Vocalizing Silence – The Spell of Voiceless Wonder

I love Silence.

I love music. I love Silence even better.

My world was completely in Silence for a month. And mostly silent even now.

Sometimes nature has a way of redirecting one to her true personality.

Beauty of Silence...

Beauty of Silence…

It all began with a throat infection and high fever, which I as usual ignored. But the virus struck with a vengeance and blocked my voice completely. But fear not friends, this post is not about the excruciating details about my ailment or the uninteresting medical interventions I had to undergo… I know it is boring to have an ailment, but even more boring to hear about it. This is a narrative about the interesting incidents and disagreeable dilemmas during this Period of Silence !

One fine morning, I woke up and realized that I had been muted overnight by the virus ! I panicked, nevertheless went to work thinking that the virus would lose power as the day progressed. But no. Not a single syllable could escape my vocal cords for the entire day ! And I was at work ! I panicked, to put it mildly. People were curious when I could not talk.

I messaged my dad to fix up an appointment with an ENT physician, because I could not do it myself. He was surprised that I am voluntarily willing to go to a doctor ! And probably for the first time in my life I was actually eagerly, nay impatiently, waiting for a doctor’s appointment ! Even the doctor’s appointments during my pregnancy check-up months come a far second, at the most !

Evening came, and my kids were perplexed why I could not still speak –  a few hours is indeed a long time in a kid’s clock. I wrote on a piece of paper that I will be able to talk tomorrow ; I expected the doctor to give some magic medicine to bring back my voice.

I dropped my kids at their tennis coaching and quickly went to the doctor’s office. In the waiting area, I wrote down my ‘case history’ on a paper, including the origin, duration, symptoms, progress of the condition and the importance of getting my voice back asap – the last entry being stressed the most.

The doctor was quite impressed by my presentation of the case, and he was left with no questions to ask  ! But impressions didn’t matter to me, I had come here with a singular purpose – to get my voice back. So I wrote again in bold letters – I WANT MY VOICE BACK – ASAP. He put on a headlamp, much like a miner’s, and peered into my mouth. After a few moments, he shook his head gravely and said that I had viral attack with a secondary infection of bacteria. It was severe. He listed out medical terms like severe acute laryngitis, severe acute pharyngitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, beginnings of bronchitis and patches of pneumonitis . I was like ok, so ? He pointed to an anatomical model of ear, nose, throat and explained each term . I was still in ‘so what’ stance ? He finished the lecture with ‘these are your ailments now’ !! So, Fini ITIS !

Sinusitis, I can deal with easily, having been used to it for a long time.  And, I did not care for these other ‘itis’es. He ruled out tonsilitis – aah, I am glad about that ! I just wanted my voice back. I pointed to the bold letters on my self-written case history. The doctor by now could know that sentence even without reading it fully, what with me pointing to it every few seconds ! But he was still nodding gravely and broke the bad news – that it would take ATLEAST 15-20 days for me to get back my voice. Even then it would be feeble for a few more days. My mouth had been turned into an unwilling host by the viruses and the bacterias which had tagged along with the former !

I could feel tears welling up in my eyes – how could I go to work, how could I manage my kids ? And most importantly, how could I drive on the roads of Pondicherry – where sometimes horns are not enough and people expect a personal request put forward politely to them to give way ?! I was worried. I started writing addendums on my case sheet – ‘I am a mother. I am a teacher. Voice is my most important tool for both my roles.’ By now the doctor was curious to see my case self-updates ! He read and looked at me. I again pointed to the now familiar capital letterings ‘I WANT MY VOICE BACK – ASAP’ ! In response he wrote on my prescription sheet – ‘ABSOLUTE VOICE REST’ !!

I had expected the doctor’s visit to be a quick formality – where I expected the doctor to give a positive prognosis and a placebo perhaps ! But the diagnosis has turned unfavourable for any such proclamation ! So here I was struck with a tray of medicines, and still not guaranteed a quick recovery of my voice !

My kids were surprised by my condition. They asked me a hundred questions, which I was not able to answer immediately. It was a week when we were having guests, and an important religious ritual at home. So relatives came and were puzzled. Some thought I was observing ‘Mouna vrat’ (vow of silence) ! Some thought I was too tired to talk – what with my fever, cold, cough etc accompanying these ‘itis’es ! We have quite a few doctors in the family, so sometimes all I had to do was write the list of ‘it is’ es on a paper and they would come up with tests, prescriptions, treatments that I should be subjected to ! But they were outdone by the senior ladies, who shared the secret powers of their kitchen spices to concoct ‘kashayams’ & ‘rasams’ as an antidote to my curious condition ! I was as attentive as a student after lunch 😉

The only point which allopathy, naturopathy and sympathy agreed upon was in imploring me to ‘gargle with hot salt water – thrice a day’ !! And I hated that one solution the most !

Through all the gargling, steaming (not vegetables, but my own nostrils), drugging (of the medical variety), dieting (no icecreams and cold drinks) – I went to work (school), parented my kids (home) and drove my kids around town (chauffer – my evening job!) . I tried to continue life normally using all my mental faculties to come up with on the spot solutions to traverse my daily routine. I could not afford to hibernate in bed for the duration of my illness. This decision, brought its own reward ! I witnessed and experienced the most interesting responses and facial reactions to seemingly normal situations !

Shrouded in Silence…

Sharing some snippets of these humorous episodes below :

# When people realized that I am unable to talk, and that I was writing out my responses, some also spontaneously grabbed the paper to write their responses ! I had to remind them that they could talk !!

# My mobile service provider bombarded my phone with smses, as usual. Hidden in that bunch was an innocuous sms which stated something to this effect, ‘You have been renewed for RINGTONE DHAMAKA subscription service from Airtel. You have been charged Rs. 3.0. Enjoy your service !’. ‘Renew’ ??? But I had not even subscribed to it !! This had happened once before, and I had been blissfully unaware of its implications until a friend adviced me to call up airtel and ask to be unsubscribed.  This time around, in my muted condition, I felt  like an Indian middle class tax payer whose chunk of salary has been deducted at source. Better to accept in silence, than to argue with the revenue department ! So everyday I was renewed !!

# My son Abhimanyu is like Mac (yup, The Apple) ! He can work efficiently in silence, well mostly, especially if that particular activity interests him immensely. So we were able to just carry on our work quietly . I wrote down the medical terms on a paper and he googled those for meanings.

#  My little one Rahul is like Windows (the Miscrosoft release ofcourse) ! He needs to give constant updates, running commentaries to me about his every activity ! And he would not let me proceed with my work unless I ‘agree’ and am in sync with his updates & thought processes ! During normal times I can match his wit and humour ! But in my present condition, I felt like a      windows OS user, who has to dodge, accept or get ‘reminded for later’ (but never declined, mind you), the umpteen ‘updates’ that one is deluded with on logging in !

#  Not for nothing did I nickname the little tyke Rahul as ‘Google’ – he is mostly in auto-completion mode, helpfully trying to come up with suggestions to make me feel lucky, even before I complete on paper the first word of my intended sentence !! And his internal algorithm spews out only ‘his choices’, from which I have the ‘freedom’ of choosing.

#  I felt like an erstwhile valiant warrior, sent out to the battlefield after confiscating his weapons… in this case a teacher in a class of ‘enthusiastic’ students without her weapon of control – Her Voice !! But I had my Brahmasthra – The Eyes, The Stare !! I used at as effectively as possible. But to give credit to my students, they were really co-operative, helpful and even assigned themselves the task of managing the class and voicing my instructions, which I wrote on the board or notebook ! They would ask everyday, “Ma’am is your voice better”, “ Can you  talk” ! Whether it is out of concern or worry I would never know. But, did I see a faint bit of relief when I gestured a silent no ?!!

#  My colleagues/friends wishing me a good morning expected me to do the normal thing and wish them back as usual. But from their stare I could discern that they felt like the user of  www.irctc.co.in, who has to battle an unresponsive website for a few minutes to even get a rude image like ‘unable to connect’ !

# Re-visits to the ENT provided hope of a ‘perfectly alright’ pronouncement, much like that of a fan’s hope of a century during Sachin’s innings. But like the cricketer’s retirement, my microbes too were reluctant to concede to my ‘pitch’ (multiple puns intended). They were indeed planning a long stint at my pharynx/larynx !

# My phone was on permanent silent mode during that affliction !  I used it extensively and effectively as a mp3 player, camera, notepad, alarm, reminder service, messaging service etc ; anything but communicating, talking to be specific ! “ Can’t talk. WhatsApp only “ became true in my case !

#  When I was able to get some words out feebly after 3 weeks, I could only speak in very short phrases. I felt like a character out of Director Maniratnam’s movies ! Now, I have enough expertise in this form of speaking, that I could become a dialogue writer for his next movie effortlessly !

# I love singing (in solitude) and hum during manual work. I tried to hum during that period, and ended up sounding like a blocked flute !

# Some talked to me in a very low volume, almost in a whisper. Perhaps they did not want to disturb the silence I was expressing !

#  Some talked to me in an abnormally high pitch ! Perhaps they thought that along with my speaker (vocal chord) my receiver (ears) too were damaged !

Situation  slowly stammered back to normalcy. I was able to get out a few words in a very feeble voice and got progressively better.

I have never been a talkative person. And my voice is never loud,  it is soft to be heard even in a small loud group.  Ofcourse, I am fun-loving and I love to chat with close friends. But even then, I listen more than I talk. Perhaps my 2nd standard class teacher would differ in her opinion. Because, to my knowledge she was the only one to complain to my parents that I was very talkative in class, quite exasperatedly, during every PTA that year I must add ! I along with four of my friends used to talk a lot in class it seems !!

Growing in Silence...

Growing in Silence…

But I am generally a quiet person. I don’t have to absolutely talk. Perhaps that is why I always wanted to become a writer/poetess. I express myself better using the pen or the keyboard perhaps !

But my respect for the people who cannot speak by birth has grown tremendously. I wonder how they survive in this tough world, without being able to vocalize their thoughts. Or perhaps, it is easier that way. And one learns to use non-verbal means of communication more effectively and actually respond, than just reply verbally.

Oomai endral oru vagai amaidhi.

Ezhai endral adhil oru amaidhi.

This beautiful tamil lyrics by eminent poet Kannadasan from the song Kanne kalaimane (Moondram pirai) translates to :

There is a peace in muteness

There is a peace in poverty.

Indeed, the more life takes away worldly comforts/privileges/relationships away from a person, the more one gets the space to move towards Eternal Silence & Peace.

This Period of Silence gave me the time to get back to writing. I contemplated a lot, and wrote a lot. In Silence.

This Period of Silence allowed me to be silent. I love Silence.

P.S : I can imagine my friends who read this feel like a Windows OS user who tries to shut down the laptop quickly, only to be stalled by the messages of ‘Configuring updates 1 of  99 – Do not shut down your computer’ from the persistent OS ! Well, Force Shut Down is the only option for you now 😉 !!