Sunday, March 17, 2013


Dedicated to Vivek & SFTH; ...finally I wrote something after a long time!

Being roommates with someone is not easy. Often you do not get to meet the person before you start sharing a room. With sharing a room comes sharing personal space. And doing that is difficult with strangers. Knowing someone takes time, and circumstances often do not allow you that much time; in many cases you just assume that the person whom you are sharing a room with is accountable enough to be trusted with basic things. You just assume that your roommate must be as vulnerable and insecure as you are when he comes to know that a stranger will be sharing a room with him. I met Madhav like that. I assumed a lot of things.

I came into the institute as a first year graduate student and was allotted a room in the students’ hostel. Classes were held in the department which was less than a kilometer away. I had my own bicycle. I used to wake up early in the morning and go for my classes. After spending the entire day in the department, burdened under loads of homework and assignments, I used to return to my room only late at night. It was the first time I was living in a hostel. 

Madhav was already living in that room for last one year without any roommate. I came to hear that his previous roommate requested the hostel office for a single room. Getting a single room was not easy in our campus. Not that the administration didn’t grant any but it was mostly the senior students who were preferred. So I didn’t have a choice. And Madhav was in his second year. 

Madhav was not happy to see a roommate when I moved in. He didn’t say anything but his reaction was transparent. I didn’t like him either. He was weird. He had long hair and no one knew how many times a month he used to put shampoo on it. His clothes were far from clean – the reason, as I later figured, was his reluctance to wash them by himself. He would be in the same clothes for days and would visit the laundry only once in two months. He didn’t speak much. Often would ignore me when I tried to talk. And would suddenly start discussing things when he saw me do my assignments; he had two subwoofers plugged into his laptop and I didn’t have the slightest idea how they became active only when I tried to focus on my studies! Because of him I tried not to come to room on an evening before a test. I found the library more comfortable. In a way, that served his purpose too; that would give him enough opportunity to smoke ganja.

I didn’t know about this habit of his at the beginning; he used to do it when I was away. Later I came to know that he had his own group of friends who considered this pastime with passion. I came to room one evening and saw him smoking alongside three of his friends. I didn’t even smoke cigarettes so the smell of weed suffocated me. Madhav welcomed me with a grin, “You came early tonight! Done with
your studies?” “Ya!” I said, still standing at the door thinking whether to enter or to go to the library.
“Hi Gokul!” his friends greeted me, “Want to join us?” “No!” I said. “I don’t like that smell” is what I wanted to add but resisted myself from it. Madhav caught that I was feeling uneasy. He blew a ring of smoke and said, “You see, it’s not good for the mind; it messes things up here”, he pointed at his head, “Particularly not good if you have class in the morning!” “I have a mid-term test tomorrow”, I said. One of Madhav’s friends was clearly embarrassed, he wanted to leave. Madhav calmed him, looked at me and said, “And not at all good if you have a test in the morning!” “I don’t want to smoke!” I said. Madhav grinned impishly and reiterated, “I meant passive smoking is not good if you have a test tomorrow morning!” I had to spend the next three hours in the library that evening before it closed at eleven o clock. Fortunately when I returned that night the episode was over. The light of the room was out. His friends have left. Madhav was asleep.

Smoking weed inside campus was obviously an offense. But some people used to do it, and with enough caution, they succeeded. Nobody complained to the authorities mostly because students who practiced it made sure that it didn’t disturb anyone else. Madhav didn’t have that concern however; not at least with me! Some residents of the hostel told me that he did weed quite regularly and that his earlier roommate had complained against him, so the hostel authorities gave him a separate room. Madhav had got a warning; things became a bit serious and he had to quit weed for weeks. That was one year back.

Sometimes, to know a person, you need to know his habits. I came to know Madhav’s habits, and thus him. But, seldom, it would seem that he didn’t like some of his own habits! At times he would sit and brood quietly in one corner of the room, refusing to talk to anyone. It would then become clear that he had several grievances about his one year stay in campus.

The mid-terms had started and I was somehow managing to cope with the dual pressure of academics and my roommates’ tantrums, when, suddenly, one evening, I saw him packing his bags. I asked if he was going somewhere. He told me that he was going to his home for three days. Madhav was a localite. The news came as a relief because it meant that I could study in my room at nights. And the fact that I won’t be welcomed into the room by that persistent smell of weed for 3 whole nights seemed so enthralling!

However, the happiness didn’t last long. That night, as I fell asleep, I was woken up by a murmur! Somebody was whispering to me in the dark. It took me a while to realize that it was Madhav! “You came back!” I said, surprisingly. “Yes!” he said, “The house was locked. Seems like my dad went somewhere. The surprise visit didn’t pay off!” “Of course!” I thought; “So why did you wake me up?” I asked. “Gokul!” he said, “You were talking in your sleep!”

I was taken aback. I tried to summarize the situation. Madhav goes to his home, comes back, knocks at the door and I wake up and open it for him (none of which I remembered) and then I go to sleep again, and Madhav also goes to his bed; and then, it is me who wakes him up at the middle of the night –doing what! I never spoke in my sleep.

“You are joking or what!” I said. “Joking!” he sat up on his bed, “You were shouting, I couldn’t sleep!” “See, Madhav!” I said, “I have a mid-term exam tomorrow morning! Let me sleep!” “You let me sleep! I am tired” he said, “All this journey to home and back! It’s you who woke us up!”

That claim was preposterous. I didn’t remember a thing. It was obviously not possible to know what really happened. I rather thought Madhav was up to something. His suddenly cancelling his home trip itself gave off something suspicious. “What was I talking about?” I asked him. “Don’t know”, he said, “I could only make out that you were shouting: Baba! Baba! Ok it’s over now. Let me sleep man!”

Baba! Why on earth would I be interested in calling out to my father at the middle of the night? Was I having a dream? I remembered my mother used to tell me that I used to talk and laugh in my sleep when I was a child. I spoke gibberish mostly. Not for long intervals; intermittently. Madhav could be right! But he could be pulling off a prank too! There was no way of knowing. I stayed awake for a long time trying to figure out what the truth was. Eventually I fell asleep.

Next morning I woke up late. I looked at the watch and made out that my class had already started! Fortunately the exam was scheduled after lunch. I hurried.

That night when I came to room Madhav was not there. It was already eleven at night. I had another class-test the next morning. And this time it was in the first period. So I had to get up early. I deliberately kept the door open so that Madhav doesn’t have to knock when he comes. I fell fast asleep.

I was startled to hear someone laughing at the middle of the night! I woke up instantly. It was Madhav again. He was laughing madly and rolling on his bed. It all irritated me to my core. “What is it?” I asked. “Who is Priya?” he asked. He kept on laughing as if someone has given him nitrous oxide. “Who is Priya?” I said, “How do I know? Why do you keep waking me up like this every night! I told you I have my mid-terms running!” “Manh! You should listen to yourself!” he was still laughing, “You were proposing to some girl in your sleep!”

Now that was unbelievable! Not because I couldn’t talk in my sleep – I was not really confident about that – but because I didn’t know any girl by that name! I quickly went through the names of the girls, in my mind, which I had come to know during my two months stay inside campus and none of those matched with Priya! “Dude!” I said in a cold tone, “I do not know anyone called Priya! You were dreaming!” Madhav stopped laughing. He stopped it very suddenly as if he really got serious. “What did you say?” he asked. “It is you who is dreaming that I am talking in my sleep!”, I said, “Could you not do this for the next couple of days please! I have my exams scheduled in the mornings.” “I am dreaming!” he hissed, “You say it is me who is dreaming! I can’t sleep because of you. I also have work in the morning; I also have classes to attend. All these two months it was okay but now as you have your exams going on, don’t know why, you are under a lot of stress. I can see it! It is you who didn’t study! It is you who is conjuring up odd dreams in your head! And not only that, you are waking your roommate up – regularly, at the middle of the night – and on top of all that you are not ready to admit that you talk in your sleep!”

I felt a bit scared. Not that I had doubts in my mind on whether I actually did it. I didn’t! It’s tough to say whether I spoke in my sleep. Not only me, but if anyone is accused today of that kind of a crime, I am sure, they will face tough times answering themselves. No one can ever be sure. And sleep talking is not that rare too. Many people talk in their sleep. Mostly children do. But some adults also do! It’s not like a rare disease or something that I needed to get worried about. It was a common thing. But this time, I was confident that Madhav was lying. I could have said something maybe, but in no way I could have uttered that name Priya! How can I say someone’s name in my sleep if I didn’t know about that name in real life! And that made me feel scared because I was certain Madhav was up to something. Either he was dreaming about all this – in which case too I needed to get worried because he was waking me up every night, mostly when I had my exams in the mornings – or he was deliberately trying to mess things up in my head before my exams. But why would he do that?

“I have never known anyone called Priya!” I told him, “Why are you doing all this?” “You are crazy or what!” he shouted, “Why will I do all this by myself? Unless I really wanted to get rid of you; and for that, now I think, I have to go to the hostel office and lodge a complaint against you!” His intentions were becoming clear. So that was what Madhav wanted! He already had his previous roommate complaining about him; and from what I could read, he never liked roommates! So now if he could make up some story about my sleep-talking, maybe, the hostel administration would give him a single room! In a way, that was also what I wanted, to get rid of him; but through this way the administration won’t come to know about the truth: that it was me who was going through all the pain of sharing a room with Madhav. I had to do something!

“I don’t believe you!” I said. “What!” he sounded bewildered. It was the middle of the night and the lights were out. Whatever I could see of him was a shadow. And all this time that shadow was lying on his bed. This time it sat up. “Tomorrow night I will take a video with my mobile phone!” the shadow hissed, “And I will show it to you! And then, I will go and complain against you!” “Do it!” I said, “And please, I have a request, do not wake me up at the middle of the night to show the video! I will rather see it the next morning. Not that I believe you will actually have something authentic to show me!” “We’ll see!” Madhav murmured, “We’ll see!”

Next morning I woke up well past the time of the exam. That was the first exam I missed. I ran to the class. The professor didn’t allow me to enter. He said he will talk to me later. I didn’t have all this planned! I made up my mind that tomorrow morning I will go to the hostel office and complain about Madhav’s late night tantrums, and of course about his smoking habits. I was just waiting to see what video he gets! 

That night I came back early. And as always I didn’t see Madhav there! Three days in a row! Why is he regularly coming so late at night? Mostly he used to be in room from evening itself, smoking pot. Maybe I was right! He was really up to something; deliberately doing it to disturb my peace of mind. Anyway! I didn’t think much about it. I went to sleep. Fortunately I didn’t have any exam next morning.

Very oddly indeed no one woke me up that night. I woke up very early next morning. I presumed it was around six o clock! I woke up and smelled weed. My eyes searched around the room till they eventually found Madhav. He was smoking in the room early in the morning! I wanted to ask him to stop but somehow my tongue got stuck. I couldn’t speak! My head felt heavy. I felt drugged. Madhav looked at me. He was looking like an animal. “I was having a light fun with you!” he said, “But I never knew you had such dangerous plans ahead.” I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I tried so hard to talk but I could not. “Not that I was lying about your sleep talking episodes” he said, drawing a chair near to my bed and sitting down on it, “But I never thought of really going and complaining to the administration!” He took a puff and blew a ring of smoke at my face. “I underestimated you, you are dangerous!” he said, “You know what could happen to me if you go to the administration complaining about my smoking habits! They may throw me out of the institute! I will be finished!” He was smoking too close to me. I felt very uneasy. I wanted to get up and leave the room but, surprisingly, I couldn’t. My body seemed stuck to my bed with glue and I couldn’t even move a finger. I was so sure Madhav had drugged me! 

“This is what you said last night!” he took his phone out and brought its screen near my eyes. I couldn’t turn my head. I was paralyzed! He played a video. It was dark and I could hear two voices. I couldn’t see anything, no one could see and make anything out of that video; it was pitch black! One of the voices was Madhav’s. He was the one who was talking less. I heard another voice and I was confident it was not mine. That voice was murmuring something regarding lodging a complaint for smoking weed. It was unclear, discrete and intermittent. I wanted to tell him that it was not mine and in no way he could prove that it was mine! 

The room was filling up with smoke. I could see the door being slightly open; it was not locked. The windows were closed. My eyes and lungs started to burn. It was a horrible feeling! To get stuck to your bed early in the morning by some magical force, mutely watching your environment turn hostile. I wondered how he could have drugged me while I was asleep! I didn’t know if he practiced other kinds of drugs but I heard there were people who would inject drugs through a syringe! I didn’t know if Madhav had injected me with something. Or did he really? What was it? Could it paralyze a human body? How long will it have its effect? Will I be paralyzed all my life? Was it toxic? Was he trying to kill me? I could make out that somehow he knew about my plans of complaining to the administration. But would he really try to kill me for that? Or was he in his senses after all? Aren’t people supposed to do all sorts of crazy things under the effect of drugs?  

Madhav smoked weed by taking the ingredients in a paper refill. It looked like a cigarette. Now he put it in my mouth. “Smoke!” he said, “Smoke and tell me how is it.” I couldn’t move my lips. It was horribly bitter. I wanted to cough but somehow my body didn’t even allow me to do that! “How can people pass remarks about something that they haven’t tried themselves!” Madhav was clearly resentful, “You smoke and then go to the administration to lodge your complaint. I have had enough of you.” I was chocking. And I felt so much out of breadth that I was certain that my lungs would collapse.

I don’t remember how long it went like that but eventually I could really move! I could cough out loudly and move my head around the room and could see all its corners. I was not paralyzed anymore! And I saw the windows open. And I saw Madhav, sitting patiently on that chair, most probably waiting for me to wake up. He looked different: slightly decent. I presumed two hours had passed. 

“I’ll kill you!” I told him. They were the first words I could utter after a long time. I was sweating heavily. “What!” Madhav said, “Why?” I could see Madhav in nice clothes and it looked as if he had shampooed his hair after a long time. He sat in that chair looking questioningly at me. The room didn’t smell of weed anymore. The fan was rotating wildly above my head. I looked at the watch, it was ten!

“Why do you want to kill me?” he asked, “Are you all right?” “Why were you smoking in the room early this morning?” I sat up on my bed. “Who? Me!” Madhav looked stunned, “I just returned from my home. Whom are you talking about?”

I saw a bag with him, the same one he had left with three days back. I wondered why I didn’t see it in the room all these days! My head felt very heavy. My limbs felt weak. It was as if I was recovering from some fever. “I came in around 8 o clock in the morning”, Madhav said, “I wondered why you kept the door ajar! I saw you sleeping, with that blanket on you, and I found you moaning in sleep. It was as if someone was chocking you. I thought you were having a nightmare or something!” “What are you talking about?” I couldn’t believe what he was saying. But he did look like a different Madhav! “I thought of waking you up”, he said, “But you didn’t wake up! You were in deep sleep. Your eyes were half-open. And you were making funny sounds. It was a frightful sight!” 

It took me a while to float back to reality. I didn’t tell Madhav anything of what I thought happened. It was not necessary for him to know. I made out that Madhav was not here for the last three days. Some of our neighbors, in adjacent rooms, told me that they have heard me talk at nights. The door was always open! Some of them tried to peep in to see whom I talked to but they said they didn’t see anybody and further they couldn’t make out what was I saying. “It was all gibberish”, one of them said later, “Don’t worry! It’s not a terrible disease! It’s called somniloquy. Google it!” I tried my best not to let Madhav know anything. He asked me a lot of questions and would often make fun of me. But he couldn’t find out regarding that hostel-office complaint thing that I planned in my dream. I never complained against him.

Later that day, back in the department, I googled sleep-talking. I found something called ‘sleep paralysis’ as well. They also had some videos on it in Youtube. I wonder if that was what I experienced that morning when I tried to move but couldn’t. The websites talked about thousands of people having evil hallucinations during sleep paralysis. I didn’t know if I used to have such seizures when I was a child, my mother never told me about them! She only mentioned about the somniloquy part. My head felt light after a long time. Everything started to make sense as I searched for an explanation. It was as if I was waking up from a nightmare.

Being roommates with someone is not easy. Sometimes, it’s only after you had taken an initial step towards understanding your roommate you come to know something unique about him. Something that matters, and, in a way, affects you too! That Madhav smoked weed with his friends sometimes in the room affected me. I compromised by escaping to the library. That I had these somniloquy and sleep paralyses episodes frustrated Madhav. It was not as frequent as his smoking trysts; I experienced it much less when the mid-terms got over. Sleep paralyses would happen to me about once a month; the sleep talking was slightly more frequent. But I got a feeling of what it was like in the real world, when he really heard me blabbering in sleep and saw me having seizures. He didn’t wake me up, and also didn’t really care to take a video. He also never complained against me. He found a way out. He used to put his earplugs before going to sleep; it became a habit for him.

1 comment:

Vivek Panda said...

A well conjured plot... reminded me of O Henry... well done :)