The Sounds of Silence

In the  early 60s Simon and Garfunkel sang: “Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision … that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence”

What is this sound of silence? Remember the most severe punishment given to man is solitary confinement: where he can talk to no one, and hear no one else. But even that imposed silence has shown great resilience. In school/college I read Papillon, the autobiography of Henri Charriere, who escaped his incarceration in French Guiana. His loneliness and imposed silence actually became his strength. I was so impressed by this story  that I even considered getting a tattoo made of a butterfly (papillon) on my chest. Fortunately tattoo artists were few and far between then. Or take the more recent case of Nelson Mandela. Large parts of his 27 years in prison were spent in solitude and reflection. And whatever that silence spoke to him, made “Madiba” ( Father of the Nation) successfully dismantle apartheid, as the first elected Black President of South Africa. His inspiration? our own Bapu, Father of our Nation, who actively propagated the power of “moun vrat” whether to silence the feuding Congress leaders or to end the religion fired Hindu Muslim riots. Even his policy of non-violence was a silent reply to the violence of the British. Finally the “Empire where the sun ever sets” bowed down. Indeed, so great  is the power of silence!!

My personal brush with the power of silence was when I first enrolled for the Vipassana meditation course of Goenkaji at Igatpuri. Having been a part of a garrulous HR profession, and a successful IR manager of large plants at that, I was curious to explore the power of silence. And  10 days I spent in “arya maun” ( when you walk with your eyes to the ground so that by chance you do not catch some other person’s eye and have a “conversational exchange”…through the medium of eyes! Those 10 days have been the most eloquent period of my life. Going within, exploring oneself, listening to the silence within, and all around you, were spiritually awakening.  At the end of 10 days, you just don’t want it to end. Much like the peace and quietude you feel after an amazing concert. When the silence speaks so much,  words become meaningless.

But then what about the real world? I always wondered how Gandhi must have managed the silences of Kasturba!! Breathes there a husband (or a boy friend) who has not got the “silent treatment” from his significant other and understood the power of silence first hand? It goes somewhat like this: ” What happened?” “Nothing” “But then why are you silent?” (No answer) “If you are feeling something, why don’t you say so?” (Silence) “Would you like to tell me what is wrong?” “Nothing” “Please…will you say what you are thinking?” “There is no point. It is better I remain silent” Tell me truthfully, how often has this dialogue played out in your life? Of course, let us not blame wives and girlfriends alone. Our mothers’ strongest punishment to the family was the same: utilizing the power of silence. So we know the strength of the unspoken word. If you have hurt someone, silence can be their loudest cry. By their silence and ignoring you, they are giving you a signal. Silence can sometimes be so deafeningly loud!

Much later, Garfunkel talking about The Sound of Silence summed up the song’s  meaning as “the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly intentionally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.”

Is this not a travesty of justice? People in love should be ebullient and suffused with laughter and good feelings. Their cup should be over flowing, and they should just not have enough time and space, to express their love for one another. But what we actually see and experience is the deafening sound of silence. Is this distance and separation ingrained in the very concept of love? Is it by chance that all “true” love stories are stories of unrequited love? Heer Ranzha; Romeo Juliet; Shirin Farhad are all cases in point.

And yet silence can be healing. It can be empowering. It can be fulfilling. To me, true love is finding that someone with whom you can sit and be silent. Silence is heavenly. Silence is holy. Silence is healing. It is only people who are comfortable with one another, who can sit side by side and be silent. In his characteristic style Woody Allen says “God is silent. Now if only man would shut up!” In speaking about silence, you have already broken it!! Silence is not a weakness : in fact it is a strength. True love and silence are blood brothers & conjoined at the hip at that.

As our dear Gulzar tells us so well: “Pyaar koi bol nahin , pyaar awaaz nahi
Ek khamoshi hai, sunti hai kaha karti hai…
…Sirf ehsaas hai yeh, rooh se mehsoos karo
Pyar ko pyar hi rehne do, koi naam na do” True love by its nature is silent. It speaks a language that is beyond words. It truly imbibes the sounds of silence.

Which is why Jalaluddin Rumi  said: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”                                                                                                 So be silent. Enjoy and revel in silence. Let silence engulf you and take you beyond.

Come, let us jointly immerse into the sounds of silence: vikas


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