26 August 2011

The wakeful dreams of a reluctant insomniac

Four o’clock in the morning (or is it "night", I have never really figured that one out) is a time for dreams. And I find myself wide awake. Not entirely true. I am consciously driving away the sleep fairy and who knows what other monsters, for there is work to be done and the night (morning) is getting old. Wide awake I am. I keep telling myself that, fervently believing that the words have some therapeutic value against slumber.

Anyway, suffering as I am from semi-insomnia (shall we call it), I am perfectly aware that dreams aside, reality, when it is shod of deceit and decoration, has a pervasive nightmarish quality. And I am not talking about the solitude of this moment, nor the ghostly appearance of a line of computers facing me like policemen standing in the way of undergraduates intent on storming the high towers of power. I am thinking about a torture chamber where the most inhuman of atrocities were perpetrated. I am told it was called "Liberty". I am thinking also about a prison where political rivals were routinely tortured and done away with. It was called "Freedom". I am thinking about people talking about regaining the country in the same breath that they haggle about its sale price with potential buyers.

"Four o’clock in the morning (or night) is certainly not the time to think of such things," Rational Man argues, sleepily. Irrational Man responds, "what is worse is not to think of such things at all!" Rational Man rebuts, "Your readers are not interested buddy! Give us a break, say something nice. You know, so that people don’t start the day on a sour note?"

Irrational Man will not be outdone. "What is this? An argument, a prescription for self-censorship?" he asks. Rational Man draws a bed sheet over his head after having made sure that the mosquito coil had not gone out, turns over, saying "forget it pal, I forgot that you can’t be anything except irrational." "That’s a cop out response," Irrational Man thundered. "You know very well that this rational-irrational thing is a false dichotomy. It is all relative. We live in a society where things are re-defined and mis-labelled so that no one knows whether we are coming or going, or who they are for that matter!"

Rational Man, mis-labelled, mis-defined or otherwise, was already snoring. Irrational Man, infuriated, pulls off the bed sheet, and grabs him by the throat. "Self-preservation," thinks Rational Man and fights back. They wrestle each other furiously and disappear into the dark interiors of the unconscious.

It is a quarter past four now. It is not the time to debate about rationality. It is the time to take a little stroll outside, breathe in some fresh air and catch a thought that helps re-imagine the world, a picture-target that I can work towards. Actually I would settle for much less at this point. A cup of tea would have been ideal, but then again, not at this time. I know I am not living in Utopia. Who knows what’s outside, or what the outside has to say? There is no one around to ask. I have to check it out myself.

What does a single star its glitter unvanquished by the glow of the harbour lights say, I wonder. "Paalu anduru nil ahasa mamai, aetha dilena thani tharuwa ayai" (I am the dark, lonely sky and you, you are the single star shining far away.), I hear Amaradeva, his voice, even more than the words, expressing the condition of solitude. In this play of "you" and "I", what happens to "us"?

Rational Man emerges from the shadows of the unconscious. "There is no ‘us’, actually. There is only ‘I’. ‘You’ does not exist, it is but an imaginary creature ‘I’ creates to fill the vast regions of ‘my’ solitude. Like how God is supposed to have made Eve as a companion for Adam. Or how Calvin "creates" Hobbes. Or indeed how Man made God in his image.  Irrational Man has to make his presence felt as well. "Hey, you are beginning to talk like me, chum". I watch them quarrel over nothing and determine not to raise any question that might provoke either of them to test their debating skills against the other.

Since dreams are what I should be seeing and nightmares were what I was actually experiencing (and what grotesque nightmares too!), the logical thing is to dream.

Achieving realisation, someone once said, is like catching a butterfly. If you chase it, it will fly away. It is too quick for you. But if you keep very still with your arm stretched out there is a good possibility that it will alight on your outstretched palm. It was in this manner that dreams came to me. I dreamt of a thousand butterflies, distinct from one another by colour, shape and temperament. They came streaming through the dimly lit and wavering region between slumber and wakefulness. They flitted from dream to dream like a train moving from station to station.

I dreamt of a boy with a kite. He was outside in his garden. The string ran through my front door, into my bedroom, through my heart and through the window far away into a sky I could not see from where I lay. The boy was happy enough. I dreamt of all the aerial routes the kite could take and the particularly graceful path it chose.

I dreamt of a woman by a street corner, surrounded with baskets of flowers. I dreamt of the things she could buy with the money she earned, dreamt of her three little children whose names I did not know, dreamt of the purest smiles dancing on their lips.

I dreamt of a placid lake, a tear and an ocean. There was a bead of sweat that descended from a weary brow and fell on the still waters of a deep pool. I saw love running in waves towards shores too far away for me to see. I dreamt of the fire that is a sunset sky. There was a horizon that the morning sun was igniting. And the last thing I dreamt of before the light worked wakefulness into my eyes was that dreaming will always be possible, that it is neither salve nor fiction nor the refuge of the defeated.

As I rubbed my eyes, there stood before me, by the river and under a giant Na tree, two children. They were collecting leaves of all shapes and sizes. They had not yet decided what to do with them, whether to press them among the pages of a book of poems, string them all together into a crown or to organise them on the sand in different patterns.

I recognised instantly the two individuals whose squabbles had disturbed my sleepy wakefulness not too long ago and I remembered something I had figured out many years ago; not in a dream or as a result of serious reflection, but something that came like a dream attended by butterflies wearing the colours manufactured in a fairy tale. Not profound, but simple; not of earth-shattering clarity, but still true. This is what I remembered: "The night ends, the dawn breaks and all equations are altered; some even beyond recognition."

[Courtesy, The Island, February 23, 2003]


Anonymous said...

How did you find that article which is 10 years old but as fresh as you wrote ii today morning? We start write to guide the people but unfortunately we ended with people dictating us what to write? But we can satisfy ourselves that now we are closer to people than at the beginning. Or we can say that we are now close to the truth? becoming a writer are we becoming close to the truth or are we getting further away from it ? Any way we only are thinking about such things and we only have to think about such things. So aren't we writers really good people.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

We all write within structures, work within them too. The structure structures what we do and we, in our engagement with structure help alter its dimensions; i.e. we can help structure the structure (that's Pierre Bourdeiu repeating something Karl Marx said more than a century before, 'men make their histories but not in the circumstances of their choice'). It's all about being creative at the limits imposed, thereby punching holes or pushing lines further. In my experience, it is self-examination and not decision to play with imposed limits that work better (in terms of reaching people, becoming proximate to truth etc). That's Siddhartha gauthama, the Buddha. Writers are just another people-segment; there is the good, the bad and the ugly among us and all three are resident in the individual writer too. As for this article....I remembered it when trying to tell someone how i write, deal with writer's block, produced on a daily basis etc. Just googled the title along with my name. No magic. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow!! No other words can express what I felt after reading this. Great writing