« Previous | Next»

30 Oct 2009


Posted by Oblivion in Fiction | 6:04pm

The streets were buzzing with crowd and the deafening noise was unavoidable. The loud steps of the young, infirm steps of the old, tender steps of children, arrogant steps of cops, measured steps of the ascetic, wayward steps of the awestruck tourist, all of those crossing one another's randomly on the tarmac. Not a very hot morning it was, and they decided to stop by at a restaurant.

No sooner had they found a place to sit than the waiter loudly listed the items on the menu and waited impatiently for the order. A few words of slang from the table to the right, squeals of laughter from that to the left, and the clang of empty glasses from the one behind... noise permeated the entire surrounding. The waiter rushed to fetch and one doubted if he heard the order completely.

The tea was hot, and Murthy preferred to wait. He noticed Sid looking at the tea with focus. Maybe it brought a few memories, but it wasn't obvious to Murthy. He asked, "Dude, is something off with you?" "At times, one is off", Sid put it vaguely.

"I'm asking about you".

"At times,... one is off", Sid repeated.

"You could've informed me before coming. What if I wasn't here? As it is, it's Diwali vacation for school!" Murthy looked at Sid. "Isn't that crazy?"

"Well, I've become unpredictable, of late".

"We are too old for that, man!"

Sid responded with a shrug.

"You didn't have a plan, did you? Been quite some time since we met last. You didn't even want to check if I'm working with the same school? And you don't have return tickets!"

"Just occurred to me if I could visit the ghats and Sarnath. So I came. Checked with school... and you were there. And then there are always hotels, anyways. As for tickets, I will book it here".

"Being planned doesn't hurt, right?"

"If one is unplanned at times, I guess it's all right".

"Sailing with no direction or purpose, then? How good is that! Specially when one can afford not to?"

"There are times when one can't drive the sail. Waters are rough at places".

"That doesn't mean you would just let it go!"

"Maybe one hasn't. If one is running to catch the distant flower, he will brave the thorns on the path. It doesn't mean he is careless or hasn't planned his run to evade the thorns. On the contrary!"

Briefly, Murthy seemed to agree. "I see you have a point. Maybe you don't consider this important enough to plan. I plan, however, to go for a mobile number next year. You can do better then".


The pause in conversation was unnoticeable. It faded readily into the noise, imperceptibly. Sid almost finished drinking the tea while Murthy just began.

Murthy wouldn't be quiet for long. "Why the ghats, all of a sudden?"

"Something about them seemed to draw me".

"What? Their being old, sombre and morbid?" Murthy laughed.

"Perhaps. Resembles some old chap who has gone through the run of life. Reeks of silent wisdom".

"How about a haggard, used oldie crumbling under his own weight? Totally done in".

"Let's see. We will be there in a while", Sid smiled.

"You look low, man! You sound low, too!"

Sid knew, but he didn't think it showed. "The ride isn't always up and smooth. Sometimes, there's the decline on the hill of life".

"So you are on the decline? Where does it end?"

"It ends with the fall... The fall that levels everything... and shows you where you belong".

"So you are waiting for the fall?" Murthy finished the tea and put the empty glass down with deliberation. The contact of glass with the table was far from quiet.

"Waiting for the inevitable is redundant. For the present, it's just the decline".

"How long will the present last?"

"For now, the present is indefinite".

"Present indefinite", Murthy smiled. "Dude, tea isn't the best drink when on a decline. Like to try grass? Mescaline?" he winked. "My buddies at BHU can treat us".

"No, thanks!" Sid was amused.

"Worry not. One dip in the Ganges and the sin will be washed away", Murthy laughed. "If present is indefinite, future is tense. Present indefinite; future tense", Murthy played with words.

As they set out to the walk to the ghats, the noise followed them. Loyally. The noise of restless mankind. The noise of winter morning. The noise of ancient city. The noise of trade. The noise of the dogs fighting for a piece of bone in garbage. The noise of the pleading of beggars. The noise of the chanting of hymns. The noise of the weight of tradition. The noise of absolute faith. The noise of the suppressed dreams. The noise of the abandoned newborns. The noise of tears in the eyes of the old woman on the brink of death. The noise of brawls, of shattering failures, of loving hugs, of wily smiles, of the words unsaid, of the songs unsung, of broken hearts, of blithe spirits, of chattering minds, of noise, and of silence.

At the bottom of the flight of stairs, they stood on the banks of the Ganges, flowing serenely with flowers and filth. Shortly after, an old man in saffron robes and gray hairs caught their attention. "I will just get some flowers. Wait", Murthy said and went up. "Sure", Sid replied. The old man approached Sid, looked at him for a while and smiled. Sid couldn't help reciprocate; old man and saffron was a charming combination. "Life-altering time?", the old man asked with a smile and started to walk away. Sid, caught in utter surprise, looked at the man. Sid didn't answer "Yes", but the old man seemed to know. Walking the steps up, he said "God bless!"

"Thank you", Sid replied.

As the old man walked away and Murthy started walking toward, Sid heard the noise of their steps. Noise followed noise. The noise of surprise. The noise of ascent. The noise of descent. The noise of the ardent devotees. The noise of the living. The noise of the dying. The noise of sinners. The noise of sinning. The noise of the burning pyre. The noise of priests haggling for money. The noise of wrestlers. The noise of boatsmen luring visitors. The noise of kids jumping into the waters. The noise of the click of camera buttons. The noise of the pens arranging words on empty paper. The noise of relations consigning the corpse to flames. The noise of the flowers in garlands. The noise of the presence of strangers. The noise of the absence of dear ones. The noise of the silent, unseen God. The noise of the souls seeking salvation. The noise of eagles prying for the edible remains. The noise of monkeys stealing bits of food. The noise of the ashes dissolving in waters. The noise of reason. The noise of unreason. The noise of longing. The noise of belonging. The noise of unbelonging. The noise of existence. The noise of death. The noise of life.

The noise of the beat of the heart. The noise of presence. The noise of absence. 

18 Comments | "Noise" »

  1. By oblivion:

    1 Dec 2009, 7:23pm [ Reply ]

    @chunmun: don't know how appealing sid's character is, but i quite appreciate your other insightful remarks :)

  2. By chunmun:

    21 Nov 2009, 1:06am [ Reply ]

    Ya,it may at times be difficult to read the other person, but murthy could see sid before him, so he could have understood as much if he had been more perceptive without sid having to express anything; after all, that's what friends are for:) But i suppose that's the point of the narrative, sid is everything murthy isn't, but i think any reader would find sid's character more identifiable and appealing than murthy's? 'The fall that levels everything, and shows you where you belong'.. should be quite true for many of us i think.

  3. By oblivion:

    19 Nov 2009, 12:06pm [ Reply ]

    @An Observer: thanks! reminds me of a line in a flick that goes something like this: "camps are not therapy. camps are camps. nothing comes of it". sometimes, life's like a camp. and then even silence becomes noise. perhaps?

    @prAMod: thanks!

  4. By prAMod:

    18 Nov 2009, 4:25pm [ Reply ]

    Unsettling but excellent!

  5. By a fan:

    13 Nov 2009, 1:19am [ Reply ]

    @ Linus: Welcome:) Western thought seems to be predominant today, but, many people from the west are embracing Buddhist thought and philosophy,too, isnt it? :) So, there's definitely more to life than ambition, success and tangibles?

  6. By oblivion:

    12 Nov 2009, 12:03pm [ Reply ]

    @luckychinna: thanks, luckychinna. have a great day! keep smiling

  7. By Linus:

    11 Nov 2009, 1:13pm [ Reply ]

    @Oblivion: Is the emphasis on livelihood (as against life) more in western thought? (Consequently, also on ambition, success, etc?) Buddha is rather an 'eastern' character? Western thought is predominant today, all the same. And it misses the plot consistently.

    The dialogue is good. Which movie?

    Right, you could do with some cheer!

    @a fan: Thanks for your words about the anecdote. I agree with the point about comfort zone and the inertia.

  8. By An Observer:

    10 Nov 2009, 4:02pm [ Reply ]

    Brilliant! Although bit too much of noise stayed at the end! But, never mind. Expressions, mostly pain, as evident as the image in the mirror, yet, palpable. Seems like a first hand experience being unfolded. You truly need to cheer up!

  9. By luckychinna:

    10 Nov 2009, 11:23am [ Reply ]

    and yes, brilliant writing, once again oblivion! hope u n sid both cheer up soon. keep smiling :)

  10. By luckychinna:

    10 Nov 2009, 11:21am [ Reply ]

    oh yeah noise is something i can totally relate to right now... literally!

  11. By a fan:

    9 Nov 2009, 2:22pm [ Reply ]

    @ Oblivion: Murthy is a foil for Sid is it? All planned and proper, even irritatingly so:) But this isn't about Murthy but about Sid, who doesn't seem to realise that life may alter again,perhaps for better?

  12. By oblivion:

    9 Nov 2009, 11:43am [ Reply ]

    @chunmun: i guess it is, at times, tough, for various reasons, to read the other person. maybe there wasn't anything murthy could relate to. or maybe sid isn't expressive, after all. the noise of spiritualism could be because of the setting?

    @Linus: not that there are any absolute answers, but I'll give my take: 1.no, sid isn't referring to death. most of us can easily relate to the line 'there comes a point in time...' he's referring to that moment, rather. yes, quite possible that unrest might prevail.

    2.thanks for sharing the anecdote. chance is not understood easily, and that explains the way we correlate and assess. 'future' drives major industries (insurance, consulting, investment, etc). so, planning is considered a given, and is held a respectable and desirable trait. to an extent, it's a sensible trait too. assessment, however, is subjective, as your anecdote shows. depends on our priorities, i guess - livelihood/life, intellect/energy, mind/heart, etc.

    interesting that u referred to mozart. music meant everything for him. a perfect example for passion. agree that economists would assess him differently (is that why the popular saying, 'money is god'?). reminds me of a dialogue in a flick. a father expects his young son to expand the family's chain of pizzeria. brings up the same over drinks. the son loves something else and refuses. the father insists. the dialogue:
    son: 'there's more to life than pizza'
    father: 'like what!!?'
    son: 'ardour and passion'
    father: 'and what will they buy for you?'
    the son realises there's a wide divide of perspectives and that he cannnot make the father understand of the same. he smiles, shrugs and walks out.

    indeed, for every million or two regular people like us, there are always two or three buddhas. good going. buddha didn't have a plan for the next meal. wonder how we would interpret that.

    @a fan: thanks.

    can't result in a bad fall? let's see how people end up - nervous breakdown, suicide, enlightenment (rare souls), depression, cynicism, hatred, disillusionment, change of belief system, ambition, etc. no matter what, life has no answers. one can take to drugs or booze, buckle up to try something else, justify, rationalise and pull the curtain, lock in a closet and turn away, accept it as his lot, live with it, etc. sometimes one has choice; sometimes he has none. given this, i suppose a bad fall is possible. life is open.

    in any case, at the end, one is a story that can be told in fifty words. or much less. after two generations, one is as good as fiction.

  13. By chunmun:

    4 Nov 2009, 11:54pm [ Reply ]

    Murthy also missed seeing that the tea brought some memories for Sid, wierd friend, this one is...thick skinned as well as thick headed:)Surprisingly strange that there is a pervading sense of spiritualism in the story...very different from the earlier stories featuring Sid...

  14. By a fan:

    3 Nov 2009, 8:20pm [ Reply ]

    @ Linus: P.S. Nice anecdote about the prof and his students...you are right, chance and destiny play a pivotal role in how most things turn out...yes, most of us live our lives in comfort zones, and are simply not brave enough to get out of them...it requires extreme courage and mettle to take a risk even though we know that it may work out as beneficial and positive...

  15. By a fan:

    3 Nov 2009, 4:21pm [ Reply ]

    @ Oblivion: On second thoughts, being on the decline can't result in a bad fall anyway, it should be a soft landing; the 'fall' can only take place from the peak of the hill:)

  16. By a fan:

    3 Nov 2009, 4:03pm [ Reply ]

    @ Oblivion: Brilliant metaphors... the 'hill of life' has a decline for all of us by virtue of its being a hill, if had only the incline and not the decline then it wouldn't be a hill at all, but some other geographical feature:)

  17. By a fan:

    3 Nov 2009, 3:50pm [ Reply ]

    @ Linus: Not my place to say given i have not written the story, but my feeling is that 'the fall' refers neither to death nor to rest, but literally to 'the decline on the hill of life'...referring to perhaps the feeling that is there when we are walking downhill and an unknown force propels us down, unfortunately faster than we would care to go down...but the exact meaning of course is for the author to know...

  18. By Linus:

    3 Nov 2009, 2:26pm [ Reply ]

    Liked this one. Two questions.
    1.What r u referring to, by 'the fall'? Death? Or the position of rest after unrest? Looks like u r referring to the latter. In this case, then, can one take it as inevitable? Cannot unrest persist and never come to a halt?

    2.A digression, but fits here. About the concept of 'planning' and its correlations (came up the other day in a discussion with Sridhar. I'm doing a paper on this, so seeking opinions). My take is - we assess it only in retrospect. Will share an interesting anecdote. A phil prof told (to his students) the story of an investor given to taking risks. He ended it by saying that he went bankrupt, and asked students of the assessment. Majority opined he was a foolish investor. The prof told the same story to another batch, but changed the ending. He said the investor made quite a few million bucks. The students said he was an exceptionally smart investor, and all his risks were seen as calculated ones. Although, in both cases, the upshot was driven by chance! The most cautious investors can go bankrupt and a most impulsive one can end up with millions. Right?

    Those who assess Mozart by his work alone think he is a genius. Economists would think he is irrational, for he died a pauper. If you have a few million bucks, somehow everything seems to fit. Even being unplanned would appear rather cool. For my part, I think the world would be quite boring and mediocre if all of us live (which we do) in comfort zones. Let there be a few who don't mind risks. What say u?

    Hey, and among our gang u r a most adamantly focused guy I know. So if Sid is you, perhaps Murthy (btw, who is he?) missed seeing the 'method' to the madness?

Add comment