torightleft

Piecing, seizing a monumental sleep

In ARCHITECTURE, SLEEP, TOURISM on December 20, 2012 at 9:41 pm

In June 2012, I was going through photographs of my trip to Hiran Minar (Deer Tower/Palace of the Antelope) in Sheikhupura, when I noticed an unexpected detail: a man sleeping in the upper chamber of one of the structures. I couldn’t remember if I had seen him when I had been there. Nevertheless, my camera had allowed me to zoom in, and I could now look at the sleeping man’s figure for as long as desired. Or until I found some answers as to why he was sleeping at a site others come to see with their eyes wide open.
Take me, for example. In order to get to the Minar I had hired a car and a driver. The day trip from Lahore took eight hours with stops and cost seven thousand rupees, all for a chance to marvel at an architectural beauty, a monument erected in memory of a pet antelope of the royals.
On subsequent trips to monuments in Lahore’s inner city, I looked around to see if anyone was sleeping. I looked in the upper story balconies, up at the roofs of graffitied buildings, and in gardens under the shade of a Neem (Mahogany family) or Kikkar (type of Acacia). I saw men sleeping in all five of the monuments I write about on this blog.
K., a guide at the Lahore fort who has been in the profession for over twenty years, said, “Why not, they [the visitors] come from everywhere. Let them sleep.” It wasn’t odd to him that people came and slept in the spaces, as opposed to taking his tour or listening to his stories. It wasn’t odd to him that they didn’t want to look carefully.
Some of the reasons why men sleep in the buildings are simple: it is very hot in Punjab in the summer. The buildings of the Mughal period are constructed so they allow for cool and nicely ventilated spaces in which one can rest or recline. Most of the sleepers are locals who use the buildings’ grounds as rest stop on their way to and from work. As locals, many cherish the openness of the structures, something lacking in the inner city’s residential houses (which Kipling describes as rather dreadful in one of his stories). My friend A., who grew up in the inner city, says that these spaces are where people come to be with themselves: “These may be the only moments they have away from their families, away from food cooking and ironing boards, their mother’s nagging, or their sister’s peeking into their secret notebooks.”
Aside from the reasons listed above, what is important to me is that by sleeping in the buildings the men begin to own the buildings. What could be better than owning one’s heritage by becoming part of it?
In the Western notion of viewership, “spectacle” is very much the point of visiting a monument and experiencing spectacle requires keeping one’s eyes open. By sleeping, these men refuse to partake in spectacle in a way that others do while posing for photographs.
I was in Italy in the mid 90s, while I don’t remember how people interacted with  monuments there I do remember ordered queues to get into museums and areas that  sometimes were cordoned off. For example, at the time, entry into the tower of Pisa was denied as the tower was unable to withstand the weight of climbing bodies. In contrast, sleeping in or on a monument is a way of being one with our surroundings. We are most free and able to be ourselves in spaces where we can stretch out and relax. Peoples’ interaction with the monuments in Lahore is not only an acceptance of the monuments in their lives, but also practical relief for the sleep weary.
Should one preserve or make precious? Partake and enjoy? Stretch out in the structures?
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Attempting a monumental sleep
If I was going to write about “monumental” sleep, I had to experience it (at least as a nap).
However, not having seen women sleeping in public, I did not want to lie down at any of the major monuments, which are always busy. I chose a minor monument to carry out my experiment: Dai Anga’s mosque on GT road (Dai Anga was wet nurse to Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan).
Known as Gulabi Chowki to locals, Dai Anga’s mosque is tiled in fine cuts of orange and green on the outside. In broad daylight, I jumped over the wall to get into the building. It seems the city does not want to maintain the monument so they have left it as is, only installing a padlock at the entrance. Indoors, it was grey and the stone floor, lovely and cool. Besides A. and me there was a group of twelve-year olds smoking on the rooftop. The interior was calm and perfect for sleeping, but within a few minutes we found used syringes in the garden. I didn’t lie down after that.
For me, the discovery of the syringes took the experiencing of monuments to a whole other place. What is the city’s responsibility to preserve monuments? What was my responsibility in jumping over the wall? Or my responsibility to the children hanging around the building?
I’m leaving you with rules on how to interact with a monument (from the Badshahi Mosque, translation forthcoming):
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  1. This is a lovely portrait of monuments decaying gracefully, more receptive to common people that they must have been in their heyday.

    Also interesting that women do not tend to sleep in public. Too bad – it is a wonderful thing to feel safe enough to do this. To trust your fellow beings and yes to have the history of the building seep into you, perhaps gelding you with heroism or you, the sleeper, making the building humble, realizing its new role, new job will be protector of the the people.

    Christopher Alexander’s pattern #94 Sleeping in Public similarly draws attention to this seemingly simple act which carries so many indication as to the health of a community.

    If you see lichen growing on a tree in a northern city – you know the air quality is good. Lichen dies in pollution.

  2. Thanks for the reference to C. Alexander’s text, Dawn. I’m going to have to look up his work!

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