This is me in traditional Indian garb. The garment tied around my waist, a dhoti, is almost identical to the lunghi (sarong) about which please see below ….
Judging by the number of ads for mattresses and sleep medications shown on our TV screens every evening, you could be forgiven for wondering if the country’s current ill temper1 might just be the result of widespread insomnia.
If you, dear reader, are one of the multitude that suffers from recurrent nocturnal restlessness, kindly allow me — on the theory that misery loves company — to regale you with the story of a few restless nights that might lend a little perspective to your troubles.
I should start by letting you know that I am a champion sleeper. Just ask my wife, who likes to tell people that I’m out like a light just moments after my head hits the pillow. Sleeping prowess, however, requires — at a minimum — a bed or, at least, a comfortable sleeping bag.
Three occasions on which I recall experiencing major sleep deprivation had in common the absence of a comfortable surface on which to lie. One of these uncomfortable surfaces was sand; another was concrete. Neither is recommended for a good night’s sleep. Nor is a wooden chair in a roomful of mosquitoes, the site of the third sleepless night I still vividly remember.
Let’s start with sand. Most of us have enjoyed the luxury of a nap on a warm, sunny beach. This is what led my friend Arlee and me to imagine we could save a little money by forgoing hotel accommodations in the town of Eilat,2 spending the night on the beach instead. Big mistake. In a desert environment, daytime heat turns to nighttime chill. And sand, which (like some of those mattresses they’d like to sell you) readily conforms to the shape of a recumbent body, inevitably turns into concavities and convexities of cold concrete. Suffice it to say that we greeted the sunrise over the mountains of nearby Jordan and Saudi Arabia less with appreciation of the sky’s magnificent hues than relief at the end of a miserable night.
Background: Our first glimpse of the Gulf of Aqaba on the road to Eilat. Foreground: What?! Actual distance to LA: 7,700 miles (12,400 km).
Speaking of cold concrete, let’s now turn to an experience I had — just once! — in India. My friend and colleague Jagdish Prasad Mishra had invited me to join him on a visit to his hometown, Jaroli, which should have been just a daylong trip away from Rajnagar, the village where I was living and working as a Peace Corps volunteer. The journey required several bus transfers, which shouldn’t have been a problem except that we experienced delays along the way. The result was that we arrived at our final bus stop shortly after the departure of the day’s last bus on that stretch of our route.
With my friend Jagdish Prasad Mishra (right)
The place where we’d have caught that bus was not in a town or village, but merely at a crossroads in the southern reaches of Uttar Pradesh (Northern State). There were no buildings in sight. Not even a tea stall. Just a concrete pad under a tent-like roof, not much more than a tarp — no walls — intended to protect travelers from sun or rain. The next bus would come only in the morning.
When the sun set, Mishra and I did the only thing we could — try to sleep on the concrete slab. I rolled up an extra shirt and used it as a pillow. I lay down on my lunghi (the sarong that Indian men wear as casual at-home attire much as Americans use a bathrobe), just a single layer of thin cotton cloth under me. Throughout the night, I was alternately walking around to keep warm and relieve the boredom and lying on my lunghi, hoping for a few minutes of sleep before being awakened by the cold, hard ground.
Bus like the one I was waiting for in Bhopal
As for that wooden chair in a roomful of mosquitoes, let me just say that it kept me up all night in the waiting room of the central bus station in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh (Central State), slapping at the damned things.
Finally, on the subject of insects and wakefulness, stay tuned, in a future post, for my description of falling asleep and waking up at home in Rajnagar during the hot season. Without any help from mattresses of the kind advertised on American TV.
- Relentlessly displayed on our news channels and social media which, these days, might be more aptly named “sociopathic media.”
- Israel’s southernmost town, a resort and seaport on the Gulf of Aqaba, an arm of the Red Sea. Four miles along the beach south of Eilat is the border with Egypt, and roughly four miles to the east along the coast of the narrow gulf is the Jordanian town of Aqaba, which, in turn, is about 12 miles north of that country’s border with Saudi Arabia.