Saturday, April 03, 2010

On not being a morning person

They say you are either a morning or a night person. I am certainly the latter: it is a pity to miss the freshness of dawn, but it seems an even greater pity to miss a few extra hours of sleep. No matter how early I get to bed, my eyes just won’t open earlier than eight – so much for the old adage about rising early.

I wonder if I ended up this way because as a child I had to be in school only at 11:30 am. This was back in the eighties; my parents lived in Gujarat, in the Naranpura area of Ahmadabad. We were tenants in the small upper section of a house owned by a large family. The living room doubled as the bedroom; attached to it was a small kitchen. My mother would wake me up at eight, well after my father had left, and with eyes barely open, I would begin my journey to the toilet.

I call it a journey because the toilet was downstairs and was shared – we didn’t have our own. I made the descent lazily, leaning against the railing, contemplating a nap every step of the way; so slow was I that on some days it took me thirty minutes to get down. The stairs were out in the open and faced the backyard, most of which was under the canopy of a neem tree. To the left was a narrow pathway, a kind of neutral zone between houses that led to a nearby temple. The pathway was frequented by stray dogs, cats, and especially cows, which came to chew on discarded pieces of paper or rummage through trash. It was during those slow morning descents that I started observing domestic animals – to the point of being mesmerized. Even today, I can watch dogs play and interact for hours on end.

I got back around nine. Then, as I sipped Bournvita or Maltova (chocolate drinks) I felt the texture of my mother’s sari with my fingers. This meant she had to sit on the floor next to me for the entire time it took me to finish. It was a strange ritual, one I find hard to explain today. But I do remember distinctly that the drink tasted heavenly when her sari’s texture was somewhat rough.

Such laid back mornings – minus the chocolate drink and strange ritual – were still the norm during high school in Nagpur. At college in Trichy, though classes started at 8:30 am, I routinely bunked the first two, so I could have a leisurely breakfast of tea, eggs, bread and jam at the mess until 10:00. Early morning classes were harder to miss in grad school, where the quality of education was just too high to be ignored, but once course requirements were done, I reverted to the late start schedule. For a while, my breakfast consisted of enormous quantities of whole wheat bread, almond butter and soy milk.

And the pattern continues to this day. One of the pleasures of being an academic is that I don’t have to be in my office at 9; in fact, I don’t have to be there at all unless necessary. On the days that I don’t teach, I wake up, make my coffee (flavored hot milk really), and settle to read the the blogs listed on this page. It’s only around noon time that I really get going. The flip side, of course, is that I do most of my work at night, which thankfully is capacious enough to accommodate my worst procrastination excesses.

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