The Other Side Of Farming
Six ways to get the best sleep
Not in the arms of a lover, your dream-sleep has contenders only on the farm.
- Total Shares
Were there a beauty contest for sleep, all kinds of sleep on the farm will be the only finalists. To choose the most beautiful sleep anywhere in the universe let me be the judge, the guinea pig. In six years of twelve-hour days on the farm, before I left it all for writing, I had experienced sleep in all its manifestations, one more profound than the other. I am also more qualified in commenting on the quality, or a particular gharana of sleep, for a virtue I possessed then: youth. The young alone can appreciate not doing anything worthwhile for a great part of their lives, and taking pleasure in the wastefulness of time. Treating time as a bed is a talent. I shall go in order of ascendance in describing and applauding the types of sleep I encountered.
1). I worked very hard, in the sun without a hat, to set an example for the workers I pretended to manage, and to impress my boss, my father, who paid me a pittance. My unmentionable salary prompted me to sweat buckets because I wanted more and I did not even want the word ’nepotism’ uttered in my context. I punished myself more, and when I returned to the house around lunch, I dropped on the bed and died for thirty minutes.
The house had not been swept for ages with just less than an inch of dust covering every little square inch including the bed, except the shape of my body where I lay down. You could see the outline of my arms, legs and head radiating from the central mass. You could see the actual print on the bedcover within that. I lowered myself gently on my spot, like Don Juan would have called it, and switched off in two seconds. I did not breathe or dream for those twenty minutes of nirvana. The jolt out of it was of 25,000 volts with a severe hangover.
2). Sleep is always a reward, an aftermath. Sometimes I would leave Billa, our driver-manager, standing over the operations, in his hawk-like pose. I would pretend to go to the farther corners of our plot to examine, say, the lentil flowering and then take a circuitous route back to the house, that hid in the middle of the mango orchard.
Were there a beauty contest for sleep, all kinds of sleep on the farm will be the only finalists. (Photo: Getty Images)
But I wouldn’t climb the stairs. I would dive under the blast of the tube well and lounge in a tank of fresh cool water pumped from the gut of the earth. It was like angels had poured rosewater from porcelain pots held high. I was alone for an hour soaking in, and to top it I had mangoes or Fanta bottles chilling with me. The gushing water was music. I would lie back into the swirling waves that sort of body-massaged me like the choicest hoors from heaven.
These were rare occasions and I prayed my father didn’t land up and demand why I deserved such Las Vegas treatment on his payroll. The real beauty of this sleep lay precisely therein: it was stolen.
3). You have slept on a bare woven cot that’s slung way down low, haven’t you? Especially in June when the whole world is out there getting their hair bleached in the sun, you catch a few golden moments on this hammock on four legs.
The breeze whispers to every pore in your body from every direction. The koel lulls you to a state of drunkenness. And the far-off temple bells and people calling out are so distant that your lips twitch into a smile. The cherry is that the cot sits astride a water channel with its legs placed on the banks, and your legs dip calf-deep in the flow. You don’t care if a snake glides past your toes.
4). In the rain there are days when it really drains the sky. We are all out there in the paddy getting soaked. Steam rises from warm bodies and meets the clouds and probably rains down upon us again. It’s six and the day is done. We run like children splashing in the mud. Everyone dives under the blast of water from the tube-well and runs off home with clothes clinging like skin, except me. I go back to the field. The night is falling. Rain is pattering in the standing water in the paddy.
I go for a walk knowing that I am alone in the world with my thoughts, my teeth chattering and my breath is warm. I’m on the threshold of a fever. I ride my scooter fifteen miles in the rain coming down harder and the wind in my face. I reach home and have a warm bath. My body is burning. I don’t want supper, I ate, I lie. I lie down and the sweetest sleep engulfs me. I am sick the next day. The pleasure in this case is philosophical, not physical.
5). Painters have painted it. Songs have been written about it. Your bed is a golden mountain, softer than wool, or almost. Lovers have found comfort in it. The straw-pile from a recent harvest stands like a little house, a little hill. The fields for miles are empty.
Painters have painted it. The straw-pile from a recent harvest stands like a little house, a little hill. (Painting: The Siesta, by Vincent van Gogh. Photo credits: Getty Images)
It is night and the lights from the village wink. It is two months after the rains and a chill hangs in the air. You’ve just finished bashing paddy on barrels of diesel. The grain has been sewn in sacks and sent off to the godown. You look up at the stars and fall back on the straw-pile that takes the shape of your body like no mattress ever can.
You wake up only when the morning rays of sun put a mother’s palm on your cheek. You open your bleary eyes and see a strange-looking man staring at you. “I’m Vincent van Gogh”, says he, “and your sleep makes you so beautiful. This mountain of straw is your golden hair. Please go back to your dream, I must paint you.”
6). But the best sleep in the world is business class. The month must be November. You have finished sowing of wheat, pea, gram, lentil or whatever. Your mind is free after a hectic two months of doing day and night of harvesting and sowing in a frenzy lest germination gets affected. You are sitting in comfort in the last week of November but you can’t just jump into a straw pile and doze of like you did.
You have to supply paddy to the mandi or the seed processing plant. You hitch the tractor to the trolley and load a hundred and fifty bags of eighty kilos each. The tyres sink an inch. The suspension groans a bit and you are off in the second gear. Billa drives, you sit on the bags fifteen feet high. The roadside trees brush your hair so you lie down and watch white clouds float in the clear blue sea above.
The trolley rocks you gently like a cradle. Shadows of branches caress you in beautiful sunlight. You are a princess and the mattress is equal to twenty. An aeroplane passes over your head and those in the most expensive seats look down and envy you sleeping like a baby. It is this sleep of a baby that is more than perfect.