It is very hot at the moment in Chennai, and I confess to a long siesta some afternoons. On one such, I was reading Philip Nikolayev's new collection Letters From Aldenderry (which, as I think anyone who has actually read it would agree, is a brilliant, truly astounding collection, one of the very best in recent years) and I eventually drifted into a warm sleep with the book nearby.
It was one of those soft-skied dreams, with the scent of rain approaching. I remember that at one point there were old friends, and someone with a pipe. There were several lines of poetry, but I sort of seemed to know already that, on contact with waking life, these were just going to dissemble into unimpressive doggerel. They brought pleasure nevertheless. What slowly came to dominate the dream, however, and what is now most of what I can remember, was a sound emerging from the background, a sound like that of dozens of birds (different species, different conversations) going at the same time, the way you sometimes hear it going into a park at twilight. Instinctively, on a deep physical level, I associated this sound with Philip's book, and this brought me pleasure. But there was something menacing about the sound as well—listened to with a feel for individual birds, it was an intricate network of songs and patterns, but listened to as one collective sound, it slowly moved towards insidious nightmare. There was something about death, about Philip's exhuberant book having a dark side, which somehow helped me cope and feel like something was being demonstrated to me by the dream, like I ought to sit down and figure it out. But the sound, which at points was an insistent screech, refused to go, remained always in the background.
I woke up with a sense of relief—at first. A minute or two later into waking comprehension, I noticed the sound was still there. Actually, it was being made by the ceiling fan in the bedroom, squeaking on its hinges. Some of you will know that in certain states of mind, a ceiling fan can be a terrible thing to notice, especially if it is making a multi-tonal squeaking sound that might be mistaken for a cacophony of birds. Was the fan going to fall on me? It did not, but I worried that it would fall on my grandparents who, in less than a week, were going to sleep on the same bed.