me from my study table, inviting, enticing.
My favorites, which I pick tonight as sleeplessness sweeps me, are Whitman and Dylan Thomas. The latter’s Don’t Go Gentle Into That Good Night keeps me “raging against the dying of the light”. I also think of a poem by Russian poetess Anna Akhmatova that I read looong back. It’s called Insomnia.:

Somewhere cats are mewing pitifully,
I catch the sound of distant steps….
Your words are a wonderful lullaby:
Because of them for three months I haven’t slept.
Insomnia, you are with me again, again!
I recognise your fixed countenance.
What is it, my outlaw, what is it, my pretty one,
Do I sing so badly to you?
White cloth curtains the windows,
Dim light streams blue…
Or are we being consoled by news from afar?
Why do I feel so at ease with you?

The night is seductively serene. Stillness roars. No words move about. No words whisper. A while ago, I could hear the pitter-patter of rains in my balcony, but there’s a crying calmness now. A lone star twinkles in the sky, isolated, aloof, astray. The moon remains far, very far, away, not bothering to shower its shine on the night — and me. Sleep continues to elude me. I rise to make myself a steaming cup of coffee as Noor Jehan croons:

Pareshan raat sari hai, sitaaro tum to so jao
Sakoot-e- marg taari hai, sitaaro tum to so jao

(Restlessness reigns the whole night, sleep thou o! the stars
Death’s stillness rules! sleep thou o! the stars)

Hanso aur hanstay hanstay doob jao tum khayalon mein
Hamen yeh raat bhaari hai, sitaaro tum to so jaao
(Laugh and plunge into thoughts while laughing
This night hangs heavy on me, sleep thou o! the stars)

Tumhein kya aaj bhi koi agar milnay nahin aaya
Yeh baazi ham ney haari hai, sitaaro tum to so jao
(How does it affect you if no one, even today, called upon me?
This is a bet that I’ve lost, sleep thou o! the stars)

Hamein to aaj key shab pau phatay tak jaagna hi hai
Yehi kismat hamaari hai, sitaaro tum to so jaao
(I’ve to be up till the crack of dawn
This is my destiny, sleep thou o! the stars)

Hamein bhi neend aa jayeegi, ham bhi so hi jayengey
Abhi kuch beqaraari hai, sitaaro tum to so jao
(Sleep shall come to me too, I too shall sleep
I’m just a little restive as of now, sleep thou o! the stars).


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