The Sounds of Silence .. (with an adulatory nod to Simon and Garfunkel)



“Naam gum jaayega, chehraa yeh badal jaayegaa

meri aawaaz hi pehchaan hai…. Gar yaad rahe” – Sampooran Singh “Gulzar”

[(The) Name will get obscured, (this) countenance will get altered

only the voice is the ipseity … should one (wish to) remember]

This emphasis on “aawaaz” (literally, the voice) illustrates the importance of SOUND, which permeates our very being, whether consciously registered or not. For instance, a “sadhak” (spiritual seeker) may hear every breath in the body and yet remain oblivious to the sound of a sledgehammer operating outside. To the eminent Urdu Poet Qatil Shifai sound is an ethereal medium as demonstrated in his sher (verse) below, that evokes exquisite imagery of the lover waiting, expectant, straining to hear the first hint of a footfall that might herald the beloved’s arrival:

“Teri har chaap se jalte hain khayaalon mein chiraagh

Jab bhi tu aaye, jagaataa huwaa jaadoo aaye”

[(The sound of) each footfall of yours illumines (my) thoughts

Whenever you come (your arrival) arouses entrancement]

Indian mystics and music exponents underscore the importance of sound – Sur (or Swar), leading to Shruti (literally – that which is “heard” and in music, the smallest interval of pitch that the human ear can detect) transcending towards Smriti (that which is “remembered” – Supreme Consciousness), thus striving to “divinity”. Expressions like “living in harmony” have persisted through millennia.

However, today we are allowing our senses to be assailed by the pervasive chatter of white noise. We have got so used to constantly “doing stuff” and being “plugged in” to external stimuli that the absence of activity or sound is unsettling for some. Several years ago I used to conduct sessions for developing Active Listening skills. In one module, participants would be requested to sit quietly and focus on listening. We would notice that most participants would start to fidget, avoiding eye contact with the others if there was no conversation, even for 30 seconds! On questioning, they would confirm that it was disquieting to just sit in complete silence! Everybody wanted to “say something” just to fill the gap of silence! We would then request the trainees to not turn on the car radio on their drive back home after the training class, to help them get used to silence and practise this through the remainder of the week. Upon returning to class the following week most participants said that they benefited from such “silent treatment” as it had helped to heighten their level of awareness and encouraged them to listen to others with more empathy!

When did you last sit by yourself cloaked in SANNAATAA (or, SOUNDLESNESS)? No TV. No iPod. No radio. No texting. No emails. No distraction. Only SILENCE. Or, what some Buddhist texts allude to as SHUNYATAA – a void or emptiness. While sounds can be classified and defined, Silence can only be experienced. It is time to reclaim our private domain and (re)-discover the innate self.

But, while silence is wonderful there is no greater pleasure than waiting expectantly like Qatil Shifai’s protagonist – to hear the excited patter of little feet – an aria to fill a grandfather’s heart!

13 Replies to “The Sounds of Silence .. (with an adulatory nod to Simon and Garfunkel)”

  1. You started with one of my favourite songs and moved to a sher I have vowed to try and remember! You also gave me a word – ipseity – that I had to look up and the pleasure of seeing another, illumine, that one doesn’t often get to see these days. Gives a whole new meaning to “have a few words with you”! This week’s topic resonated at many levels. And reminded me of another old Gulzar favourite: Barfili sardiyon mein kisi bhi pahad par, vaadi mein goonjti hui khaamoshiyaan sune.

    The ability to immerse oneself in silence is a gift. And the patter of little one’s feet? Priceless!


  2. Reminded me of a Nikola Tesla quote – “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”

    Looking forward to further posts.


  3. Pankaj
    May you continue to bring music and poetry that sustained us as children back to consciousness once again. This indeed starts a caravan of memories. Another Gulzar tune, Dil doondtha he for wahi…


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