You know what I intend to do today? Sit in my balcony all afternoon. Summer is formally another two weeks away, but the weather is as pleasant as it can be all year. There’s a wind out and about. I’ll make myself comfortable on my green bean bag (even though my wife detests the concept of bean bags, she bought it for me on my birthday), with a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and enjoy the brightest hours of the day in absolute silence.

My balcony, at the rear of my building, overlooks a massive garden. A ten-foot wall separates the thin strip of an alley behind my building and the garden on the other side. At this time of the day, not many fancy a getaway to the park. Except for a couple of visitors, walking along the farther end, it looks deserted. A few trees dot this southern side, and there are birds making their way in and out of the trees; some may be considering a post lunch siesta, some – the more restless ones, I suppose –  are busy with their errands.

Right next to my building, my neighbours are getting their house rebuilt from the ground up. It’s been eight months since the crew tore down the older building. While the structure, including the walls, has been put in place, the incessant whirring of the machines cutting marble and glass doesn’t provide the kind of silence you equate with quietness.

Today, being on a self-given vacation (I’m a writer, which means I can slip into a break anytime, any day of the week I want), my kids spending their day at their friends’, and my wife  in office, I have the afternoon and the house to myself! Normally, I would be on my laptop, slamming through the new novel I’m writing. But today, the outdoors calls me.

So, I perch myself on the bean bag, place the plate carrying my saucy deliciousness on the floor, take in a lungful of new summer air which even though is not perfume-scented but has a kind of fragrance that’s both fresh and calming, put my hands behind my head and stare into… nowhere and everywhere. The few birds flying in and out of my field of vision chirrup and caw, and the machines working laboriously next door whir and thrum. The sun’s out, but I can barely feel the heat. The breeze is cool. A whiff of it brushes past me. I close my eyes, and smile. The sounds that surround me – even the construction noise, which is as far from being called a melody as the sun from the earth – feel like they belong.

Belong to this landscape of diverse sights and sounds that is this world.

Belong to the silence I’m seeking.

Of course, if it’s absolute quiet I desire, the sounds should irate me, shouldn’t they? Don’t people slip back in their cocoons, close all doors and windows, shut off the lights, draw the curtains, unplug themselves, to seek silence? And yet, funnily, I find myself more at peace being plugged in. The birdsong and construction racket aside, somewhere in the distance a generator comes to life, pumping more noise, and a snatch of chatter from the balcony just below my house. The latter, a phone conversation I don’t wish to hear, lasts a few seconds, before I hear a curt “bye.” A minute later, while I’ve started digging into the plateful of happiness now on my lap, an airplane passes overhead. It flies lower than you’d expect, but that could be because it’s touching base at the military-run airport close to my place. I watch its tail, thinking of nothing in particular; and out of the blue the skeleton of an idea for a new story – of a group of passengers that miraculously escape a crash – forms in my mind. I shelve it away for a while, though I can sense it gaining strength.

Another whiff of the breeze, this one a little stronger, rustles the leaves on the trees. This sound is definitely soothing, like being able to reach that itch at the small of your back you until now couldn’t and giving it a satisfying scratch. The sound of my downstairs neighbour returns. The lady screams at someone; the grocery delivery guy, it seems, because she yells “just put the vegetables in the basket I’m hanging, and I’ll pull them up.” He acknowledges it with a short “Yeah, okay.” I hear the neighbour, who turned 72 last month, grunting as she pulls the basket up. The generator noise has crawled back into the farthest recesses of my mind. I know it’s there, but I can’t hear it – sense it – anymore. The birds twitter and cheep intermittently.

And, despite not the most ideal kind of silence, I feel… at peace. Is your mama gonna miss you, a song I absolutely love, starts in my mind. Songs have an uncanny ability to do that in the unlikeliest of situations, don’t they? But I shut it off. Of course, at least objectively, Bryan Adams would be a better alternative in every respect than the cocktail of noises that envelope me. And maybe, if I was in a more disquieting mood, I would put on my earplugs and prefer a more lyrical “noise,” for the lack of a better word.

But, right now, there’s nothing more comforting than…

All this.

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(Photo: Michael Coghlan / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Shaurya Arya-Kanojia
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