One of the things I like about moving house is the feeling of old things getting new lives, new spaces, new journeys. Over a month ago, Re, Bravo (our cat) and I moved into our new abode on the hill of our school campus, where I now teach and they mostly gambol.
I was overwhelmed with the new space I had, but I noticed that I quickly filled it up with things of comfort, although we moved in with just five cartons.
We do the same thing with silences. We have this desperate urge to fill it up, lest it take us to places we do not want to go to. Words are cheap. Silences take work. Most of the time, we are a bunch of overconnected adults, who, despite a cross wiring of our social media avatars, are never connected in any real way, because there are no silences between us.
Even when we take a break or go for a holiday, we fill it up with things to do, places to visit, things to buy, concerts to attend, people to meet, and so on.
We do it to our children. Sometimes I wonder how many inane sound bytes a child gets in a day. I mean there’s only so much “What’s your name?” or “What are you doing?” a child can take, especially when he knows that you don’t really care about the answer, but are just asking to fill in the void. We are so intrigued by silence that we can’t let it be.
As I get older, I’m getting drawn to silences. To people who don’t say much, yet say a lot. Children teach us about the inanity of verbosity. By never saying what they don’t mean, until we start training them to. Every time the stark simplicity of a child confronts our convoluted logic, we are reminded of how unimportant words really are in communication.
We need to find the time to be quiet with our children. We learn more from their silences (and our own) than from words.
I have noticed in my rather limited stint of five years as a parent that very few people can bear a quiet child. A majority of these are parents themselves. Talking is so much in vogue that quiet is considered boring, ancient, uncool. It is as though talking is a default state to be in and silence, an affliction.
As a teacher, I find it in my class too. Each student wants to be the one who speaks first and the loudest. But I am always interested in the quiet child, because, as a child, I never made the cut.
The first thing that struck me about my life in the slow lane was how quiet quiet could be. And how noisy my mind was in comparison. Some days, the only bell that rings is the school bell. But I wanted this. I planned this. I fought for this.
Quiet time came to us in various organic and inorganic forms. There was the quiet time at school post the morning assembly. There were silence bells at mealtime when the cacophony needed to be contained, if only for a minute. There was the ritual quiet time at sunset every day on the hill, beautifully termed Asthachal. Re who usually can be quiet for long periods somehow couldn’t comprehend the orchestrated quiet. He usually ran about, picking twigs and pretending to turn them into wands so he could turn someone into a toad (his latest obsession). Sometimes, he just picked a rock and went to sleep on it.
One day, on our walk to Asthachal, I told him. “You know that Asthachal is quiet time, right? I think it can bother other people who want to be quiet if you distract them.”
“But I wonder why we have to be quiet at Asthachal,” he said.
It is important, I wanted to tell him. Because most of us are too small to understand the bigness of quiet. But I didn’t.
“Because we talk so much all the time, sometimes it’s nice to rest your mind,” I said.
“So will our mind be quiet if we are quiet?” he asked.
“There is a small chance, but we can try,” I replied.
(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 14th July, 2014)