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New documentary on how homeless spend a night will leave you sleepless

Cities of Sleep highlights how sleep is used as a means for exercising control over the urban poor.

 |  3-minute read |   15-09-2015
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A poor man's sleep is something even the lower middle class cannot comprehend. The elite and the media might talk about the death of the homeless, succumbing to the merciless winter or the brutal summer, but neither of these groups would know of the politics and economics of sleep.

That's where Shaunak Sen's Cities of Sleep becomes prominent. Sen and his crew delves deep into the lives of some common, but not-so-common people: Shakeel, a part-time beggar; Jamaal, the head of a sleep mafia in Meena Bazaar; Gurfan, Jamaal's aide and Ranjeet, space provider under Loha Pull (an iron bridge over river Yamuna), and how the often neglected, taken for granted concept of sleep rules their lives. Cities of Sleep easily becomes a masterpiece with stunning cinematography, gripping flow of events, smart editing and sharp sound design, and of course, masterful direction by Sen.

Jamal Bhai runs the illegal sleep mafia in Meena Bazaar, where the homeless pay anything between Rs 20 to Rs 50 to rent a cot, a space and a blanket to sleep during the winters. Meena Bazaar is harsh, ruthless and expensive for the poor.

Ranjeet, on the other hand, controls the sleep of people who choose the Loha Pull area, the oldest bridge in Delhi over the Yamuna, and provides space for the homeless to sleep inside a hall that doubles up as a theatre. The board in front of it says "3 films or 6 hours sleep for Rs 10".

The documentary which unveils in front of us through the life of Shakeel - the beggar, and his struggle to find himself a space to take a nap, tells us much about the lives of the urban poor in Delhi who are a terribly neglected lot. The trailer of the documentary has some powerful dialogues. As one of those lucky people who got a chance to watch a private screening, I feel it's my responsibility to share some other quotes from the documentary.

Here are some powerful quotes about sleep and poverty from the documentary that are sure to haunt you:

"Have you ever wondered why people sleep on dividers during summer? The gush of wind, when the cars pass by, prevents mosquito bites."

"To figure out the extent of someone's power, observe the way they sleep."

"If you want to seize control over someone, never let (him) sleep."

"Only the man who sleeps and wakes as and when he wishes, is free in the truest sense of the word."

"Sleep is the most demanding master. None can stop it once it has chosen to arrive."

"Poverty means you can't chose what wears you down. Others decide what your body must be doing and when it should be resting."

"Poverty means not becoming human in the true sense of the word."

"Fast life of the city above us, Yamuna - the death beneath us, and we sleep in between."

"Sleep is never still. There is a rhythm in sleep - like day and night."

These quotes, when coming from people in the lowest strata, must haunt you. If it doesn't, nothing ever will.

Writer

Vivek Surendran Vivek Surendran @ivivek_nambiar

The writer is an engineer turned marketer turned journalist who believes that powerful words can change the world. When not at work, could be found travelling, exploring the world through a DSLR.

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