Silence in Noise #1

Sound is sculpted in silence. When we are concerned so much with sound, music feels like being merciful to silence by reducing thickness at regular intervals. But when we live beyond the span of music, we know it is just a series of transient, instantaneous inscriptions in silence that erase their own traces as soon as their formations in time complete. This erasure leaves silence as if it were a trailing trace, making sound take the trailing instantaneous shape.
That is why cities sound like sound so full of sounds–the antithesis of silence. I love the sounds of a city–the swearing horns, the hooting sirens, the deep heavy hums of restless cars and buses, the indiscernible sounds of the voices of a million familiar strangers that don’t mean to each other. There is some aesthetic about the noise of a city. But when you live awake through the day and through the night, you will see the noise of a city has a rhythm like the sun rising and setting. The noise of a city has its beat, and the beat is sculpted in silence, and once you know this, you see and hear silence everywhere, even right in the middle of noise. Or rather noise trapped like a bubble in the vast expanse of silence.


The new slum settlement with its houses that look like mounds that have grown out of the parched earth and the tall buildings jutting into and scratching the sky out of nowhere in the background somewhere in Gurgaon, Haryana, India. Both were surprising in their own right and their contrast was striking.

It is rumored in the neighborhood that the slum has got Rohingya refugees that entered India from Bangladesh, which has no reports of official confirmation.

Slums dwellers are an unofficial, unrecognized, and unacknowledged economic class in the country. For one, they form great part of the country’s renewable resources recycling industry. The dwellers of this slum are actively engaged in one of the early phases of recycling resources recovered by the municipal council majorly from household wastes.

Students’ Protest

Part of the ongoing students’ protests against the JNU administration’s controversial 75% compulsory attendance regulation put into force by a circular dated 22 December 2017. Almost all students find the regulation debilitating to them–students don’t play absentees for pleasure but most absent students are absent for good reasons that have to do conducting their lives and that cannot be summaries in a few words. And there does not seem to be cases of total absentism–students keep in touch with teachers or their classmates to keep on track and abreast of the goings-on in the courses.

The incumbent VC, Jagadesh Kumar, has been consistently controversial (many are of the opinion that he is insistent on being so) since his “installation” at the heart of the university’s administration in 2016. The VC’s decisions and administrative hands seem to be controlled remotely be some obvious political forces he is affiliated to.

The main protest activities happen at the yard in front of the main administrative building, which was named Freedom Square during the nation-shaking students’ protests following the February 2016 events in the university campus. The small protest group in this photograph was one of the several protest gatherings on 15 February at several parts of the campus around the administrative building and the school areas, and these groups were not self-conscious–students came and joined the protest, chanted slogans and left while new students joined in, and the protests kept going.

Waiting for Dinner

Dogs waiting in front of a meat shop for their dinner. On my way back from the gym at around 10 every night, I see the butchers give these dogs some scraps of meat right before they close the shop. In Delhi, there is always a good relationship between street dogs and people within the boundaries of places specific communities of dogs specify as their territories. That relationship is one of great love. The dogs bark at any odd movements around within their territory–they behave (or act?) as self-conscious local guards.

No Man’s Land Woman

The middle-aged “non-local” woman who had been enthusiastically watching me taking photographs of several children, who had happily gathered around the wedding hall as they would do around a church on a Christmas morning or a straw hut on a Holi morning, kept changing places just like the children. No rings on her fingers, no sindoor on her forehead, no dupatta, just a couple of dull bangles on each wrist, and a carefree hairstyle which looked more a natural result of neglect than nurture–uncharacteristic of a married Indian woman. She wore a lungi cloth, not a saree, wrapped around her like a phanek. The children tantalizingly ran away from me when I trained my camera on them but deliberately conspicuously crept up teasingly about me if I had not paid attention to them longer than they felt was good. I love this transparent coyness of children and it was such fun that the children teasingly responded to me that way.

Children from my neighbors in my Kakching neighborhood used to bug me for something or the other. Even when I could fulfill them instantly, I kept drawing it out because I loved the children bugging me, and they knew it. It was like a game. I would make them kites, give them money to buy food of their choice from a nearby store, take them to places, and things like that. I would be so depressed when any child in our group died. Generations of children. Far away from home, I have disappeared from the memory of most people except the children I played with. But now I have a new generation of children in the neighborhood who know me and come to bug me when they are bored.

“Where you come?” The woman asked in broken English.

The context, my experience of people trying to communicate with me in English by means of a dozen or so English words, and my experience as a school English teacher often come to my help at such moments. Initially it had been hard to push aside my post-structuralism, stylistics and syntax as it was deemed necessary in the field, thought at any moment they may creep in through some crack and prove useful.

I looked at her and smiled. Partly because I feel homeless and partly because my philosophy puts me in no specific place on the globe (though they politically chain me down to some floor) (and also because, amusingly I want to my thought to wander aimlessly: how many places I come from–from a hotel in Moreh or somewhere in Lamphalong, Burma, or Kakching (my birth place and home), Imphal, Delhi, mother’s womb, the bride’s home, and so on), I did not reply.

The smile on her face broadened. I raised my camera to my face, and jerking the lens barrel toward her by way of a signal, my turned up my chin and raised my eyebrows a bit wordlessly asking if I can take a photograph of her. She immediately posed, but shyly. There had been some rigidness about her for some time, one that’s akin to what new photograph models wear when they are about to be in front of the camera, some sort of subconscious posing.

I took a shot and then said, “Thank you.”

“Where you come?” She asked again. This time she was in a more relaxed conversational mode.

“Yahan ka hun!” I said in Hindi.

“Kya? Tum India?” It was instantly clear that her Hindi was worse both in pronunciation and grammar than mine that has puzzled a lot of native speakers.

“Hoi, India!” That was a mix of Manipuri and English.

“Ahhhhh!” Her Dravidian mouth released this Kuki-girl cry of surprise. “Nangdi foreigner mallubane.” She spoke better Manipuri than Hindi.

I had been just back from the Namphalong Market beyond the border in Burma and was wearing a broad-brimmed leather hat like the ones you usually see in olden detective movies or westerns (but yes, without much decoration, and I find elaborate decorations and embroidery on wearables stupid), and I had my fully filled bag strapped on my back, and nobody you normally see in Moreh and the Burmba border don’t wear their trousers and shirts the way she saw me in that day.

“Where do you live?” I asked in Manipuri.

“There!” She pointed into a corridor-like alley that opened onto a barbed-wire and rusted corrugated-tin fence fifty feet away and smiled. “Somewhere there.”

She must have read the blankness in my face. There is a stage I experience before confusion–drawing blank, an experience I undergo if the information I am trying to process seems to possess what seems to defy all logic at that stage or if it looks too baffling. So before giving something up as impenetrable and confusing–some sort of nonplussation, I hold on and seek more information. Perhaps a biologically inherited trait.

“You know no man’s land?” That was an explosion–hitting immediately as comedy but cooling down as tragedy. The mention of no man’s land unleashed a hell lot of old memories that made her “there” make sense.

“Yes, I do.” A low, slightly drawn-out undertone of surprise.

“We live there. Mother and me.” She pointed to an elderly woman in a phanek by a hall wall, who I had seen earlier along with the children. Her life was written out there on her sad face. Her weathered withered face that looked apparently perpetually dull creased into a weak but so beautiful and heavy smile that I could not help smiling back. The smile lingered on the daughter’s face too and there was no politics in any of the curves and creases on that face. The world, the globe, spread flat before her, and the barbed-wire border fence was just another man-made structure like the walls of your house.

About eighteen years ago, while I, on a tour into Burma with one of my Burmese-speaking teachers (he looked like a Burmese too),  was crossing the border on foot, I saw several make-shift rag houses along the no man’s land, between the Indian and Burmese fences. They were Nepalese, Biharis and other Aryan and Dravidian ethnic groups from India, whose fate (whatever it was) had deprived them of livelihood and a floor to put their life on in the places people would call theirs. They found a land to live in there along the no man’s land. Nobody disturbed them there. The army on either side of the border did not find them worth their attention. Nobody roused them from their sleep there. They lived in peace there.

The border town of Moreh is a cultural, ethnic and linguistic metropolitan. Lying within the Moreh Police Station and in the jurisdiction of Moreh Judicial Magistrate, the border town of Moreh will often confuse one as to which law the people living here are subject of. Even often their citizenship. There are countless instances of love and marriage across the porous border that the laws of both sides of the border cannot account for. Love spreads its wings across the border, like the rays of the sun across the border as it rises and sets everyday. But these loves don’t live under the same roof. Love unsettles life so much. Love mixed up with the law.

Not so many cross-border uncivil activities by civilians.

“We came here in the early 1980s from Tamil Nadu.” The daughter said.

People move. Humans. Like homeless. From place to place to place. To live somewhere. Some travel thousands of miles to find a piece of land to live on, to build a roof to live under with their loved ones, to put their lives on that floor under the roof, between the four walls in the strong wind. You don’t easily find a foothold in the vacant fields, in the wilds, on the mountains, beside rivers. Nowhere. There will always come somebody to turn you out of there, and so you end up in a no man’s land. Love. So scarce and little in the world.

“I am an AASHA worker.” She said. How wonderful! That’s sort of a social work. Out of that no man’s land.

The sound of the band playing was now too loud for the conversation to go on. The groom procession had arrived. The drums, clarinets and bagpipes were far less loud than the noise they produce in the groom’s wedding procession in northern India. To an outsider to that culture, that noise rises beyond an insane height. Still, as we did not have to shout to continue with the talk, we let it out there.

Later, when things had subsided, I requested the mother for a photograph, and she gave her consent without a word. The lines on her face and the muscles there were eloquent like a poem filled with affects. I photographed her. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted her daughter’s photograph from my SD card while I was sorting out that day’s photographs later. Regret.