Tag Archives: Dream

The Sandman 7: Brief Lives – The Nuances of Metafiction

Brief Lives (The Sandman, #7)Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

<spoiler alert>

This is a fairly straightforward story in an otherwise complex, meandering narrative, probably because this is the turning point for the larger Sandman story leading into its big climax.

It starts by reminding the reader of a sacred, severed head on a desolate Greek island, that has a connection to the Endless family. Leaving the reader with that thought, the story moves on to the thus far neglected character of Delirium, the youngest, most tragic of the Endless. Delirium is in disrepair,  floating bewildered in chaotic surroundings and once mistaking a stranger for her sister Death. Luckily she is rescued (or is that the bystanders who’re rescued?) from her meltdown, by Desire frequenting the same BDSM-themed private party. That Desire’s arena slightly overlaps with Delirium in a place such as this, is the first of many meta-fiction flourishes in this book.

Delirium breaks down (literally into colourful butterflies) before confessing that she misses her brother Destruction. But as neither Desire nor its twin Despair support her quest, Delirium reluctantly goes in search of Dream. Dream is in the throes of heartbreak when Delirium reaches him (another meta-fiction touch). This chapter where the two siblings talk is one of the sweetest, most heart-wrenching pieces in the entire Sandman arc. Even Dream’s forbidding, aloof aura is melted by Delirium’s touching vulnerability and he agrees to aid her on her quest.

The story follows their adventures as they hunt down Destruction’s old friends to seek him out. Every lead runs dry or dies mysteriously. The most wonderful of these stories is their meeting with Ishthar, a strip-club dancer with a history that even a colleague with a degree in Women’s Studies, doesn’t recognize. I loved this story for two ideas that it brought to fore – the origin (and death) of gods and that Love and Destruction are soulmates.

Dream returns from his quest empty-handed and much changed by its experiences. A sibling relationship has been rekindled, a missing sibling found and lost again, a love laid to rest and finally, a prophesy sought and paid for, with dire consequences. As Despair puts it, “You cannot seek Destruction and return unscathed.”

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The Sandman 2: The Doll’s House – Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

<spoiler alert>

The second book in the Sandman series begins with an insight into the Dream Lord’s troubled love life. From the tale of Nada, we are introduced to Desire, who is possibly the second most intriguing character in this entire universe, after Dream. Desire is one of the younger Endless siblings, after Destiny, Death & Dream. Desire is both male and female, whimsical, cruel and is described in the following manner:

“Is there something you crave?

Something sexual? Something precious? Someone special? Anything?
Then you have felt it. It’s there – in the longing, in the lust, the breath of Desire, the caress of the threshold.”

The story then abruptly moves on to The Walker family, scattered across the globe and finding each other in a series of unbearably dramatic circumstances. The eldest Walker is Unity Kincaid (One of the ‘sleep sickness’ victims from the first book), the youngest is harbouring demons in his head that are actually dreams gone rogue from their realm, during the Sandman’s imprisonment. The narrative moves on to a serial killers’ convention, an abused 11-year-old boy and the weird story playing out in his head with an alternate Sandman. Right through the middle of the book, the narrative is interrupted by a shorter Dream story, “Men of Good Fortune” which talks about an unusual friendship. This back-and-forth style, interspersed with anecdotes and peppered with references to history, fantasy, religion and folklore, sets the tone for how the Dream narrative unfolds across the remaining books too – just like regular dreams.

I loved “Men of Good Fortune” for its brilliant lines (a regular Sandman characteristic) but also because it provided respite from the harsh grittiness of the Walker story. Rose Walker is an important character in the larger narrative and this sequence of events, necessary for the story as it goes on. But still, it is a brutal tale and moments of sweetness provided by these shorter stories are what keep it palatable for us.

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The Sandman 1: Preludes & Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and NocturnesThe Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

<spoiler alert>

The first book of The Sandman series starts with the magical (and mistaken) imprisonment of the Sandman, Lord of the dream realm, also variously known as Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros, Kai’ckul and many other names. The book doesn’t give you a minute to absorb the magnitude of this idea at all but drops you right into a story with dramatic flourishes, spanning over 70 years, multiple realms and various characters from fiction, fantasy & folklore.

The Sandman is captured by a bunch of wizards hoping to trap Death instead. In a quandary over their powerful prisoner, they decide to keep him enchained. The effect of this is felt all over the world with people falling into a ‘sleep sickness’. After Dream manages to escape, he goes in search of his tools – his helmet, a ruby and his pouch of dream sand. Along the way, he encounters the destruction caused to his own realm, the escape of several wayward dream figures. He also meets John Constantine (another DC comics character), duels with a demon in Lucifer’s Hell and battles with a psychotic killer called Doctor Dee, for his ruby.

The artwork is gristly and rough-edged, presumably to convey the acute experiences of Dream in this tale. It also has an odd superhero comic feel to it, which disappears later in the series (except for an occasional resurfacing here and there in a story).

Perhaps because of the powerful narrative and strong characters, you never stop to wonder what it all means till much later, but just go along with Dream’s adventures as you would any other character. But lines like “I am hope” (from ‘A Hope in Hell’) stay with you long after the page has been turned.

If you’re not a comic book or superhero fan, don’t let the nuances of these put you off Sandman. The story rises above these genres and really grows in the later books. This is definitely one of the masterpieces of our generation.

View all my reviews or just The Sandman reviews.

Sandman: Endless Nights – Neil Gaiman – A Collector’s Copy

The Sandman: Endless NightsThe Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This standalone book could well serve as an introduction to the Sandman universe or simply be a collector’s piece. Each story tells about one of the seven Endless siblings – Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium.

Some, like the ones on Death, Desire & Destruction feature them as characters appearing for a very short while in the tales. This is the style of several of the stories in the main Sandman books. The Dream chapter has an important plot turn in the larger Sandman narrative. Despair and Delirium, as perhaps befits their characters have portraitures that convey the ideas they stand for, more through visuals than stories. Destiny alone, has a narrative that is a simple, factual (if somewhat poetic) introduction to the character.

Each story has been illustrated by a different artist and the rendering and narrative style stays true to the tone of the character that the story describes.

My favorite story of all was ‘What I have tasted of Desire’. Milo Manara’s artwork depicts blatant innuendo in each panel, in keeping with the personality of Desire. The story contains my favorite Sandman lines of all: “Most people want things like a candle-flame, flickering, shifting. You, on the other hand, want like a forest fire.”

This is a book I’d give as a gift and treasure my own copy, never to be shared.

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Word Work

Reading ‘Advice for Writers’ -compiled by Jon Winokur. Sometimes it gets a laugh out of me. Several of the insights are valuable. But each time I’m suddenly overcome by the panicky sense of what-am-I- doing-here and have to look away.

When the realisation of your dream and how close it is makes you want to throw up your breakfast, is there any hope for you? No. You were doomed from the first word.


In the midst of a crowd
And imprisoned behind the bars of indifference
You still reached out your heart to me
Through the tiny windows of your eyes

And in that look, that one look,
I caught hold,
swearing I wouldn’t let go
Till I’d traced it to its source

At the other end of that glance,
What I found,
Tied me to you
Profoundly, irrevocably

But know this,
My memories of freedom come with me
And someday they’ll be yours too
And till then, the dream of wings will carry me out

You with me.
Because, like I said,
I won’t let go
Irrevocably, profoundly

Crashing Point

I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to. I stared in the direction of the wall in trepedition. I knew the clock’s hands were inching towards the crashing point. Perhaps they had already passed. I was too scared to switch on the light and check. If they had passed the point, then well, I would have crashed.

The crashing point is a concept rather than a position of the clock’s hands. When you are a kid, it’s about 43 minutes after your bedtime. At least it was for the kid me.
As you get older, you push the hands of the clock with your eyelids, daring them to crash on you. They never did on the rebellious me.
And I was duly packed off to bed to lie in wait for an extra 15 minutes for pushing bedtime by about that much. The crashing point knows when you’ve started waiting for it. At least mine did.

By the time you are an adult, you’ve gone a few rounds with the bedtime and you’ve lost a few of those bouts. Each time that happens, it is a surprise considering how infrequent it is, compared to how often you seem to win. And it’s a crashing defeat, please pardon the pun. At least it was for me.

The thing about the crashing point is that you really know where it is, after you’ve crashed a few times. That sounds almost Zen doesn’t it? There has to be a reason meditation always felt like a walk into the long, dark hallway with crashing point waiting at the end of it. And in my best times, we danced together, each one showing off our prowess at being able to return to our original places if we so desired.

Then I lost my crashing point.

A few years ago, I started to experience the frantic panic of not being able to get to crashing point at all. It wasn’t exactly insomnia. I woke up in the morning after all and that’s only possible if you have fallen asleep in the first place. And yet, the waking up felt like something else. Like sleep was an intercontinental cruise, a long, engaging journey whose start and end were clearly demarcated and noticeable. This, what I was experiencing, felt more like a tentative wade into dirty seawater and being yanked back, wet and sticky. That feeling wouldn’t go away for the rest of the day. The blurry, topheavy feeling of carrying an entire aeroplane on your head, being afraid to shake your head too much for fear you’d topple right over.

I don’t know now, whether that was necessarily a bad thing. The distance, the absorbedness, the sheer effort it took to just focus that numbed out most of what else was happening to me…I suppose that’s what people otherwise take to drugs and booze for.

The few times I did sleep heavily and well, I woke up feeling like my eyelids were stretched back a little too wide and they might tear in the corners. The day began bright and chirpy with a nursery rhyme ‘early to bed, early to rise’. And then I’d go into the day. A high heel grind into my bare toes. A toenail sluice right off and hang mid-way. A missed station. The sun burning hot, so hot, I had to yank my arm out of the sunlight or turn my face away. And then people. Faces. Expressions. Annoyance. Resentment. Pettiness. Fakeness. Joy, not for me. Jealousy. Bitterness. Bile. And as afternoon arrived, exhaustion.

And eventually, without thinking about it at all, I fell off the sleep bandwagon. Back into oblivion. Crashpointless. Up all night reading. Or so I said. Reading for awhile. Staring at the ceiling. A meditation on the dusty corners. Zen with a dust bunny. Lights out after awhile. Staring at the lights outside my window. An auto creaking its way down the road. Two in the a.m. and this city is still awake. I hated those kind of realizations so I took to shutting the window and curtaining it off even in the height of summer. The tchuk-tchuk of the fan was my background score for each nighttime drama.

Sometimes I’d replay a situation of the day. And then all over again with a different ending. Or a different twist in the story midway. And over again. And again. And again. And before I knew it, the other people were being replaced by childhood bullies, by ex-boyfriends, by screaming teachers or parents, by other people. Who says you need to sleep to dream? Waking nightmares are the real thing.

Who needs drugs, I wrote? Your body is the factory of chemicals, your brain the lab, the projector room and the control panel. I dosed on such potent fare each night. Occasionally I dozed as well, waking up to find my cheeks wet. It was delicious, the pain. And the hangover, devastatingly nauseating.

What I think is this. Living, it hurts. It heals as well but that takes time. And when your life is about bigger, faster, better, right now, there’s no time to even count your wounds or even stem the bleeding. And little by little you’re wearing away till all that’s left of you is a wraith. I’ve always had a talent for self-preservation, unconsciously, that kicks in when my masochism transcends adventure and goes into the realm of being serious. Insomnia was a drug. It had me out cold, just enough to be able to sustain the daily farce but inside a glass case of unfeeling. I would never have been able to bear it otherwise.

It has been awhile since I left behind the life I led, the person I was then. I find myself laughing much more. Sarcasm doesn’t come as often as it used to. And talking, really saying what I think or feel…I do and I wonder why I thought it so difficult. The world behaves differently too. People are nice. Or stupid. Sometimes I cry. A lot actually. And even in the middle of conversations or with other people. That’s news. That’s new. I never used to be able to cry, I think.

I spend days on end just stringing together moments the way kids put beads together. And then one day I can suddenly do everything and anything. A social outing. All the housework ever. Writing. In buckets and waterfalls of words. A blogpost. New chapters on the book. Short stories. And then a word document just because I’ve already posted and how would it look if I shot off 10 posts in a day after nothing for 10 days?

I sleep a lot these days. 12 hours sometimes. And then, 7 hours later, I’m drifting into deep sleep for another 10 hours again. I say, my body is making up for all that sleep deprivation of the years. But I don’t really need that kind of rest and relaxation, not after nine months, not after virtually zero exercise. It isn’t the heat, it isn’t depression and wanting to hide away. I think what it is, is making peace with the crashing point. Whoever called sleep, the little death or a sibling of death was seeing things the way I am. A little death every night allows you a new life every day. It is about succumbing, about giving in, about acceptance. Let go and tomorrow there will be a new person in a new world and how she takes the day is her problem. Today is over and not your worry any more.

I don’t know where the crashing point is. I’ve been staying up all night some nights and through the next day. Or sleeping for a couple of hours interspersed with bouts of talking and writing. Or slept through the hottest part of the day and awake at both of the cool ends. It’s around somewhere, I know it is. I won’t worry. It’ll happen to me. Perhaps it already is happening. The body can and does take care of itself. Its rhythms can even take tampering, just not micromanaging. The crashing point needs to have its own anonymity.

Warty Toads & Muddy Suits

Damn it all! No more coffee for me. Even if it’s only one cup of filter coffee in the morning and a Tropical Iceberg in the evening. It makes my brain wuzzy by nighttime. It might have been okay to dream about monsters and stuff that scares you. What about stuff that disgusts you? Where most people have nightmares, my subconscious dregs out warty toads.

I dreamed of an ex-. For those of you who know me well, if I told you who this was, you’d stare at me in wonderment. Yes, not one of those major things, just a short by-the-by one that passed with no major damages on either side.

If it was weird to dream about him, the dream itself was even weirder. I dreamt that he accused me of taking his suit and throwing it in the mud. And the suit! What a suit! The minute I saw it, I knew that if my dreams were literature, they’d be classified as parodies. It was a beige horror in 80s style with humongous shoulder pads, white piping (a la brass band uniform) and with the jacket ending sharply at the waist. Hain?

Then the phone rang and it turned out to be my stupid phone company asking for the third time about a bill I’ve already paid. I don’t know which was more disgusting – the call or the dream. Apparently my subconscious knew so I drifted back into the same damn dream.

The ex- pointed at me and I sat back in smug nervousness thinking that the very idea was ludicrous. Mud splotches on a suit were so contrived! But he held it up and there were no splotches, only these glaring yellow patches which looked like clothes that have been unsuccessfully laundered after being used to mop up oil.

And no one seemed to believe me. Then I ran out to find a car pulling out which had one person who I had thought might sort out the mess. But he turned his face on me and pulled away. And I started bawling (how mortifying!)

Mercifully the phone rang again. And brought me to enough sane wakefulness to hope that that stupid dream is behind me! So this very rambling, ranting post is a thank you to my knight-in-shining-armour who woke me up this morning and rescued me from the parody-dragon in my head!


I’ve just discovered a kink in my sexual make-up. I have a thing for gender role switching. That’s not men dressing in lingerie (eww, gross!). It’s a woman who’s sexy because she’s wearing a guy’s long tee-shirt that comes down to mid-thigh. It’s the breath-catching oomph of a rolled-up cuff revealing a slender arm. Or ooh…a chunky, sporty man’s watch on a delicate female wrist.

How about the reverse? Hrithik Roshan gliding across an airport, pink tee-shirt, coloured sunglasses glory, the cool criminal in Dhoom 2. Oh he kills me, he kills me.

But the true master, the one that transcends gender, who takes sexuality beyond female or male has to be Sting. A voice that feels like a caress…of a man’s tongue. When he lifts one foot to step forward and a field of golden corn springs up within him, it makes me think…that’s the kind of sex that makes life, it makes you come alive.

How come all the lead guitarists, the famous ones, the images you have of a rockstar…are all male? There’s obviously something vaguely sexy about a guitar. The curvaceous soundbox, the long phallic arm and what about the strumming? I’ve played the guitar and I know it doesn’t have to be held at crotch-level. And yet, why not? It goes from song-making to love-making.

I’d love to be straddling a guitar with my torso, strumming in tune to the master, letting his melody caress my song.


Oh, it’s my phone. That buzz in my pocket feels so good.

Down with flu. Can’t make it to practice today.


My mother’s grim throat-clearing conveys that she is very, very angry about my checking my phone in church.

It’s about choir practice.

Her thin-line mouth is a pointed reminder that we are still in church and I’m talking. I drop my gaze and shut up.

Twenty minutes later, I am settled in as comfortably as is possible in the confessional. Why do they make these seats so uncomfortable? Probably to punish the confessors for the sins they confess to.

Yes, my child.

Father, I have sinned.

Tell me about this thing you have done.

It’s not something I did. I’ve been having…wrong thoughts.

Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep brooding silence. Presumably to make me ponder on my wrongdoing. Shame me into confessing all and purging my sins.

The silence is music. The silence is sexy in its own way.

About what, child?

About three notes too low. But low is good. It takes me higher. Go down, down further, go down on me.

I’ve been thinking of quitting the choir.

The silence is different now. Taut tension knife-edge sharp like the orchestra falling away to leave just that one high-pitched note behind.

I want to be in a rock band instead.


I take a bow.


Epilogue: This piece was the result of a writing exercise in a fiction-writing workshop conducted by Manisha Lakhe and Annie Zaidi.

The participants were asked to write down one secret, drop it into a box. These were shuffled and everyone was given an anonymous secret and asked to write something about it.

The secret I received was,

Always dreamed of being a lead guitarist and performing with Sting.

The exercise made me think about the kinds of secrets we keep, the smaller ones that may become life-changing decisions some day…or just stay as that random debris in our minds, occasionally seeping over like the stench of sewage into our dreams.

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