The day had started out like any other till the moment the lights went off. The old Orient fan slowed down before creaking to a halt. A light drizzle fell outside, and a lone mosquito came to life now that it did not have to contend with the whirring contraption setting up swirl upon swirl of damp air in the musty room, smelling strongly of fungus, their lives extended and strengthened by Goan monsoons.
Waking up, I noticed that it was one in the morning. A quick glance outside confirmed the blackout. A short while later, the drizzle petered out, and from somewhere in the distance came muted croaks of frogs. Otherwise there was silence. Total silence. I had drawn the windows shut, so if there were any crickets prancing about in the dark or calling out to one another for whatever reasons that crickets call out for, I wouldn't have known of it. Silence had settled her weary limbs in the room. I lit a candle and placing it on the floor lay down again, on my back.
The candle quickly came to life, casting the room in a yellow mould. I fixed my eyes on the ceiling, now cut into four sections by lumbering blades, their ungainly shadows marking out territories where they had slowly ground to a halt. Some other time, when they would cut the room into four sections after yet another blackout, the sections would diminish or increase in size, depending on where I chose to place the candle.
Unlike mirrors which compel you into paying attention to details, shadows, in extending the outlines of forms, help the eye focus on the wider context set up by shapes contorted by space constraints, and reaching out only as far as the candle allows them. I now watched the shadows the blades threw, cut by ceiling corners, elongated, and twisted into strange shapes. It was as if in their silence they had relaxed and let their bodies sag into forms worn from age, but glad to lie still once in a while.
Outside the room, darkness framed against the glow in the room had lost its contours and appeared like an unending swathe of the unfathomable, hiding shapes where they lay. The silence had made the swathe even more mysterious, and trailed faint noises in the distance like shadows. I had sobered to the realization that it is in the dark that silences acquire long strides. And though there is nothing to tell where they passed by, or how quickly, silences manage to heighten the sense that the inevitable is … well, inevitable; the inevitable of dreams, of nightmares, of hopes, and of foreboding. And knowing that there is silence to be had if it can be taken, voices cease to let ears pick up nuances we know are out there. And the small things begin to matter once more, all over again.
Even out in the wilds when you're far from the hustle of everyday living, typified by life in towns or village squares, it is never so silent. It surely matters that one lives amid noise of the kind cities come to accumulate, to enjoy the silence that comes from sudden stillness brought on by power failures, or worse still, riots. Over there, gusts of wind set up a low moan, and accompanied by rustling trees silence never quite attains the character it now did in the room, where on the wall to my right, a smiling Buddha on pink handmade paper watched over me. The head study, done by Wilson in his first year at the Goa Art college, still sat where it was put up by him before his family shifted to their new residence. The Buddha was at home now and in peace with the candle.
Beyond the room there were no utensils clattering in the kitchen, no honking vehicles, no conductor whistling from a bus, no dogs barking at real or imagined enemies, no children playing nor birds calling from trees, no conversation among friends and family, and no fan spinning about itself and contributing the reassuring sound of blades in setting up draughts of air to cool the skin and keep a persistent mosquito away. Not even a cough in the night. Nothing. Nothing at all.
It was then I became aware that I had lost touch with silence. To be able to hear my breathing, the many alienated thoughts and imagined noises of turbulent memories, once again turned into an alien experience. The silence I associated so long with the absence of people and vehicles bore little resemblance to the dark curtain with infinite folds now squatting lazily about the place.
I could hear my thoughts as they rearranged themselves into coherent entities, in the process forcing me to think about myself more clearly than anytime I can remember doing so. It was as if the mind, and hence the thoughts, did not have to contend with distractions at however subconscious a level, and as a result it could bring to focus the blurred vision that everyday living brings to bear upon every little turn fixed into strange and unfamiliar paths that destiny maps out for us. And, I could now hear my thoughts and distinguish between my priorities as if they were people extolling their attributes in a language that carried across, facilitated by the invisible whip of silence loitering with the easy exuberance of the very satisfied – and the very smug.