How the Bengali Father Has Mastered the Art of Serial Napping

Modern Family

How the Bengali Father Has Mastered the Art of Serial Napping

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Like most Bengali daughters, I too saw several scattered traces of my father in Amitabh Bachchan’s comic turn as the hypochondriac Bhashkor Banerjee while watching Shoojit Sircar’s Piku.

For most Digene-loving Bongs, it’s the not-so-quiet battle that Bhashkor wages with constipation. But for me, it was a brief, unremarkable moment during the film’s road trip that sealed the deal – Bhashkor comfortably naps in the car, minutes have having an animated debate with his daughter Piku. Each time I watch this scene, I’m instantly transported back to the Sunday afternoons where lunch would be preceded and followed by Baba napping away in abandon, unperturbed by responsibilities, two noisy daughters, and the blaring sound of Rabindrasangeet.

In a way, with that scene in Piku, Sircar successfully encapsulates the one true love of almost every Bengali father: afternoon naps. I’m certain it’s probably what Baba must be doing right now.

Growing up, I was sure of two things: If I dutifully tricked my sister into gulping down fruit seeds, her stomachs could open its very own Nature’s Basket and that Baba was fluent in afternoon nap-speak. He had after all napped through celebrations, arguments, vacations, movies, suffocating train journeys, and wailing babies on flights. Although, afternoon is his favourite time for a nap, my father isn’t one to discriminate: Not only can he easily nap at any time of the day, but he has also mastered the art of taking multiple naps in a single day. And still go straight to bed at 10 pm after yelling out his trademark announcement, “Onek hoyechhe, ebar ghum pachhe. (Enough for the day, time to sleep).”

For Baba, a nap isn’t just another state that his body goes into when held hostage by fatigue, a full meal, or an evening of physical activity. Instead, he has always pursued napping like a hobby. He actively sets aside exclusive time for practising this art: Weekend outings are planned around his nap schedule. You see, before Netflix was even invented, my father had gone ahead and created his own brand of entertainment: Snore and Kill.

Believe it or not, it takes Baba even lesser time to fall asleep than it takes Usain Bolt to win a race.

At home, “Baba ghumachhe” (Father is sleeping), was the standard line that my mother would generously use on my sister and me to shut us up the moment we threatened to burst into a noisy bout of wrestling. Not that it would have mattered, because at this point I’m confident that my father could have napped through EDM music and the noisiest Ganpati visarjan that Mumbai has to offer. I think the geniuses of my generation, who demand a conducive environment for sleeping that involves curtains pulled down in a certain angle, fan on a particular speed, an eye mask, and a bed made of unicorns, could learn a thing or two.

What I’m still most fascinated about, even after two decades of witnessing him launch into sudden snores, is that it takes Baba even lesser time to fall asleep than it takes Usain Bolt to win a race. He could fall asleep mid-conversation, argument, or while watching a Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal penalty shootout. There’s no power in this world that can stop my father from dozing off.

But he isn’t alone —  Calcutta is full of quiet, wise fathers who have long adopted afternoon naps as a shared reaction to happiness, affection, anger, and exhaustion. I suppose, for a generation that worked grueling nine-to-five government jobs to provide for their families, their afternoon siesta must have doubled up as their daily vacation – one that they could encash without approved leaves.

I’m also certain that it was these group of nameless fathers who heralded a Bengali language of relaxation. It’s a well-known fact that Bengalis and “lyadh khawa” (being lazy) are as incomplete without each other as Fardeen Khan and his double chin. Just like him, for us, excelling at doing something that requires the least bit of effort is a state of being. And if every Bengali father’s affinity toward naps is any proof, I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that this lyadh culture was actually officiated by them.

After all, it isn’t hard to imagine a congregation of hundreds of Bengali fathers — with stomachs full of maach bhaat (fish and rice) — convinced that the only way we will ever attain world peace, is if they start napping the moment the clock strikes 2 pm.

Come to think of it, it’s a peculiar legacy to pass down to your children. When people my age shared their father’s interest in gardening, music, or academics, my father on the other hand, taught me the art of napping. I’ve lost count of the number of afternoons both of us have just headed straight to the bed, “paash-balish” (side-pillow) in tow. Growing up, I used to be embarrassed to tell people that the one thing I’d inherited from my father was a passion for snores. But now that I think of it, Baba ended up teaching me one of the most important life lessons: You can never have too much of afternoon naps or your own company.