Thoughtful Silence

She who must be obeyed is currently away.  Silence resonates through the empty house and for now, home is but a quiet dwelling.  Familiar sounds, that act like socks stuffed in a suitcase to fill up empty corners and cushion the contents from bumps, are missing. Running water in the kitchen sink or washroom basin, the sizzle of frying eggs and popping of toasted bread, soap operas playing on the TV, feet going up and down the stairs.  Absent the footfalls, beams holding up the floor now offer only creaky protests, startling the sole occupant.  Noises scantly heard before, now rush in and fill the void.  Raindrops hitting the window panes sound like a drumroll, distant thunder echoes through the hallway while the eaves troughs rattle their protest against lashing winds and ice pellets.

The absence of sound does not in itself offer silence.  To be truly silent one must learn to be quiet and attempt to silence the mind.  Indulge in solitude.  Being alone does not mean being lonely.  It encourages us to enjoy our own company.  An Urdu poet has written, very aptly:

“… aaeene ke sau tukde kar ke humne dekha hai

ek me bhi tanhaa theh, sau mein bhi akele hain …”

[… upon shattering the looking-glass I have seen (that)

(just as) I was alone in one, each of the hundred pieces (still) reflect only me …]

Quiet time at home reminded me of past visits to the Baha’i Lotus Temple in Delhi, India.  Designed by an Iranian-Canadian architect, it is a beautiful lotus-shaped cavernous dome over 40 metres high at its centre with no pillars, altars or pulpits and is open to people of all faiths.  On each occasion, sitting on a pew in any part of the huge hall I would feel the reverberating silence envelop me and provide a sense of harmony and peace.  Surprisingly, even the tread of several thousand visitors’ feet shuffling along seemed muted and non-intrusive to one’s feeling of solitude.  It is what one might describe as a state of soundlessness (“sannaataa”) that has to be experienced and cannot be described.

Mystic poet and saint from the 15th century, Sant Kabir explains the importance of the “anhad naad” (“unstruck sound” or sound without external vibration).  In Hindu tradition, “Aum” or “Om” is said to be the sound of the cosmos and of human consciousness that transcends space and time and has no beginning or end.  In Sikhism, the first two words in the holy text containing hymns that describe the qualities of God – are “Ik Onkar”“Ik” (means “one” and the expression “Onkar” (pronounced oh-ANg-kaar) has come to simply mean that “the Creator” is represented through the Primordial Sound.  Kabir’s poetry is extensively recorded in the Sikh scriptures and the following excerpt from one of his compositions beautifully illustrates the power of this “unstruck sound”:

Ras mand mandar baajata,

baahar sune to kya hua?

Divine music resonates through (your) body temple,
What benefit is derived from the external (worldly) din you listen to
Sunta nahin dhun ki khabar,

anahad ka baaja baajata

You heed not the message from the resonance within
Ignoring the cosmic music that plays constantly

Similarly, 19th century composer Debussy is believed to have said, “Music is space between the notes”, which others have subsequently also expressed as “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them.”

Yoga practitioners and meditators are urged to focus on this “silence” or “space” between the intake and exhaling of each breath, for that is the instant when one is considered to be “neither dead nor alive” and consciousness in that moment is boundless.

The silent house has encouraged me to fill self-imposed long silences with music.  In the process, this long-forgotten philosophical song composed by Gulzar surfaced.  I have always struggled to understand it and hoping to be excused for the weak translation, would welcome input from more knowledgeable readers:

Bus ek chup si lagi hai,

nahin, udaas nahin

(It is) just a hush that is setting in
No, (I am) not wistful
kahin pe saans ruki hai,

nahin, udaas nahin

Somewhere, a breath has paused
No, (I am) not wistful
Koi anokhi nahin aisi zindagi, lekin

khoob naa ho

(While) it is not unique, this life (bestowed by Him), yet

It might not be grand

mili jo … khoob mili hai,

nahin, udaas nahin

What I do have … is fine indeed
No, (I am) not wistful
Sehar bhi ye raat bhi, dopehar bhi mili, lekin I had the (fresh early morning) dawn breeze, also the night, even the high noon of midday, yet
hamee ne shaam chuni hai,

nahin, udaas nahin

It was dusk that I personally chose
No, (I am) not wistful
Woh daastaan jo hum ne kahi bhi,

hum ne likhi

That soulful tale of life that I had narrated,
Even wrote
aaj wo … khud se suni hai,

nahin, udaas nahin

Now … I am hearing it from myself
No, (I am) not wistful

 

6 Replies to “Thoughtful Silence”

  1. Love the post Pankaj. The translation of Gulzar’s verse is pretty good in my humble opinion. Warm regards

    Mohamed

    >

    Like

  2. Hi Pankaj, Just wanted to say I have been enjoying your blogs…. most recently on “Until death do us part “ , on the strength of Women and this one on silence. I can imagine how lonely an empty house can feel. But music is a blessing. Take care, Rajee

    Like

  3. Lovely soulful post, Pankaj. The song brought sweet memories of my dear Dad who loved listening to this kind of music.
    Keep well.

    Like

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