Sohailio, the “bulbul” and other animals

Zeinab Masud is sleepless in Seattle

Sohailio, the “bulbul” and other animals
We have a recurrent argument in our marriage. Sleep timings. My Sohailio is at his chirpiest best in the mornings. Ghastly, early mornings. He chirps sweetly reminding me of a ‘bulbul’. From what I remember, ‘bulbuls’ are plump, dark purple birds who chirp and flit from branch to branch, singing songs of mirth.

My husband is neither purple nor full of mirth but the ‘sing’ in his song is at its chirpiest around 5 a.m, while I try to suffocate myself with my pillow. I can still hear stuff through the fake down softness, though. The printer is whirring as it gives birth to a freshly minted research paper and then there is the clatter of tea-mugs and the smell of nearly burnt toast in the air.

“Hi sweetie”, says he, happiness incarnate as he flits merrily from room to room, all inspired and impassioned with ground-breaking public health ideas. Meanwhile, the pillow, my last hope, has tumbled out of my clutches and the golden light of morning has me captive. I mumble incoherently and by the time I’ve dragged myself out of bed, my speedy Sohail has sped off.

At day’s end, Sohailio comes home, somewhat exhausted and not so Bulbul-esque. Not so much chirping either. Exercise happens, some dinner, some talk.

And then somewhere around 10 pm, a huge gust of sleep grips my love and he is overwhelmed by a desire to sleep. “Sweetie, kuch neend si aarahi hai”, says he.

To many of you, this may sound like a pretty average day but when the two people involved have polar opposite sleep schedules, it can get interesting for want of a better word.

His intense desire to sleep when I am at my most social best has created awkward situations. About a year after we were married, Sohail (Bulbul) decided to take me out to dinner at one of New Orleans’ swankiest eateries.

I was wearing my favourite magenta skirt, which went swish-swish around my (slightly chubby) ankles, a lime green shirt and my hair in cascading curls. The steak was divine, the live music was magical and then somewhere between the main course and dessert, the waiter in black tails whispered to me, distraught, “Madam, I’m afraid your date has gone to sleep.”

And sure enough my Sohailio was slumbering. In his defence he had JUST returned from Ukraine and insisted on taking me out that very night. I remain very touched by that memory.

And then there were other entertaining episodes. On one of our visits to Karachi, Sohail was driving us back from lunch at the Sind Club. It was 3 pm on a Sunday, a deadly time as far as sleep issues are concerned. Sohailio starts yawning, meanwhile my mother-in-law and father, also in the car, are conducting a little ‘mushaira’ all on their very own. They take turns reciting a verse each, and exuberantly applaud each other’s poetic resonance. Amidst many ‘wah, wahs’, is a lyrically exquisite meeting of Lucknow and Hyderabad taking place somewhere on Clifton bridge. Meanwhile the car starts dangerously wavering from side to side. Sohail mumbles, again the ominous, “Sweetie, kuch neend si aarahi hai”.

My niece, the fifth person in the car is frantic, “Phuppo, please pinch him, he’s falling asleep!” Mashal, at this point in time, is in her twenties and was counting on seeing her thirties. Her voice is quivering with fear. Meanwhile ma-in-law and Dad are continuing their “shairana” waltz, one verse each, followed by many ‘wah, wahs’. They have decided that Sohail being half asleep at the wheel is a joke I’ve cracked. They are dangerously immune to the swaying, somewhat imbalanced movement of the car. My niece on the other hand needs smelling salts by now, poor dear, she just wants to make it to phase 8, alive.

The family in Thailand

Sohail can sound very tender when half asleep, and so he says, quite sweetly “Kuch mazey ki baatein karo...”

Loosely translated, that means, “Please engage me in scintillating conversation, so I don’t fall completely asleep.” I continue to sink my nails into his arm, I’m too terrified to make conversation.

Fortunately, we cross Clifton bridge and arrive at our destination in one piece, my niece, shattered, my Dad and ma-in-law pleased as punch. Much poetry had been shared and appreciated. They descend from the car and engage in prolonged ‘adaabs’ to one another. Quite oblivious of the possibility of a final farewell which they have just narrowly avoided.

After New Orleans, Mozambique and Karachi, our family now finds itself next to yet another body of water, this time it is Lake Washington and the stunning city of Seattle.

A new city means new people, the need to make friends, to start over again. And so we do. But there were issues. One of the reasons why my hubby finds himself not so social sometimes is because of that gust of sleep that comes calling anytime after 9 p.m.

Here’s what happened, we met a nice family, a desi, arty, not interested in money, probably not as broke as us but still non-materialistic types. We listened to Coke Studio, pined for home but appreciated the easy elegance and literary flair that a city like Seattle brings. As always we traded thoughts about the pros and cons of living in the West as opposed to chaos ridden but utterly lovable Karachi. This was an oft repeated debate which I could have endlessly. And so as I stood there rinsing the ‘Achaar gosht pateeli’, I could feel the excitement rising within me. Time for chit chat over chai and dessert. I give up on the ‘pateeli’ which has been burnt and scraped beyond belief. Domesticity has always been a bit of a challenge.

Excitedly, I plonk down on the sofa next to hubby, our friends are on the sofa across.

The kids are playing in our son’s room. The dialogue at hand has everyone engaged, and then I see my sweet Sohalio’s eyes close a little. There are little yawns that he tries very hard to disguise as mouth exercises. I’m hoping our guests don’t notice. I’m so grateful to have found them, I’d like to keep them a little longer.

They politely continue to talk but I can tell that they have noticed ‘bulbuls’ lack of chirpiness. They suggest leaving, ‘bulbul’ (hubby) does not protest, instead he acquires a hopeful glint in his eyes.

I sit there, somewhat devastated, reminded of other perplexing situations.

Back in the Karachi days, we decided to go for coffee to one of Zamzama’s quaint little eateries. Hubby claims that the only time I produce signs of a sense of direction is when I’m navigating restaurants in Zamzama’s crowded lanes.

Anyway, we find our coffee shop, me, Sohail and our two friends, let’s call them S and M. After our little coffee/hot chocolate interlude, we are zooming down Khayaban-e-Shamsheer. Riveting conversation taking place when I hear a gentle snore. It’s my sweet Sohailio.

Embarrassed, I confront him when our friends have dropped us home and left.

“Kya karoon, kuch bahut relaxing scene ho gaya tha.” Hubby claimed that these particular friends of ours were so calm and relaxing that they put him to sleep.

Since then I have always worried about the impact of a relaxing atmosphere.

There have been tearful episodes when I have mourned the loss of a late night social life but then S will ask me why I cannot be upbeat and mesmerising, early morning, when he and the birds are all chirping.

Fact is, a complete solution has yet to be found. It is work in progress.

But I must admit we have found those pockets of time, somewhere between dawn and dusk when we are both exuberant. We have, over the years, learnt to be tolerant of each other’s vastly different time energies.

Hubby will turn a blind eye to my smuggling the laptop under the covers at 1 a.m when I can’t sleep and I in turn will enforce an afternoon nap on nights when we have to be out later than 10 pm.

When there is a meeting of hearts and minds, one can only hope that an understanding of sleep timings will eventually follow.