We are told that silence is golden and ‘quiet time’ is essential for us — it makes us calmer, more productive, more receptive, more loving.
A scant decade ago, when children and pets and visitors were aplenty and there was constant bustle around us, we dreamed of silence and yearned for a free moment to go off somewhere where there was complete calm. We thought it impossible to hold on to our sanity in the madhouse that was our home, with so much coming and going, children shouting, music blaring, yelled-out instructions flying hither and thither, our heads and ears splitting with the sheer volume of the noise.
Then, in the fullness of time, children grew up and left, rarely to return, pets passed on, taking their barking and yelping and shrill greetings to eternal pastures, retirement came calling and the morning rush, the afternoon madness, the evening entertainment, the cacophony we had cringed from, was now just a memory — a happy memory — and suddenly the silence was unpleasant and unwelcome.
At last, it was possible to understand a morning ritual in our parents’ retirement home: Mother relished lying abed in the quiet hours of the morning while Father, an early riser, went out into the garden to commune with his plants and animals. Still in a happy haze of calm, not looking forward to rising and facing the onslaught of household chores, Mother lay in a blissful, dreamy, half-awake state of utter silence.
Father, who had by now been awake for a couple of hours and desperately wanted to share his excitement about the latest buds he had seen or the baby snake that had slithered inches from him, would go to check on her, carrying a cup of tea to fast forward her to the same state of energetic activity that he had reached. He would stand beside the bed, stirring the tea, managing somehow to make that simple — usually silent — task resemble the clanging of an alarm clock.
... And thus would begin the first disagreement of their day ... probably relished by Father because he had precipitated it to add zest and jest to the day.
We witnessed this from time to time when we went home to visit and we laughed at it, never expecting that the same thing or a version of it would happen to us someday.
But it did. In the silence of dawn in our home of retirees, the early riser is up and brewing coffee — and trouble. Full of beans, impatient for the sun to catch up with her body clock, she decides to get routine tasks done and her eyes fall on a pile of the previous night’s dishes that have to be put away in the cupboard.
Innocuous enough. Done often enough at such an unearthly hour.
But now, with hands no longer as supple as they once were, suddenly, the entire pile of steel and aluminium comes tumbling down and the resultant clatter wakes the immediate neighbours on both sides and other households up and down the lane ... Lights come on, doors open, but is she repentant?
Not a chance.
Now that everybody has been awakened with a bang, why not make a little more noise, seems to be the thought and thus begins a steady stream of chatter: Full of optimism and ideas, what ifs and could bes, opinions and suggestions — that continue until the energy finally runs out midway through the day and the prattle that no one has paid the least attention to peters out with a sigh.
And the silence that then reigns does not seem golden — only profound and too long.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.