Of finding silence amid noise


I toss and turn on my bed. I feel slightly cold from the wind around me. I am staying at a resort, about 80 km away from Salvador, a Brazilian city in the state of Bahia, which is over 14,000 km from New Delhi, India. While I do this geographical math in my head, I toss and turn a little more. I check the time on my mobile. It’s 5.30 am! I look outside my window and it’s still a little dark, with the sun just about to pop up and say hi. I am amazed at how my eyes just popped open at this strategic time. I am not a morning person at all. But somehow, Bahia and the ocean around me has turned that around.

I try and dismiss this as a crazy coincidence and go back to sleep again. Only, I can’t. I see the crack of dawn from my window and can no longer stay indoors. Something tells me I need to smell the wind outside. I wake up, put on my shorts and running shoes and walk towards the beach. While I am getting ready, I notice a slight drizzle. Is it raining? How is that possible? The sun’s almost out and is shining bright! Perhaps the tropical weather here is trying to teach me a lesson on dual personalities. I grab my sunglasses as the rain stops as abruptly as it began.

I walk on a narrow, sandy path towards the ocean. I am engulfed with a slight sense of fear. I am a Piscean by birth. So if zodiac signs are to be believed, my personality should have an affinity for water. In a lot of ways, it does. I love being on the beach. The waves, the sea and the water bodies have the kind of soothing and calming effect on me, like nothing else (I have blogged about this before). But the water also scares me. The mighty power of the waves remind me of my mortality and insignificance as a human being. And deep waters can terrify a below average swimmer like me.

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South Atlantic Ocean, as viewed from a beach resort near Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

As I walk on the sand, maintaining a safe distance from the roaring ocean, I look around. I see no one anywhere nearby. No men, women, children or humanity around me. I see a strange looking bird that looks a lot like a vulture, staring back at me. I see a yellow and brown colored sparrow (or is it a humming bird?) fluttering around the edge of the waves. And I see these birds enjoying the solitude as much as I am. All alone on a long coastline far away from home, I have never felt more alive and aware of my existence.

I try to conquer my fear of being alone near the mighty waves and inch slightly closer to them. A big wave comes roaring ahead and I take a few steps back. It barely touches my ankles and runs away. The cold water touching my feet brings a smile on my face. I get a little more encouraged and inch closer. This time the wave is bigger, stronger and colder. They taste my weak knees and I scream with delight! Having tasted the salty water on my legs, I walk further down and hunt for a quiet spot.

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It’s strange that I am looking for a quiet spot at a space where there’s literally no one around. No noise. No people. No conversations. No words around me. And yet, I go looking for it. It is an eerie, yet liberating experience to be at a space that literally feels like in the middle of nowhere. The only consolation is the dry land. The horizon beyond it is endless and infinite. It is the loudest silence you will ever hear. And I soak it all in as the wind and waves roar ahead of me. I do manage to find a quiet spot. It’s inside me. And I realise I can revisit it any time I want. Amid all the noise. Amid all the conversations. Amid all the loud silences. All I need is some ocean, wind and strange looking birds. They remind me of Frida Kahlo’s memorable quote:  “It’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

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The Gaze


It was pointless to carry an umbrella that evening. It poured so heavily, no amount of monsoon gear could prevent the water to somehow seep inside. Yet, he stood outside the local tea-shop holding the black umbrella in one hand and a tea-cup in the other. It was almost about to get over—the tea. He had had three cups already. He had rarely felt so anxious. The tea wasn’t helping reduce that. The raindrops were making a rhythmic noise. He mused at the oxymoronic symphony of nature as he gulped down his fourth cup and asked for another. It seemed someone had poked the clouds real bad; water was leaking from the skies. He wouldn’t have been surprised had the blackness of his umbrella leaked out too and merged with the heavy downpour.

She had just crossed the lane. If he was wet despite the umbrella, she didn’t need one to join the camp. Perhaps she was more sensible than him and understood the stubborn and moody nature of rains.  Her red kurti was soaked in water and the blue of her jeans turned a shade darker owing to their wetness. Her hair was tied in a bun and water dripped on her face like a leaking tap. She kept sipping the raindrops that fell on her forehead, passed around her eye, slipped across her nose and innocently entered her mouth. From that distance, he could see all that. The unabashed look on her face. The nonchalance in her walk. And despite that, the weariness in her eyes. Her eyelids were fighting the sharpness of the raindrops. She seemed to have surrendered to their power. Almost voluntarily.

As she inched closer, he grew more anxious. He knew he wanted to talk. He didn’t know what. More importantly, he no longer knew how. They had been friends for over two years now. And in that one year, they had grown so close that he could gauge every expression on her face. They could talk without the need to converse. He couldn’t claim to be at such ease with many people. Maybe his girlfriend, but that had taken a while to develop. But with her, he didn’t have to make any effort. They just clicked. Like finally digging out the right key for that lost and introvert lock. The ease, of course, had been mutual. She could be herself with him. She could talk non-stop about everything under the sun and hear him talk of his passions in the most dramatic way. They’d talk for hours discussing the most mundane objects of life in the most graphic and detailed manner. As if the debate on which ice-cream flavour is better was going to change the world.

She walked past him, aware that he could sense her presence and had been deeply affected by it. His eyes reeked of contempt. She never understood why. She was too ashamed to even ask the reason. Shame and guilt came easy to her. It was easier for her to feel ashamed than feel loved. And he knew that well. She studied him. He was deliberately looking away. That it was deliberate was clear from the discomfort that had suddenly erupted on his face. He blew a couple of invisible puffs on his tea-cup, as if that would make everything normal.

Their eyes barely met. He stole a glance of her just when she lowered her rain-kissed eyelids. He looked for a fraction of a second, lest he be caught looking at her with compassion. Just when she lifted her gaze, he shifted his own. She could hardly gauge the expression in his eyes. But it silently screamed of disdain. She could have been wrong. But who could prove otherwise? She sighed at her own sad assumption. She let the rain soak her entire body and wash away any sin that she could have possibly committed. Perhaps the answer lay in the mighty clouds that were growling so shamelessly this evening. It was already getting dark. For the first time, she felt thankful for the absence of sun. She didn’t want the rays to penetrate her. Being in the dark comforted her. It offered her the promise of anonymity and that is the only identity she desired.

She crossed the tea-shop and stood under a leaky roof couple of meters away. A street dog was sleeping peacefully. The noise of the raindrops were ironically working as a lullaby for him. Her footsteps so near him startled the dog and he woke up with a start. She bent over and petted him lovingly. The dog didn’t seem to mind that she was completely drenched. The dog wagged his tail enthusiastically as drops of water from her hair fell on his ears. He began sniffing her kurti. Convinced that she meant no harm, the dog moved closer and looked at her face. Her eyes were wet. Not from the rain, the dog could tell. He licked her teardrop away.

Not very far away, the man standing with a black umbrella in one hand and an empty tea-cup in the other saw it all. He turned his back towards them and started walking away. As far away as his weak legs could take him.