Saturday, May 13, 2006

The cold sounds of silence

It was a very special moment for Kumar and Gauri. Joy so undescribably obvious on their faces as they look at each other and smile knowingly, Gauri still lying in the bed and Kumar by her side as he takes her hand in his and holds it firmly, as if to say, we've made it. And they look to the right of the bed with a genuine pride and warmth: their just-born baby in the cradle. If the happiness in seeing the precious form of their baby was infinite, the anguish of not being able to hear the baby's cries was a million times more intense, only that it remained within their hearts and moistened their eyes. They were both deaf and mute.

A few years later...

The boy came running inside, visibly excited by what he had seen outside in the street in front of his house: a snake charmer. He was four and adorable. He had been playing with his mother at home, when he looked out the window to see a small crowd gathering. He had rushed out to see what it was about. Mama quietly followed him until the threshold and returned inside.

They were a poor family - one of the thousands in Mumbai - living in a house that Kumar's small earnings could barely afford. He earned his living by selling vegetables from a small push-cart in the nearby middle-class residential localities. He left home at five each morning to buy vegetables from the farmers from the north of Mumbai, and returned home after seven in the evening. The boy intently observes the snake's movements and imitates the snake charmer's action of playing the pipe with his fingers, just as the other kids on the road were doing. He was ecstatic as he came back running in to his mother. Now, he would eagerly wait for his father to bring him a small packet of peppermints, as he did everyday.

As Kumar came back home after a long summer day, his son came rushing with his hands forming a shape of the pipe used by the snake charmer, shaking his head to go with the movements of his hands. The boy then tries to tell his father he wants to become a snake-charmer too. The words do not come out of his mouth. Of course, the father cannot hear. He doesn't know that the boy can no longer speak, or hear. He doesn't know that it was because of their not being able to communicate with him. And as the mother brings them both something to eat for the night, gesturing to her husband to wash his hands, and the boy still lost in imitating the snake-charmer's action, one but just wonders when and how the parents might realise the truth. Until then, the house will be filled with the cold sounds of silence.