Sunday, May 23, 2010

THAT Kind of Sleep

It was a sweltering 43 degrees C (about 109 degrees F), although the AC in my car was trying its best to convince me otherwise, with mixed success. It was not just the heat, it was heat plus the humidity, which meant that stepping out for even a minute would have disastrous consequences for you and your mood. On top of that, there was the customary Delhi traffic, spreading all sorts of pollution, looking at which every environmentalist would have poured heaps of scorn, disguised as concern.

I was stuck behind a truck, and was contemplating how Chetna would have castigated me on my driving style. As things stood, I was about two or three feet away from the truck, which offered me some shade in the July 2009 heat plus humidity, but which was obviously not enough to calm the nerves of my car’s engine, which was already screaming at me to turn the AC off.

Then it happened.

Traffic in Delhi is as fickle as the weather in London. You will be struck in a traffic jam for an hour and when you reach the end, most often you will not find a reason for it. You will be fuming at the idiot who caused the jam, only to reach the end of the jam and find no apparent reason for it. The net effect of it is that one moment you are creeping along at a snail’s pace, and the next moment the road is wide open, tempting you to put your foot to the pedal.

As the truck peeled away in front of me, I saw the contents in the back of the truck. It was household stuff. Apparently a family was moving, and this was their household effects being transferred. It was typical household furniture, and some stuff packed into boxes. What was intriguing, however, were two men, sound asleep on top of these boxes.

I had no intention of remaining stuck behind the truck, so I overtook it at the first instance. However, even as I overtook and even today, I cannot shake off the sight of the two men asleep on the top of those two boxes, oblivious to the sweltering heat, oblivious to the pollution, and of course oblivious to the fact that they were stuck in the traffic for a good two hours.

Now, you may be right in saying that the sleep was probably drug induced, but I think a large contributor to the sleep was the labor that must have gone into putting that household stuff into the back of the truck. Those two men must have toiled in the heat, probably carried the stuff from an apartment which was God knows how many floors up. They may be taking it probably to an apartment which was God knows how many floors up. Someone must have cursed them if the bed had touched a wall on its way down. Or they may have been abused while loading the stuff onto the truck. And to top it all, they were probably going to be paid a fraction of what they actually deserved. In that fraction they may have responsibilities of their own - perhaps a family to feed, or a loan to repay, or anything, which they carried out with varying degrees of success.

But at THAT moment, when they were asleep on the boxes in the truck, none of this mattered. They were going through what we actually yearn for everyday of our lives - a period of pure, unadulterated, beautiful sleep. The sweltering heat, the curses of the world, the fact that they were going to be paid a fraction of what they deserved, or the responsibilities their own small world had no effect on these two men’s sleep. This was a sleep that was the result of hard labor. This was a sleep that was immune from all that could come in its way. And this was a sleep these men probably experienced every time they lay down to sleep.

How many of us can say the same of ourselves? We work in conditions that are supposed to make our life comfortable, or in some cases luxurious. And yet, when we put our heads to the pillow at night in our air-conditioned comforts, how many times have we ever experienced sleep like the one that those two men, sleeping in those sleep-hostile conditions went through?

More importantly, how many times WILL we ever experience THAT kind of sleep?

I would like to think that the answer is in our control…

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