Sunday, November 12, 2006

Songs for the Sleepless

It probably won't surprise many people if I mention that these days we aren't getting much sleep in my house. Our newborn, Puran, tends to wake up hungry every 2-3 hours at night. The feeding part is usually relatively straightforward; it's getting the little guy to burp and then sleep again that takes some time and persistence. The best tactic involves picking him up and pacing for fifteen minutes.

One of my colleagues in the English Department suggested reciting poetry while walking; the sound of iambic pentameter is said to be soporific. But sadly, I'm not that kind of English lit. person -- with my new-skool education, I never actually managed to memorize anything. Instead -- and it's not a bad substitute, really -- we tend to sing to him, basically whatever pop songs come into mind (the Beatles are especially good: "I'm so tired/ I haven't slept a wink..."; "Cry, baby cry/ Make your mother sigh...").

One trick to make the late night hours roll along more quickly is a little game we came up with: take a classic Hindi/Urdu romantic song about sleeplessness, and tweak it slightly to fit the current context. For instance:
O ho ho ho, khoya khoya chaand, khula aasmaan
Aankhon mein saari raat jaayegi
Tumko bhi kaise neend aayegi
(full lyrics)
Hidden, hidden moon; open skies
In your eyes, I'll be awake all night
And how can you sleep either?
And the travestied version might be:
O ho ho ho, khoya khoya chaand, khula aasmaan
Dikaar mein saari raat jaayegi
Humko bhi kaise neend aayegi
"Dikaar" means "burp." You can see the old song at Youtube ; it's Dev Anand in a film called Kala Bazaar.

Another one:

Raat ko neend aati nahin
Hey aahaha ha hayhayhay hay hmmhmmhmm hmm
Tabiyat chein paati nahin
Hmm aahaha ha hayhayhay hay hmmhmmhmm hmm
Mera dil ka chein tune le liya (
full lyrics)
In the night, sleep doesn't come
Hey aahaha, etc.
Peace and calm doesn't come
Hey aahaha, etc.
You took my peace of mind

Again, enjoy the Youtube video of the song, from Judaai. And again, our early morning travesty:
Raat ko neend aati nahin
Hey aahaha ha hayhayhay hay hmmhmmhmm hmm
Tabiyat chein paati nahin
Hey aahaha ha hayhayhay hay hmmhmmhmm hmm
Mera peit ka chaan tune le liya

More "Neend" songs at Youtube: Mere neend jaani lagi hai, Neend na mujko Aaye

It seems to me the trope of sleeplessness in Hindi film songs comes from Urdu and Persian poetry, where lovers take great pride in their romantic insomnia (see Amir Khusrau; also see here, and scroll down to the anonymously-authored "What can I say"?/"Dunya kare sawaal"). It's definitely a little irreverent to play with the tradition in this way, but really, why not? As they say (and again, I'm travestying it), whatever gets you through the night...

Do people have favorite "sleeplessness" songs or poems (in any language)? And can you think of fun travesties of the same songs?


Ganesh said...

I have three nephews. I made a pact with my sister, then living in the midwest and I living on the West Coast, that after the birth of every child I'd come for a week and take care of the newborn as best as I could. Towards this end, I -- as your colleagues mentioned -- memorized poetry: Poe's "Israfel", Shelly's "Ozymandius", Ponsot's "We Are Imagined", cummings' "somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond". I don't know what effect, soporific or not, these recitations had on the boys, but it helped me pass the times, feel like I was conveying thoughts I loved into their little bodies and minds and made me look forward to the days when they'll be able to understand what their weird/crazy/silly uncle was saying.

One unintended and selfish result can't be denied, though: subsequent repetitions provided me with a deeper understanding of the poems I loved.

Peace, and best of luck getting some sleep.

7:47 PM  
Ms. World said...

I have a newly born niece who is the love of my life. I visit her several times a week. My niece also likes being walked around and sung to before falling asleep. I'm big on singing about anything and everything to the baby as long as it has a positive message. I like to make up songs with the baby's name in it. And I'm fond of singing spiritual songs (gospel) from my childhood. But lately, I've also started singing the words to baby books that I read to her. My favorite book is Jamberry by Bruce Degen.

1:09 AM  
zigzackly said...

Saw this after I read the cross-post on SM, alas. Or would have left my contribution here instead.

5:57 PM  
Jonathan said...

Very sweet. Is Dev Anand on You Tube supposed to be sleepwalking then?

4:10 PM  
bess said...

having been through many sleepless nights with a newborn, I found that songs in minor keys work well...americana stuff especially: "Do you hear, that lonesome whippoorwill? he sounds too blue to fly "...sung more like margo timmins (cowboy junkies) than hank williams...know any sad, cowboy songs? it's worth a try.

4:40 PM  
Raza Rumi said...

What a sweet post indeed.
Just a little note on the translation of "Khoya Khoya Chand": this line could also be interpreted as the moon that is feeling lost on the horizon - like the lover who feels lost without the beloved. And, such yearning causes sleeplessness.

Happy parenting!

2:11 PM  

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