A Time of Solitude . . .
It used to be that I had no difficulty falling asleep at night. When I was a young girl still in my 20s, growing up in Lajpat Nagar colony in New Delhi, I would lie in bed as the night deepened. I would hear the sounds filtering in through the open window on hot summer nights—stray dogs barking in competition from neighborhood to neighborhood, the occasional truck rumbling by, someone singing lustily from the embrace of the night—a drunkard or a laborer returning home late—the drone of an airplane, the rustle of a mouse scurrying across the tiled floor of the lavatory, the sound of a door opening or closing here or there on the middle floor of the three-storeyed home we lived in. I would lie secure in the precarious knowledge that this was a world known to me.
The lights would go off, and someone would whoop on the road outside. The power cut would fall like a blanket of silence. There would be a minute or two of deepening silence, finally broken by our landlord Dr. Gupta's reedy voice floating up from the ground floor level. One of the two servants would be ordered to start up the generator and there would be the sound of the machine being whipped to life. It would catch at the fifth attempt, and a low whine would fill the building. The sky would grow darker, the light would surge on, the generators would switch off. Before I knew it, the familiar sounds had rocked me to sleep.
I would wake up to the piercing shout of Moti Lal, the next-door vegetable market owner arousing Chotu, the young village boy he'd brought from Nepal to help him with his daily chores, "Get up, Chotu. Get up, now! We have to go to the Sabzi Mandi" (wholesale vegetable market.)"
A few years later when I met and married my husband and migrated across the seven seas to the United States, I tried to fall asleep in our King-size bed with its cushy, pillow-top mattress covered with a flannel sheet and a six-inch fluffy down comforter. I tossed and turned and then propped up on an elbow to admonish him, "Shhh. The T.V.'s too loud. I can't go to sleep." He turned to look at me fully in the face and responded, "Oh yeah? But you had no problem falling asleep to the sounds of angry motors, the honking horns, the cacophony of sirens, the buzzing of a thousand flies in your old hometown, did you?"
"Oh, honey, but you don't get it. It's the solitude of the sleepy town of Danville that I can't get used to. This silence is eerie, "I responded smartly. I turned on my side and decided to count sheep. Next, I'd try reciting the alphabet backward. Z, Y, X, W . . .