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Everything has a sound, even silence; even the pandemic

Everything has a sound, even silence. You may call it an oxymoron, but if you were to listen closely, you’d hear the deafening sound of the quiet. Our lives, made up of routine activities and special occasions, can be defined as a collection of sounds. The beeping of the alarm clock, the honking of the cars, the barking of the dogs, the incessant WhatsApp notifications, et al; our days are a jam session of sorts. So, when the other day someone asked me if the year 2020 had a sound, my head filled up with voices, blares, and impressions that many of us are struggling to contain.

What are then, the sounds of the pandemic? How did the initial few days and nights of Covid-19 play out? Noisy, I’d say. We were at the starting line of the race, and whilst we couldn’t see the finishing line, we knew there existed one. We were hopeful that this too shall pass, soon, awaiting to hear the clapboard click, The End. We knew little. The initial sounds of the virus were the slightly ‘merrier’ ones. The whole WFH arrangement was new, the homes were suddenly buzzing with family conversations, around meals, laptops, and board games. Grandparents, us, and our children were under the roof discovering new ways to redefine togetherness. We suddenly had the time (even if out of lack of choice) to listen to each other. Almost everyone I knew was whisking the Dalgona coffee, the sound of beating coffee was competing with the whisking of cookie dough and the ding of the oven. In between all this, was also the newish sound of Zoom calls and meetings. Since it had been just a few days of us cleaning our homes by ourselves, even the sound of the vacuum cleaner wore a melodious tone. Everyone was overindulging in Netflix; the sounds of the series and movies filled up hours. If at all, the sound of the elevator reached our ears, we’d all look at each other in disbelief. We weren’t expecting anyone, we were all in lockdown. Yes, the heroes, the delivery men, were visiting us to ensure we received our groceries, but when they’d come, they’d come silently. They went about doing their duties, without making a noise of all the good work they were up to and still are.

Soon enough, the charm of the new normal began to fade away, and the sound of fear crept it. Screaming headlines of the rising number of cases, stricter curfew announcements, tears shed as funerals were held in isolation… began to resonate. Outside our windows, the frontliners were spraying a magic potion sanitising the roads, going about their duties, silently. The birds, which we once saw only on Nat Geo, were now chirping in our neighbourhood lawns. Medical monitors were beeping in hospitals. It was getting grim by the day, but there were still some families indulging in games of Ludo on virtual platforms, just as they were celebrating occasions online. The swings were bereft of children fighting about turns. On the cycling tracks, no one was racing. It was getting quieter by the day. Interestingly enough, “Class, you can you stay quiet, please?” had given way to “Ma'am, we can’t hear you.” And in between the clicking of keyboards, suddenly a child would end up crying — sometimes, out of frustration at being unable to upload his homework, many times out of disappointment at not being able to see friends.

A couple of months have passed by, with the sounds of us uttering these words: Am I audible? I think, I lost you there, Let me reconnect, and more. Sounds of us worrying over our old parents managing in these times, all by themselves, are now competing with those of rising unemployment and closing of shutters.

How is the pandemic sounding today? Let’s just say normal. We’re moving on, behind masks. Yes, the sound of death brings a meek sigh, with blaring unspoken pain. When will we be able to hug one another and cry out loud, share our grief? It’s a question hard to answer. Earlier, the sound of an ambulance scared us, now the sound of a cough is enough to make one skip a heartbeat or a meme. The clock is ticking, telling us we’re headed to 2021. The numbers are filling up the gaps in between calls on MS Teams, 883 cases, 433 recoveries…

But, if just like silence, you were to listen attentively, you’ll still hear the sounds of faith, strength and determination. The sound of prayers, irrespective of what language you say it in, or who you worship. The sound of hope, that you and your loved ones don’t test Covid-19 positive. And then there’s the most significant sound of the frontliners, who are listening to the sound of duty over everything else. We may or may not make it to the finishing line, but what we can do at this moment is to vow to listen to the sound of togetherness, as we suffer and fight. Let’s keep this rhythm alive, and make way for the little giggle in the world of gloom.

Next chapter, coming soon.

With no set beginning, and end in sight, just as the pandemic; this fragmentary novel can be read from any chapter, any paragraph, go back to the novel

(P.S: Information on this piece: Purva Grover captured the sounds of the pandemic for a piece in Khaleej Times)


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