Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ravelled Sleeve of Care

The ancient Greeks housed Hypnos, the god of sleep, very logically in the Underworld. If sleep were to take concrete form, it would be heavy like iron and subject to gravity twice as much as iron. In likeness of death, it drags the body down, forces forgetfulness, and defines the state of being awake. I have come to appreciate how much sleep rounds up our waking realities, since of late, I am one of the cursed whom night-sleep eludes.

This shift in my sleep patterns seems seasonal. There is something debilitating about the heat that smothers in the monsoon. The still, wet air squats stubbornly in the middle of the day. There is no way around it; it forces helpless victims to get horizontal, unable to resist weighted eyelids, to seep lower and lower down to the very Underworld. The god often reaches out his heavy hand and once it clutches, the eyes surrender.

Night brings no relief from this heat; only Hypnos abandons the red-eyed, sweating victim to the book piles on her bedside table. The air refuses to move, spreading such preternatural stillness, that whirring and sighing of fans becomes necessary noise.

My friends have no sympathy for my condition and tell me in an exasperated voice to switch on the air, for goodness' sake!

However, air conditioning aggravates this condition instead of offering relief. Imagine the stale air circulating through one's living space, stinking of forgotten dust trapped in unreachable crevices, moving over dead insect bodies in vents, through shoe-racks and hampers with unwashed laundry, chilling awkward pockets of rooms, shrouding the house in a false cool that clenches teeth, grates on inner throat linings, swells sinuses, blocks ears, parches the body. Water desperately gulped down also tastes dusty, reminding me of long summer afternoons at my grandparents' old family house, when my grandmother gave us water in glasses she forgot to rinse from their long slumber in glass cabinets during the school year.

So being in air-conditioned spaces makes me feel like a condemned slave trapped in an undisturbed tomb; I must confess my acute discomfort of that musty air.

Besides, I love the fragrance of night blooming flowers outside the window, one of the many gifts this season brings. I had fantasies of drifting off to sleep, borne on that fragrance in gentle rain, when I planted those shrubs. Now, even though I can't sleep when the night jasmine blooms, I seek a little comfort in its keeping me company.

During the day, however, I obsess over sleep. I evoke vivid dreams, try to capture cities, houses, streets, rooms from dream-scapes, and remember to think of them in vain efforts to induce sleep. I spend pointless minutes calculating how many hours' sleep I must catch up with; then, I further slice up leftover time into neat sections, allocating a slice of time to each day. Of course, this adding, subtracting, factoring is to no avail; but counting is a knee-jerk reaction of any mind deprived of night-sleep.

I've tended, then, to snatch naps, in afternoons, mornings, while stirring coffee, watching a TV show, in the elevator, at traffic lights. My family says I've been blessed with this ability to cat nap, and I must say that while these naps don't quite knit up my ravelled sleeve of care, they do offer some respite. Of course, there are times when I can't always tell if I am asleep or awake, but then there is something comforting and restful about blending of these two states, about blurred horizons, as though no distinction is demanded, no clarity made imperative.

Despite everyone thinking me blessed with them, my naps are an acquired skill, one of the many lessons my cats have taught me. I've often stumbled upon sleeping cat bodies in various positions, in unlikely places and the total concentration and commitment to the nap are fascinating to study. Nothing can rouse the napping feline, not the squeaking ducklings outside the window, not the rattle of their treat bag, not opening of cans, nothing. But once awake, the cat is all there, needing no time to transition between states, clear in demands, eyes shining with enviable awareness of his own intelligence and resolve.

I am still learning. I seem to have quite mastered the art of choosing to fall into sudden naps. If only I could also master the art of immediate, complete wakefulness, so the horizon between sleep and not-asleep is more than an illusion!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Conquering Variables Or How I Spent the Summer

Yes, I have variables on my mind. Success could be defined as the ability to constantly factor in variables without losing one's cool while continuing to solve equations. These past few weeks have tossed up many variables that I must have conquered, because here I am, at the threshold of yet another quarter, contemplating the first week as it looms large and near.

For one thing, I refused to plan anything. I had no international trips and because of all the globe hopping of the past year, I was looking forward to a decent chunk of doing nothing.

But then what constitutes doing nothing, a phrase pregnant with promise and contradictions? This doing nothing has meant that I experience things I'd never thought I would, because I never think of them at all.

The beach was cold, wet, and dark, the sand packed so hard it hardly felt grainy. It was the day after 4th of July and we had no reason to be there. The sensibles had abandoned the beach to stay in to recover from the holiday, to watch movies, to play board games, to choose to turn away from the busy rains that had plagued us through the weekend. An isolated group of young hopefuls, noisy in their insistence on fun, ignored us as they gamboled away, flashes of their cameras lighting up their deliberate screeches.

It felt like it was time to go, but when I called my child to return from her walk, she said she was watching a huge turtle, and please could she stay?

Recognizing a variable of the best kind, I hurried, skirting around the many turle nests, across the sand to where I could sense her. It was too dark to see any shapes clearly, but not too dark to see the amazement on my child's face as we watched the dark, looming shape drag itself up the beach and begin digging.

I had seen this happen on youtube videos, represented on number plates across town, but never been treated to the real thing, an immense, incredible sight that dried up to my eyes as they forgot to blink. No, reader, we did not approach the turtle or take pictures of her, which would have been a profanation. Sometimes, the Universe rewards without any effort or reason exchanged for such reward, and it is a humbling experience.

Variables do not resemble each other, though, I found when I was treated to tubing for the first time. I had never quite understood what that sport entailed until I saw people floating down a river in inflated rubber tires.

It was the perfect day: not too sunny, not too cloudy and when we were dropped by bus at the top of the hill, I thought I was prepared; it looked simple enough. Vishnu-like, one just floated. However, like doing nothing, this was an action verb. There were tree-trunks and rocks one had to navigate through, and some it was impossible to avoid. That's when I realised I was faced with an unseen variable I would be forced to factor in: the moss and algae on the rocks which formed the only Terra Firma in the fast moving creek.

This has been an experience that has been fun and humbling in equal parts. The slippery creek bottom, my unconquered variable, reminds me that I cannot, ever, be confident that my feet shall find purchase in what seems like popular sport. I have to be prepared to get stuck, to keep up my upper body strength that I may be able to steer clear of the open jaws of still rocks under the bubbling, rushing water, giggling like a heady kid in the next tube. I have to be wary of insects that might suddenly show themselves, attack me from shady branches, swaying gently in the wind. And the only place I can actually close my eyes is the center of the stream, on deeper waters, the sun beating down and reducing all variables, relying on being visible to my fellow floaters for my safety.

I have a whole new respect for Vishnu, now that I realise exactly how much of what has to be factored into just floating and dreaming. I also know now why Vishnu is the Protector.

Sometimes, the very business of drawing breath takes one's breath away and at this moment, I am most reminded of the gratitude and divine quenching that overwhelmed every molecule of my being when I galloped down the first glass of icy water after I returned from the beach, after I emerged from the tube, as I write this and cause words to appear because I have navigated through the amazing variables and willed it so.
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