To sleep, perchance to dream

Jul 12, 2015, 03:14 IST | Paromita Vohra

As a young one, I never understood this grown-up business of troubled sleep.

Paromita VohraAs a young one, I never understood this grown-up business of troubled sleep. I wondered what the terms of this condition were, what could it possibly feel like? For me, sleep came easy, often and full of vivid dreams that infused waking hours, which looped back into dreams, making a mesh we didn’t question.

Sleep also came when it was not supposed to — during exams, math class and screenings of landmark art films, exactly during those path-breaking sequences that critics had praised at length, which would be discussed in class next day.


Those peers who could not sleep because of love, exam prep or that ultimate glamour, tension, seemed exotic to me. I yearned for the poetic inner life hinted at by their dark circles.

To this day, dark circles elude me. But so, too often, does true sleep. I don’t have a sleep disorder. I’m simply now privy to the grown-up experience which puzzled me as a young person — of troubled sleep, jangled with stress and to-do lists. Some nights ,sleep is stodgy and fitful; some days it is thin ice that cracks at the sound of a thought. It leaves you like a half-love affair, feeling you did not get your fill.

That is, except, when I go ‘home’ to my parents’ house. Then, fittingly, I sleep like a baby. This also happens in the homes of old friends — and to those old friends when they come by my home.

Last week, at my mom’s in Delhi, no sooner had I eaten the Saturday lunch of mutton curry and rice, that I felt a voluptuous stupor take me. I slept all afternoon, woke, loitered, ate dinner, went back to sleep and slept 11 delicious hours through. I woke feeling more like myself than I had in a long time. It was that nice, solid feeling like you got while watching those old PCs drives defrag; the hypnotic consolidation of scattered red and blue bits of computer stuff, into a unified whole; the digital equivalent of Shakespeare’s knitting metaphor — sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.

Why does sleep often elude us in our own homes, but come running back when we go to older homes or older people?

Perhaps going to a place or recollecting a time when we were young, a phase of effortless sleep, our bodies remember that rhythmic existence and assume that shape again. Maybe it’s as simple as a return to the womb, where you feel that everything around you is taken care of by someone else — you don’t have to be alert to life’s eventualities for a while.

Or, maybe, it’s a reset button that takes us back to the time in our heads when all of life was ahead, and, asleep or awake, most of life was in fact dreaming up various futures.

Now, we’ve outsourced our dreaming to motivational speakers who keep telling us we have no limits, that we should try more, or try less. Dreams are supposed to account for themselves by coming true, instead of just telling us an intimate bedtime story about ourselves, weaving a hammock to rest on a while. Many others tell us who we are too — Indian, not Indian, strong woman, doormat, loser, winner.

And then, there’s our own ‘voice of reality’ — the defence mechanism that keeps assessing our dreams, of love and ideals and various fantasias, handing them reality checks and viability ratings.

Maybe these voices talk too much when we’re sleeping, lecturing our dreams to shrink themselves. Maybe that’s how our sleep shrinks — to fit those realistic, optimal dreams.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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