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       Volume 11 |Issue 17 | April 27, 2012 |


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The Rest is Silence

Aly Zaker

'The Artist' – the most eloquent example of artistic enunciation. Photos: Courtesy

There is no dearth of sound anywhere. The larger the city, the greater the sound. I agree that in the large organised cities the sound is more orderly, more predictable. The intermittent roar of heavy vehicles, the whining sound of the turbine on the roll, the sound of arriving or departing trains in the stations, or the clinging sound of metal on metal of the wheels of trams that ply through the busy roads, all these are there. I, on my umpteenth visit to Singapore, have become used to some of these sounds. Here, sitting by the wide window of my living room, I listen to what the city has to offer me in terms of sound that you can get for free though very few things come for free in life. While in the smaller disorderly towns like ours, if you happen to live by a main street, you are destined to be greeted by disorganised sounds like a roar of a vehicle and then a screeching sound of the brakes, often without a corollary and sometimes, maybe the sound of a crash. And then you look out the window to see how grave the situation is. And in a public place where people congregate (take a bazaar for instance) you hear people converse very loudly, and often, needlessly loudly. This variety of sounds in a small town, perhaps, makes life more interesting, though not necessarily more desirable. We feel intimidated and want to flee to any direction that may promise uninterrupted silence.

However, sound is not what I have chosen to write about. Today I have assigned myself the subject of silence. And talking about silence, being a person in very close proximity to the theatre, I have to start with those profound last lines from Shakespeare's Hamlet, "...and the rest is silence."

'The Artist' proves the strength of silence over all forms of expression.

This time, when I was in Singapore, I met a Bangladeshi who is working as a skilled labourer in a foundry. I am not an avid conversationalist by any stretch of imagination. But such a person that I had chanced to make acquaintance with made a long time unfulfilled wish of mine see fruition. I had always wanted to know how these countrymen of ours lived in a foreign land where the language, culture, food, habitat, racial or religious nuances were very different from the ones that they had grown up in. What my new friend told me was amazing. It seemed that when they were in a foreign land they moved in an isolated cocoon. Each one of them moved around, went to work, did their shopping like souls possessed by a single objective of their terms of engagement. It was immaterial where they were or what they did. The land, people, society and the life around them did not touch them. They went to work, came back to wherever they lived, cooked, ate, sent most of their hard earned money home and sighed for the distant shore of their homeland. I was curious to know what they did to entertain themselves. He said that they watched TV at home. I asked him how they dealt with the language. Mandarin or English should not be easy for them to understand. He said that they switched the sound off. I asked him how they understood what was happening. He said they didn't understand anything but saw all the actions, the scenery, the beautiful people or dwellings and were happy. He said, in fact, they did not like the sound. Sound was intimidating. Now, here was another interpretation of silence. I had, years ago, read an essay by Aldous Huxley were he reflected upon the strength of silence over all forms of expression. The closest to silence, perhaps, he said, was music. But silence reigned supreme.

To the Bangladeshi workers abroad, sound can be intimidating.

However, much as one tries to express, one cannot sing enough to exalt the glory of silence. But in recent times nothing surpasses in the effort of giving silence an ovation than a film I have seen recently and which has won a number of Oscars, called 'The Artist'. This is an extraordinary film made on the period of silent era of the industry. Described by a critic as "Valentine to the glory of silent cinema", it stands out as the most eloquent example of artistic enunciation. The story speaks of a swash buckling protagonist George Valentin caught off guard by the arrival of the talkies. But by the end of the film it seems as if sound is superfluous and the effervescence of silence reigns supreme in matters of expressing one's thoughts. As I walk back from the movie theatre, the argument of Huxley that amongst 'sounds' music is most expressive and if that fails we should fall back on silence seemed very pertinent. But what if we were tone deaf as most of us are and had to settle for other kind of sounds? I thought that then we should, perhaps, opt for more organised sounds. Not sudden brakes and banging sounds of gratuitous accidents but sounds that make sense. This, I thought, should not only apply to incidental sounds. They are more applicable given our present day politics and human utterances. We should indeed implore with all those who matter for more organised utterances and not 'brakes' and 'bangs'. We don't want to be doomed yet.

I return home, a soul possessed by the pervasiveness of silence over disorganised sound.

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