The revenge of the larks: Early risers take on night owls

  • Manu Joseph, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 23, 2015 08:36 IST

That ‘sleeping with someone’ should mean sex, which is in reality an alert aerobic activity, is an underserving tribute to the night. It was probably invented by late-risers, who have always exerted significant cultural influence. But even this mediocre idiom points to a fact — that modern life is designed in such a way that the best things usually occur in the night time. Social life is, as it has been for decades, the monopoly of the generally unhealthy late-risers.

What must the larks do? Forgoing decadence is a low price to pay for the pleasure of waking up early and the activities that follow. But sacrificing social life is a different matter. Some larks endure the nights, for professional and emotional reasons, and they pass through the gaiety wondering if it is really worth missing the dawn. There are owls that are, in reality, closet larks. Some larks don’t even try, they just skip the late-nights even though they accept that by missing the company of interesting or useful people their own lives are impoverished.

It now appears that there might be a rebellion of the larks.

In what appears to be a movement in the United States, early morning parties, where early-risers dance under the influence of fresh juice and meaningful company, are growing popular. Such parties, too, might have those daft vigilantes who imagine a degree of nobility when they drag those who do not wish to dance onto the floor, but at least it would all be in the morning.

Some parties even include a bit of yoga or what Americans would call yoga. The parties may fall on weekdays even, with the revellers heading to work after the fun. No doubt there would be many inconveniences for the larks as they try to subvert the rituals of leisure and work that the owls have built. But as the movement grows it might bring justice to the early-risers. One of the major morning parties, Daybreakers, has plans to come to India.

Frequent meetings with acquaintances, strangers and even foes in settings that resemble happy circumstances, or in other words ‘networking’, appears to be important because professional life is made up of cartels, cooperatives, fellowships and sisterhoods, and those who stay out of these associations, especially the talented, risk losing much. However, the origins of success, in many fields, lie in one’s ability to deal with solitude, which is an underrated gift. Most kinds of work and almost all artistic projects are accomplished in solitude. There is now a trend among aspiring novelists to write in groups. It is called having lunch, not writing.

To accomplish some kinds of work there is no substitute for solitude. But to promote that work, it appears, it is useful to be gregarious in the night.

In an ideal world talent would trump marketing, but the ideal world is almost a humorous thought.

“Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They are attached to people,” said the entrepreneur and a man much admired for his networking skills, Richard Stromback, in an interview that was published in the Harvard Business Review.

For the way he works the World Economic Forum, some people call him Mr Davos. When he is in Davos, he said, he naps every day, “between the hours of 4-8 pm. It’s the most efficient time to catch up on sleep so I can be fresh when the time is opportune. The opportune moments happen while dancing at one of the nightcaps or at a chateau where only a select group of people is invited. The conversations there can go on until the early morning hours.”

Powerful bonds are forged in the world as the larks sleep. And they are forged in every layer of society. Across the nation, as night falls, men sit in numerous circles in numerous places, drinking, licking pickles. They may speak of their great thoughts, and have potentially dangerous arguments. Men who are meek in the day may suddenly begin to sing a classical song.

People endure other people with help from alcohol. They become, if I may quote from one of my novels, “the men who sink into the company of other men, the veteran husbands…the men with frail thighs who have never played football but talk about football, and at other times about the superiority of Marx over Keynes…”

Journalists who are not a part of such nocturnes with the pickle-licking brotherhoods, who go back home early to their families and to rise early face abstract and tangible disadvantages. Our idea of the perfect sleep as a continuous process that must last at least eight hours is a modern notion. Sleep as we know it might be unnatural. It is probably an invention of the industrial age when people had to work through the day, hence sleep through a portion of the night.

The anthropologist Matthew J Wolf-Meyer, in his book The Slumbering Masses, (which I have not read), argues that before the industrial age changed societies across the world, people went to sleep soon after sunset and they slept in two or more short instalments through the night. In between the instalments people made love, which is understandable but they also accomplished routine chores.

It is unlikely that the present system of work and sleep would change in the foreseeable future. Most of the world would continue to work in the day and for that reason most of the world would try to get unbroken sleep at night. Some would enjoy sleeping late, some would enjoy waking up early. But what can change is the monopoly of the owls over social life. Early-riser parties have the potential to become hugely popular businesses.

And, it is possible that if people can form crucial relationships over early breakfast, a very different set of people would rise.

Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People

Twitter: @manujosephsanThe views expressed by the author are personal

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