Sublime silences that fill the void

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In our high-octane lives, regular small pockets of wordless non-interaction can re-energise us more than anything else. Here are some shared silences doled out in short surreal bursts...

The silences we share are precious reminders that words can lie, but states of being can't. | Illustration: Mihir Balantrapu

She sees him across the road just as she is reaching the chai kadai. She waits for him to cross over and they hug.

“Rendu lemon tea,” he says. “Chakkarai kammi.”

 

“Oru lights, oru garam,” she adds. He always forgets this bit.

 

They head to their usual spot — the white bench facing the Vinayagar temple. They sit down, drink their tea, smoke their cigarettes and stare into space.

 

After a few minutes, she taps him on the knee. They go to the counter. She pays the bill. (He had paid yesterday.)

 

They walk to the junction, hug again, and head back in different directions.

 

*

 

Everytime the doorbell rings, he wakes up from his mid-morning nap to see if it is her. On the fourth ring, he knows it’s her from the way his wife exclaims in joy. She walks in straight to his room, bends down and kisses his left cheek.

 

She reaches out for the iPad and tunes into a channel playing Ghantasala hits. Once the water is hot enough, she turns off the geyser and fills up the flat tub.

 

He is already waiting, seated by the window on his red plastic Neelkamal chair. She tests the temperature of the water. It is a little above lukewarm. She pours in a bit of shampoo from a yellow Sunsilk bottle, two tablespoons of rock salt and a dash of lime.

 

For the next half hour, the only sounds in the room are of his feet being scrubbed and the melodies of Maya Bazaar.

 

Once the water is sufficiently brown, she goes back into the bathroom, empties the tub into the toilet and refills it with cold water. After another five minutes of scrubbing, she lifts his legs out of the tub, wipes them clean with an old blue towel and goes back to wash up.

 

By the time she’s done, he’s already in bed, eyes closed, a think pink blanket covering his legs. She goes over, pulls the blanket up to his chest, tucks him in and heads to the door.

 

At the door, she turns, walks back, bends down, and kisses his left cheek. He pretends to be asleep but she can see his face break into a slight smile.

 

*
 

There was a time they spent years at a stretch under the same roof, talking, squabbling, singing, dancing, eating, drinking, punching, pinching and playing together.

 

These days they met once in a fortnight. Sometimes rarer. There was a lot happening in each of their lives but “their routine” remained the same.

 

Each time she came over, she’d knock on his door when it was time to leave. He’d come out, freshen up, take the car keys, wear his sandals and wait by the lift until she finished her goodbyes. It always took at least seven minutes for the farewell ritual.

 

 

They’d go down the six floors to the basement in silence. Only the sound of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to keep them company in the lift.

 

 

 

They’d get into the car and once he was out of the basement, he’d turn on the music system. He already knew what song to play. He’d scroll down the list and hit play. Most of the times, it would be a song from the latest Amit Trivedi album. She’d bob her head. He’d hum along.

 

By the time the song ended, they’d have reached the bus stop. A car hug, a double wave and sometime a peck on the cheek and she’d get out. He’d wave one last time and drive away. The 29C would have just swerved in. She’d get on the bus and soon be gone too.

 

*

 

Every time someone referred to them as ‘best friends’ at parties, they’d look at each other and roll their eyes. They were more than that.

 

They’d meet almost everyday. Over many tall glasses of Irish coffee at several CCDs, several cups of inji teas at the local chai kadais, over rava dosa and filter coffee at Apoorva Sangeetha and Balaji Bhavan, over long walks at Nageshwara Rao park and shorter walks to the Malaysian joint near her office. Over 29C rides to the beach and 45B rides to her house. Over cool tumblers of lemon Tang in her bedroom and shared puffs under the stars on her terrace. Each time they met, they spoke and spoke.

 

But every time they got into an auto, they’d look at each other, smile and let their gaze wander out while ‘her’ right hand and ‘her’ left hand would wrap around each other and remain that way for the rest of the journey. Not a single word spoken.

 

*

 

At times it would be a gentle pat on her face. At others, it would be a loud wake up call. Every morning, this was what she woke up to. After her usual ablutions, she’d set the pan on the induction stove, add 3/4th cup water, 1/4th milk, 1 teaspoon of tea powder and a quarter spoon of crushed cardamom.

 

 

 

She’d pour the tea into her favourite mug — “Happiness is for all seasons.”

 

In the balcony, her friend would already be waiting on the brown plastic chair at the corner. She’d settle down on hers. Her companion would look up and, noticing nothing abnormal, would return to gazing at the pigeons in the balcony opposite to theirs.

 

When she finishes her tea and gets up to leave, her friend would let out a loud mew. She’d bend down and scratch her under the neck. Her friend would purr, jump off the chair and lead the way back to the kitchen.

 

*

 

Our every conversation is filled with words. Good words, bad words, nice words, mean words, actual words and made-up ones, meaningful and sometimes meaningless.

 

But the silences we share are the conversations we cherish the most.

 

She woke up from her siesta and checked the time. It was 3.45. She picked up her phone and typed in a message.

 

“Tea?”

 

“Ok.”

 

Ten minutes later, she had reached the Shiva temple near the bus stand. She looked to her right and saw him walking briskly towards her. She smiled at him and he waved back.

 

He walked the 100 metres separating them in less than 10 seconds. They hugged. And crossed the road.

 

“Rendu lemon tea, anna,” he said, placing their usual order.

 

“Oru garam, oru milds,” she completed the order. He always forgot.

 

They waited on the bench outside. When their order arrived, the clinked their glasses and took a sip. Over the next ten minutes, they sat in silence, staring in different directions. Inside their mind, they were in different worlds but it also felt like they were in the same room — like sitting in an empty room with music streaming out of a record player — just that each of them had a different record on that player.

 

After 10 minutes, they were done with their smokes and tea. They clinked their glasses again and headed to the counter.

 

She took out her wallet to pay. (He had paid yesterday). She handed over 40 rupees to the chai anna.

 

They walked out to the road and crossed over to the Shiva temple. They hugged again and set back in different directions. Every afternoon, two lemon teas, two cigarettes and 15 minutes of shared silence.

 

*

The bell rang — the double bell that was her trademark. His wife let out a delighted hello. He looked up at the clock. It was 11. She was always on time. Never a minute late, or early.

*

 

 

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