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Mr. Dev Bhardwaj was born on
November 20, 1948 at Village Marar, Tehsil Batala, Dist. Gurdaspur
(Punjab), India. He got his primary education at his village and
higher education at Chandigarh where he is settled since 1966. He has
written several books of short-stories, plays and children books besides
translating some world famous classics into Punjabi.
Meeting a Sleeping Man
by Dev Bhardwaj
The thought of meeting the sleeping man came to
me when I myself was in deep slumber. Though I was asleep yet it seemed I was
quite awake and was in my full senses. To be awake when asleep, or be woken up
when still asleep, or to sleep when awake... it can happen anytime, anywhere. It
has been happening.. as if it was just a natural thing. It acquires the habit of
being natural - it has been like this - so it goes.
Although I was asleep yet I was toying up with an idea, a scheme, "Why donít I go and seek out the sleeping man." Someone was saying this... I was listening. A sleeping man has a strange charm of his own, I could feel this in the cozy bliss of my sleep.It was due to this reason that I didnít feel any wonder when the thought to meet the sleeping man dawned on me in my sleep, that is. Rather I felt that I was just fully awake at that time... I was talking to myself, about myself, trying to know something.... to say something.
It was not that my desire was so extraordinary or so silly that it could not be told to anybody... that I was not trying to tell it to anybody... Perhaps someone may not like it... perhaps it may sound very silly and absurd to someone... perhaps it may get lost on others.
But at one stage I felt it necessary to tell all about this. I thought ó I should get a long leave from my office. But perhaps it could not be possible. I had no hope of getting such a long leave, although I had not taken any kind of leave for so many years. But who cares for these things in the offices? Who thinks about this? Just keep on attending the office daily, your presence is more precious than your work. Just last year I got an appreciation letter. It was for my regularly attending the office without any leave throughout the year.
When the Superintendent read my application, it looked like he was suddenly caught in a bind. It appeared that he felt that without me he would be just rendered useless.
"Cause of Leave?" The question was to be naturally put because I had not mentioned it in the application.
"A personal work."
"You know how much rush of work is there these days?"
"It is always so."
"I advice you still to reconsider."
"I must go."
"I mean which work you are going to do during leave?"
I took back the application and wrote on it : To meet the sleeping man.
"This canít be called as an urgent work?"
"It is not necessary that urgent-sounding work is the only urgent work."
"But the work should at least look like an urgent work."
"From my angle this is an urgent work."
"I canít help you. Better you take your application to the boss direct and get your leave sanctioned."
I took the application and put it on my bossís table. He was reading the newspapers. He is very found of reading and writing. Maybe because of this, he understands things so easily. I placed the application before him without any demur.
"In case you were to meet a waken-person then it would have been different. What is this... to meet a sleeping man!" He tried to be logical.
"Canít a sleeping man be met with?" I proceeded with my own argument.
"But, what would you get out of this? What he would be able to tell you, to give you.... What you would ask from him and what for?"
"It is not necessary that you meet a person to get something from him... or to ask him for something... or to tell him about something."
"But when lots of people here are walking about wide awake... suffering states of sleeplessness to earn their living, how come you are so madly after meeting a sleeping person.? It is just nonsense. I would take this in a different way."
"For example, it seems to me that that man can only belong to a category of persons who escape from the crude reality of life, just not picking up courage to face the life."
"But it could also be that he be chasing the life... trying to get even with it."
"In case life was such an easy catch everybody would have gone to sleep."
"Every person here gets asleep after all, irrespective of whether he gets a steady foothold on life or not."
"This is another thing.. but to get asleep while yet awake is different."
"And be awake while still asleep?"
"Yes, this is the thing which is unique, special... Now talk about this. Is there anyone like this you know?"
"Yes.... Perhaps no." I murmured in such a feeble voice that hardly could be picked up by him.
It seemed to me as if my boss had posed this question only for the sake of his own self or for myself. I knew that he got up everyday at 3 O. clock and got absorbed in work or got himself yoked to his work. When all around every one is in the arms of sound sleep, he is up and working. He shakes himself free from sleep to catch at the meaning of life. I was just about to say that the person he was talking about is known to me well but I kept mum. I fell silent because I was never wonder-struck by his nature. Because his this habit is not of the kind to set you wondering. Man, no matter, may get up at three Oí clock or so, no one can always remain awake. He must get asleep anyway. It has always been seeming to me that none can remain awake for ever, similarly none can remain asleep for ever. Some persons must appear from nowhere to disturb his sleep. The sleeping man, wherever he is... in his own home, in the jungle, on the surface of a wave-less sea... he must get his sleep disturbed.
I got up silently after placing the application on bossís table. I had by now made up my mind to meet the sleeping man.
....I did not have much trouble in locating the sleeping manís house and to get him in his own house. But this does not mean that I had run into him without any effort. I had his address but had never been to that city. When I reached the street where he lived even then I was not able to get his whereabouts in an easily.
"The sleeping man !... We have heard about that..... He must be living somewhere here."
"Have you ever met him?" I would ask every person I met or ran into.
"Many a time the thought of meeting him came but there was no time."
"It is strange residing so near him you canít find time to meet him?" Most of the people would have left before the question was fully articulated. Even if somebody was still about listening, his stock-reply would be, "Just I didnít think it necessary to meet him - you see how many important things are there to do. One canít do away with the chores of the awake and you ask to run after a person who is asleep in his den."
"This is the difference, my friend."
"There is no difference... there is difference of oneís views on things like these."
"Take it that way. In case we canít know the awake for some reasons, at least we should try to understand those who are asleep."
"This is just nonsense. Dear friend, if we get some time spare after understanding the awake only then one can think of doing that."
So I would stay back all alone...
People were coming and going and a smile was playing on my lips now. Sometime I was almost on the brink of laughter but the pressure or the flow of laughter was so intense and sharp that it almost brought tears to my eyes. I would sometime shade up my eyes or my face with my kerchief. I thought : how strange these creatures are! Someone was lying asleep in their lane but these people turned deaf ears to him. Then I thought : perhaps these people think that sleeping is not a brave act - all go to sleep... all get awake from it. Going to sleep and getting awake is a human activity.
After this I again thought : If they canít think it necessary and worthwhile to meet a sleeping man they should at least find time to think about a person who had come all the way to meet this sleeping man. But here, these persons do not pay any attention to me also. As if my coming to this place or not coming to this place does not matter to them. Do they take me like the sleeping man... perhaps I might also appear to them as asleep. But no... This canít be like this because I am in my full senses and am not sleeping. Only the thing is that I am looking for the sleeping man.
I thought.. rather I decided... now onwards I would not enquire anyone about the sleeping man. I would try to find him on my own. I would be able to identify the house in which he be sleeping.
But I didnít stay at this decision either for long. Perhaps it is human not to help asking questions in such a state of mind. But this time I did not select an aged person, whom we in our parlance, call a wise man for asking about the sleeping manís house. I, on the other hand, asked a child playing marbles alone in the corner of the street.
On hearing my question the child put marbles into his pocket and took me towards the house of the sleeping-man. When the house got quite near, pointing in the direction of the house, he said, :
"Look at that-sky blue house... But no one ever goes there."
"I donít know. I sometimes come this side to play marbles."
"Then you donít live in this street?"
"No... in the adjoining street." Saying this he again started playing marbles at that very place.
I had some hesitation to go into the house and tell about my mission. How I would explain and to whom, the motive of my visit. God knows they even allow me into the house or not. May be they would not even open the door to me and would not converse with a total stranger that I was. And I knew that I would not be able to argue with them much being not known to them before.
At long last I gave a ring. A boy of twelve years or so rushed from the gallery to the door. The boy not only looked quick-footed but was also clever of speech. Without asking me - how I was and why I had come there - he said from behind the door :
"Papa is sleeping.... Come sometime again."
Just as I was about to open my mouth he went back into the house.
I stood there in a state of actual crises. The words of people.. especially of my boss at once flashed my mind. Had I only come to know that he is sleeping. This thing I had known even at my home.
I wanted to return although unwillingly because there was no other go except that. But I could not kill my desire to stay there for a little more time. Perhaps someone from the house would come out to listen to me... try to understand me. But even staying there much longer did not draw anyone from that house. It appeared that none here had any knowledge of my presence at the house-gate. A strange kind of silence prevailed inside the house as if all inmates of the house were sleeping. Such an intense calm as if there was no life inside.
I did not want to return, although I had already decided to do so. Actually it was not possible for me to go without meeting the sleeping man. But was I actually going to meet him? Even in case I am able to meet him that could not be called a meeting in the real sense. Meeting is a two-sided act and requires a dialogue. But here the other party was a sleeping person. I knew that I would not be able to talk with him because he was sleeping. Still I wanted to meet him.
Perhaps, with this thought in mind, I had again rung the bell. This time that boy did not come. In fact no one appeared at the door. So I again rang the bell. This time, walks to the door, a woman, with a light gait. From out of the fly-door I judged that she must be the wife of the sleeping man. From her face it could be fairly judged that like her, her husband would too be of an age which does not come under the category of the aged. He must be of an age, which still grows desires. From the make-up of her face and neat clothes she was wearing, it could be safely presumed that she must have kept the house very clean.
Opening the door, by placing a finger upon her mouth she had forbade me to speak. Making a gesture with her hand she escorted me into the house. Light-footed, we entered the bedroom crossing the gallery adjoining the drawing room. The two children were playing there. Both of them turned their heads to look at us and then again busied themselves in the Ďsnake and laddersí game. One of them was who had come earlier to answer the door bell. He gave me a hard stony look as if he had seen me for the first time. I wondered what kind of children these were who were playing their game without making any noise. As if they didnít play a game but were just sitting still or were just asleep.
A section of the drawing room showed up from the common door of the bed room ó it did not have any light. Windows too were heavily curtained to make the room still darker. I had no difficulty to guess that the sleeping person would be nowhere else then in the drawing room. Would he be lying on the sofa, on the diwan or on the floor.... I stood there figuring out.
"I think you would take some water." The women said in a low voice.
"No. Donít trouble yourself." I said feebly.
"It is not a trouble? You have come from so far."
"From far away? How you could guess it?"
"Because someone only from far off place can come to meet him." She smiled timidly.
"None from nearby?" I also tried to smile. But in this whole conversation it seemed I had remained absent. In-fact my attention was more drawn towards the drawing room. I wanted to know at once :
"How long he has been sleeping.... and why....? When he didnít wake up from his sleep the very first day, how it looked to you and how you felt when he continued to sleep for days and months on end?.... And how do you feel now after all this long while?"
But the woman at once put her finger on her lips. I got her gesture and fell silent... completely silent. Then I felt I had put very stereo-typed and traditional questions. I am not a scribe. I must act wise.
I pointed towards the drawing room. Her face flowered with a new-come smile. Perhaps she liked the language of gestures more.
"Come... do come... After all you have especially come to meet him." She flickered a smile.
We, then entered the drawing room light-foot, saw into the semi darkness ó He was fast asleep in a rest-chair. He had put a large sized hand-kerchief on his face.
"During day-time he stays in the rest-chair. And in the night on the sofa, diwan or just the bare floor," the woman explained half in gestures, half with the help of words, "We donít know at what time he shifts himself from chair to the sofa.... and from sofa to the diwan... and from diwan to floor. In fact at that time we are also sleeping." I turned to look at the sofa, diwan and the floor. Then my eyes stayed back at his sleeping chair.....at the man sleeping in the chair.... the man who was in the thick of grand sleep who looked free from the cares of the world.
It was due to our presence or something that it seemed he turned sides in the chair. The kerchief covering his face too slipped a bit from his face.. his red lips now turned visible seemed to be smiling in sleep. As if the man was welcoming my presence. The hair on his head also swayed a bit giving an impression he would soon get up and embracing me warmly would say : "Hello!" Then we would both talk much with each other. His wife would bring tea for us while we would still be busy talking. He will talk more... Then he will eat something more and drink something more and would then again go to sleep ó a deep sleep.
I stood up. I mean to say that I walked out from there, as all the time I stayed there I had been standing. Whatever I had experienced it happened to me while standing out there. Whatever I had said was too said standing up.
I did not have the guts to stand there any more... I neither had the strength to talk any more. I was totally broke now.
I was walking back... with a feeling as if I was left behind there or that man had come with me. I was not awake although I was fully awake. It seemed I had fallen asleep while I had walked. The sleeping man was walking with me too... continuously very much like a person who is awake...wide awake. As if I was sleeping though still fully awake...
Sleep was what was myself now.
(Translated from Punjabi by Gurdev Chauhan