In Calvino’s Difficult Loves, a man tells a woman, “At this hour of the morning, people who are awake fall into two categories: the still and the already.” I used to be ‘already’; but, often nowadays, I am ‘still’ awake at four in the morning.
I sleep fitfully, drifting in and out of it, resistant to any pattern. I am in bed by eleven every night; making the familiar nest of my fluffy pillow, warm quilt, a thick tome, a bottle of water, cherry lip balm; and lying in the yellow cone of light from the reading lamp, I write in my journal before curling into the comfortable fetal position. Last night I read few chapters from Trollope’s Barchester Towers. Often I am distracted by messages from insomniac friends or from those in separate time zones. Sometime before one am, I drift off to sleep; half-smothered by the thick tome lying on my face. I would wake up a few minutes later, surprised at the lethargic pace of time. I reply to messages, read few more pages of the book, alternating with short cycles of sleep.
At four, I would be lying motionless in bed, hearing the particular sounds that interrupt the stillness of the early morning; strange bird calls, cars on a distant road, the rhythmic stride of the watchmen’s feet, tap-tap-tap, mumbled conversations of the couple upstairs as they potter around their kitchen making tea. I sink my head deeper into the pillow and position my limbs in different angles, but sleep would evade me. I try to lull my brain into forced inactivity by shutting my eyes tight and taking deep breaths. Sometimes I count cute, cartoon sheep with cloud like torsos. If my efforts succeed, I often lapse into a dreamless sleep. I finally wake up by six-thirty; feeling rested despite the erratic sleep that doesn’t total up to more than three hours.
I get out of bed, shivering in the pleasant and familiar chill, and head for the nook near the bedroom window where I get the promised uninterrupted 3G signal. I place my phone there to stream delightful songs from old Hindi movies, while I read the news. Today it was Shashi Kapoor crooning “Kehdoon tumhe ya chup rahu”, Rajesh Khanna contemplating “Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaye”, Dev Anand mimicking torticollis to “Gaata Rahe Mera Dil” and Neetu Singh dancing to “Ek main aur ek tu”. I played them in a loop till my mother threatened to throw the phone away. The old songs and the morning cup of coffee are more than enough to wipe away any remnants of my insomnia.
But when would I be able to sleep for the recommended eight hours again? I don’t know. The curse of a restless mind!