The Birth of Silence
This is about a time when Silence did not exist. Humans did not know that they could stop talking, and chaos was the norm. If a person stayed silent for over five seconds on a certain day, he would be taken to the doctor for examination for some disease of the tongue or throat.
People talked in their sleep. They talked while writing. They talked while running.
There were still a few people who talked comparatively less. They were sent to an asylum. When asked by their neighbors, their family members would wipe off tears from the corners of their eyes and tell them that the poor person had been diagnosed with a rare disease called ‘introversion’ which affected only one in five thousand people. The neighbors, however, were just like ours. They simply nodded, sighed, sympathized and went on with their lives.
This is a story set in that era:
Once upon a time, there were a couple of friends. They talked – too much, of too many Things, and still not enough. They knew – too much of each other, and perhaps, still not enough. They thought – together, of too many theories, of too many dreams, of too much philosophy. And they wrote them down on some fresh white tissue-paper, so they could think about them later. And of course, they spoke as they wrote.
One night, just before one of them pulled up the covers and turned off the table-lamp, Things in his head decided to strike up a conversation all by themselves, and they had a rift. They split into Small Things and Big Things. That was the first night he cried into his pillow – splits were never easy, were they? But often, they were essential.
He wiped his tears with their tissue papers that night – the ones that still had her handwriting on them, and he ruined them.
The next morning, he woke up in a haze. His head ached a little – it must be the remnant memories of the split, he decided. And he wanted to write it all down, to document it all before the grief dissolved into a tolerable hum at the back of his mind. He wanted to photograph every second of the split and browse through them frame by frame so he could point out the exact moment that Things had separated the slightest bit, go back in time and erase that moment from history.
But time travel was yet only an abstract concept in his world.
The next time he talked to his friend, he discovered he could only tell her about Small Things: the weather, the city, the smoke in the buses, the teachers, the subjects, the places he wanted to visit, the temperature of the drink in his hand.
Big Things went missing – because he decided they would be unacceptable to her. He could never tell her that the only time he had loved a sunrise, was when she had been standing next to him; that the only time coffee did not taste bitter was when he was too engrossed in her words to notice; that the only time a touch did not feel foreign was when the crowd at a party made her uncomfortable, and she tightened her grip on his arm.
And from thereon, every time they talked, their conversations were tinted with the undercurrents of Big Things, like soft whispers, like guilty confessions, like footsteps on a carpet of feathers, like beating hearts, like things that were meant to be hidden, but couldn’t hide.
Small Things disapproved of this. They thought that this undercurrent was taking the limelight away from them, and they hated it. They always hated the idea of being unimportant. So, they called an emergency meeting with Big Things and it was jointly decided that Big Things would be given a separate time in the conversation to be talked about.
This was a very good solution, and Things were proud that they had taken such a wise decision. But to everyone’s disappointment, Big Things could never make it. Instead, they would get stuck in the throat, because their owner still decided they would be unacceptable to his friend. And the time in the conversation allotted to Big Things remained empty. But obviously, emptiness was unacceptable too. So, Big Things and Small Things had to call in another emergency meeting to decide what the empty time in the middle of the conversations should be called.
That was the day ‘Silence’ was born – to shroud all Big Things, to make a conversation more ‘acceptable’, to add filters to thoughts, and to scoop up love and squash it into the darkest boxes.
This is just another incomplete story, about just a couple of incomplete people. And even though this happened a long time ago, this is the reason some of us are still uncomfortable with silence in conversations. Not because we are embarrassed of not having anything to talk about, but because since then, silence sounds a lot like Big Things – like love. And who in this world is comfortable with love?
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