Friend and tormentor

The night watchman working in the housing society where I live is a sleepaholic. Not that he can outdo the legendary Kumbhakarna or the fictional Rip Van Winkle. But he reminds me of the duo. Sancho Panza, the squire in Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, said “Blessings on him that first invented sleep; it wraps a man all round like a cloak.” He was dead right.

Scarcely does he enter the society when, it would seem, sleep wraps around our watchman. He spreads his decrepit mattress in the small chicken coop-like guardhouse. He is expected to saunter around the society premises, tapping his stick on the ground intermittently to scare away stray dogs which often let out sharp explosive barks disturbing sleepers. The sound of the stick assures residents that their security man is awake and around. Memory of previous year’s burglary in a flat still haunts them. Not that he is expected to spend the whole night moving around. He could sit and rest but shouldn’t sleep like a brown bat.

Newborn babies sleep most of the time. A third of their life is given over to sleep. And as you age, you sleep less and less until eternal sleep embraces you!

One speaks from experience that parents of infants, more so the mothers, spend countless, sleepless nights until the latter grow up. Once, at the dead of night, when she was about three years old, my daughter started wailing as if with griping pain. We could do little to alleviate her agony. Even my resourceful grandmother who was with us tried her best and failed.

I took her to the paediatrician, whose house was hardly 10 minutes away. But on the way, seeing several stray dogs running about in a chorus of howls, whines, and weird barks, her sobs turned into mirthful laughter. She had, it seemed, completely forgotten her pain. Even as we found ourselves in front of the doctor’s house, ringing the doorbell, she was laughing. Having rung the bell, I did not want to turn away. Moreover, the door was almost instantly opened as though the doctor was expecting a patient.

Always dour-faced and unsmiling, the paediatrician took umbrage at being woken up at an odd hour. “Remember, doctors too need sleep,” he said sharply. “They are also human beings, you must understand. Look, her discomfort was only momentary and you should have managed such a situation yourself,” he added, looking at the baby who was then in a cheerful mood. Being at my wit’s end, I was tongue-tied. As if the doctor’s rebuke had impacted her, the little one started yawning and soon slept over my shoulder blissfully. As I left the doctor’s place, I could not help being remorseful for disturbing his sleep.

British philosopher Anthony Grayling hit the nail on the head when he wrote: When sleep is with us, it is our great friend but when it is not it is a tormentor.

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Friend and tormentor

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