“I love sleep.”—Ernest Hemingway (no, really ).
I don’t quite remember exactly when, and how, sleep became an entity that evolved from being a joyful nocturnal, albeit pointless, pursuit, to affect not just my productivity, but also mental and physical well-being. I should mention early on that I’ve grown up in a very quiet home—the disciplinarian army upbringing does that, as do postings in remote corners of Northeast India, where even the sounds of crickets can be considered a nuisance. Sleep was regimented, and silence its unwitting accomplice. Sleep was to be practiced, and not questioned or meddled with.
Over the last three decades, sleep has evolved, as has its abettors. A move to Delhi as a teenager broke my routine. This time, the culprit was the turbulence of youth, which rendered my system into the decrepit wasteland it is now (read PCOS and acute anxiety). Of course I wasn’t the only one—I have my urban millennial counterparts who were up most nights, treating sleep deprivation like a euphoria-inducing substance and still managing to turn up for 8.30 AM classes. Of course, there was nothing like social media in the 2000s. The most my Nokia 1600 demanded of me was probably 15 minutes of Snake Game in between/(more often) during classes.
And then, a year ago—this time with youth no longer by my side, and used to, even slightly wary, of the dreary and quiet isolation of Delhi—I moved to Mumbai. And anyone who moves to the Maximum City encounters one jarring anomaly almost immediately: its lack of space. This was also the first time I encountered claustrophobia. It took place right inside the Mumbai local during what I now know really well wasn’t even rush hour.
I also remember sleeping uneasily in my first home in south Mumbai, a rented space that I, for the first time, had to share with someone. The roommate turned out to be a rare variety of normal, but my sleep cycle didn’t agree with the shared space. However, this same sleep had, in two months, made peace with and adapted to this feeling of containment. A visit to a friend’s 90-square-feet room in a PG no longer distressed me; in fact, it became symbolic of fitting (and not cramping) your life into a constriction, à la Marie Kondo: a severe but effective exercise in self-optimisation. Sleep, at this juncture, became a willing by-product of my environment, instead of the other way round.
Which brings me to the last leg of my sleep observation, aptly at India’s first sleeping pod hotel. Amidst the peak of unruly suburban Mumbai is Urbanpod, where I landed on a weekday night.
If there’s anything the last few years have taught us it’s that cities, and subsequently your personal spaces, will shrink further. How else do you explain the raging success of ‘KonMari-fication’ (and the ensuing debate on organisation porn) and Sino-Japanese brand Miniso, which has charmed many of us with their pastel-hued organisers? The allure of tiny spaces, says this contributor to The New York Times, is more existential than aesthetic—“In large open spaces, we feel slight and vulnerable. In small, contained spaces, we feel large and powerful. Wouldn’t you rather feel like a giant than an ant?” For me, tiny spaces have also come to represent the temporariness of “home”—it enables my ‘no excess baggage’, ‘no nostalgia’, ‘no attachment’ rules of habitation; a requirement that has stemmed from three decades of moving homes and cities, and has proven to be an effective device for KonMari-ng my way through life.
Urbanpod, at this point, presents itself as the perfect medicine to our constant need for heightened experiences with a clinical detachment, one that evokes thrill out of a regimented approach to leisure. For one, silence is strictly observed (especially around the pods) and guests walk in and out, barely talking, barefoot. You’re not allowed to take in food (instead you can eat at the community dining hall), and the television is connected to a pair of headphones.
There’s a hyper-sanitised approach to the aesthetics: The reception is a mix of grey and pastel blue, while the pod rooms (there’s a separate room for women) are done up in stark white. The staff is minimal and non-intrusive. In this calming silence, I removed my footwear next to the reception (you are assigned a locker for the same), and proceeded to my pod.
If this commodification of sleep puts some visitors on the edge for being too, uh, “smart”, then it had the exact opposite impact on this writer. The initial unease with the compactness of the pods (a mini spurt of claustrophobia) swiftly led to a quiet acceptance of the calming surroundings. If there were neighbours, I had no idea what they looked or sounded like; all I heard was soft padding of feet on cold marble flooring making their way to the communal (and very clean) bathroom. One push of the button and the pod door would lock. I could regulate the brightness of the ceiling and mirror light. Shut off from the whole world, with all the privacy (no, sir, not even windows, for this privacy-nerd), I was sitting on the bed for the first time in years with the inclination to do nothing but, well, sleep. Move over, Black Mirror, this future isn’t so dystopian after all.
As I cosied up inside that capsule room, surrounded by the pristine-white walls and absolutely no human interaction, I felt the two worlds—that of my childhood with its quiet surrender of sleep and adult life that acknowledges shrinking spaces—come together. For someone who often resorts to various calm-inducing apps to induce sleep, pitch silence—practiced by Urbanpod and even demanded of by the residents, who surprisingly oblige—appears to be a revolution.
For the next eight hours, I slept soundly, with the faint hum of the centralised air-conditioner syncing with my breathing. This was a homecoming.
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