I was fast asleep. I dreamt that some bandit had sneaked into my room. He had grabbed me by my arms as I lay in the bed. I tried to free myself from his clutches and but he had pinned me down so hard that I could not move.
Struggling hard, I managed to rain some blows on my marauder. He returned some with his full might. I kept abusing and cursing him as our fist-fight went on. My violent action and the weird and unintelligible sounds woke up my wife who lay by my side.
Trying to calm me down, she held me by my wrists. However, resenting her “intervention” in my bid to teach the bandit the lesson of his life, I unwittingly hit her also. I pushed her back with a violent jerk. Poor lady! I was shrieking at the top of my voice. The scene that I created at that ghostly hour was sufficient to scare her. But she remained composed.
Angrily she asked, “What happened?”
Still half asleep, I mumbled, “You keep away. I am setting this man right.”
Now it was her turn to reply in the same coin which she did. She jolted me out of my sleep. I woke up huffing and puffing and told her about the “intruder” in our house.
When I came back to my senses, she grumbled that she had been hurt by my flailing arm, for which I apologised profusely. I was made to sip some water and advised to go to sleep, which I sheepishly did.
This was not an isolated instance. For a long time, I have been experiencing these episodes described in medical terminology as REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD). The symptoms are said to include movements like kicking, punching or jumping from bed in response to action-filled or violent dreams. Often, I see myself being chased or being attacked physically and I ‘defend’ myself from the attack, shouting, screaming, making noises — at times laughing, making emotional outcries and cursing.
The genesis lies in an incident that took place when I must have been 6-7 year old. While having dinner alone, I was served by the family cook on the ground floor of our three-storey house when I heard some commotion. A neighbour had come to inform our family that he had seen two burglars suspiciously moving out of our house with tin boxes and other bulky stuff.
Later, it turned out that the boxes contained jewellery and other valuables. Those days, bank lockers were not used. Most people chose to keep them at home.
Leaving me alone in the kitchen, the cook ran away to join others to the scene of the crime. I was overtaken by the eerie silence and the fear that the criminals might come and attack me. That fright seems to have taken a deep root in my mind. More than 70 years have passed since then but it manifests now and then.
Quite often, it has caused embarrassing situations — both to me and my hosts, especially when my weird nocturnal screams and sounds have made attendants rush to my hotel room or the guesthouse I may be staying in. Interestingly, the pattern of my outbursts remains identical.
Having experienced it all my life, these episodes do not worry me. But it certainly means much to my spouse who has to bear the brunt of my “encounters”, quite often with threat to her limbs.
Unfortunately, whenever I have broached the subject with somebody, they dismissed it with contempt. And so, I continue to put up a strong fight with my imaginary attackers in the dead of the night, every now and then.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.