The Sounds of Silence
by Surabhi Kaushik
The scent of freshly lit incense sticks wafted through the air. The various figures of Gods and Goddesses, skilfully sculpted, painted in bright hues adorned the wall of the temple. They seemed to welcome Shankar as he climbed up the stony steps of the temple. He inhaled the sweet scents and smiled to himself as memories of Gowri came drifting along as crisply as the air itself. A smile appeared on his face.
The dew on the fully bloomed red roses in the temple’s garden seemed to reflect Gowri’s face, the fragrance of innocence was something he always noticed in her pretty face. Shankar’s pace hastened as he walked inside. The heavy brass doors opened wide, allowing him to walk past the oil lamps, burning brightly. Shankar joined his palms as he said a silent prayer within himself. It was the same prayer that Gowri & he would recite every evening when they came to the temple together. The difference this time was that Shankar prayed that he would meet Gowri, here in the same temple after so many years.
Having said his prayer, he looked up to the ceiling. His hand reached for the huge brass bell. He rang the bell, as though confirming to God that his prayer be heard. The ringing of the bell instantly reminded him of Gowri’s tiny hands trying to ring the bell. He almost laughed aloud at how he would tease her when she would jump up & try to reach the bell, the tiny silver bells on her leg tinkling gently. He looked out anxiously and eagerly, she would be here anytime now. That’s what she had said when she sent him a message on the phone. Gowri was always punctual. Shankar looked out of the huge metal squares that made up for the temple’s window. He saw someone in a bright red saree walking quickly towards the temple. He could tell that it was her, even from a distance. She came closer. It was her. Gowri Shankar he said their names together to himself with a smile in his eyes. They were made for each other. Just like the celestial pair that he worshipped.
He heard the bell ring behind him. He turned to see Gowri, smiling at him. They stood together in front of the altar and closed their eyes and prayed, just like they used to in their childhood. But Gowri’s smile quickly disappeared like the rainbow runs away from the sunny skies. She had worry written all over her face. She wanted to tell Shankar that she chose not to marry him. She wanted to teach deaf and dumb students all her life, children who were just like her. He knew it. He supported her. Shankar was probably the nicest man she ever knew. He accepted her for what she was. Never expected her to change. But somehow Gowri was not convinced of marrying him. She felt an imbalance somewhere. This imbalance was within herself. She was aware of it. Gowri was convinced that her insecurities would ruin the beautiful friendship they had. She did not want to lose it. She had made her decision. All she had to do was tell Shankar. She hated to upset him. But she thought she was being realistic.
Her kohl smeared eyes shone brightly and the
more Shankar looked into them, the more he found himself in love with her. She was the most beautiful woman for him and would always be. They walked together towards the exit door of the temple. Right outside was a beautiful garden of red roses that drew him back into their childhood days where they would sit, laugh and crack jokes at each other. But that was many moons ago. Shankar pushed back his urge to cave her into his shoulders. Not yet. Gowri had not consented to marry him. They sat down on the stone stairs and Shankar looked into her eyes, he tried to take her hands into his, but when he sensed that she was not as excited as him, he let it be. “So, will you marry me?” he asked her without mincing his words. She could feel the depth of his love, his voice almost pleading. She shook her head from one side to another. “No” she mouthed the words. The words he saw but never heard. He stood up frustrated and pained.
He could feel his blood rushing all over his body, gushing at once. His hands shivered as the words flowed out of her lips. She was not looking at him. She never did when she knew that he was sad. She couldn’t bear it. He stood there like a huge tree caught in torrential rain, soaking every emotion to the root. It had been 3 years since he proposed to marry Gowri, the only woman he had fallen in love with. They had spent so much time together, they understood each other like no one else. Gowri din’t speak. She never did since she was a child. She never heard a single sound, not even her own laughter. But for Shankar, she was perfect. In fact, he thought he couldn’t be luckier. Everything about her was beautiful, there was a unique personality in her, blended with purity and honesty that made her so special. His love was misread as sympathy, but there was no way to explain it to her. She completed him. Why wouldn’t she understand? It wasn’t her silence he loved, but the sounds in her silence that only he could read. She loved him too, they both knew it, but a monster called fear wouldn’t let go of her, bringing her back and forth like the waves that skirt the shore. Her silence was deafening her, but she din’t want to listen to her heart, Shankar deserved a normal girl, just like himself. That would make her happy. And it made sense too.
She held back her tears like a mother clinging to her baby, who is leaping out of her arms, wanting to crawl on the floor. She shut her eyes tight. The moment would disappear and so would Shankar. Never to come back again. She was shaken by a touch on her wrist. Her eyes opened, with black kohl smudged all over. It was Shankar. She saw his lips saying, "I will still wait for you.” And he walked away down the stairs, as she looked into the orange skies rimmed with golden lines. He din’t speak this time, only moved his lips, but she heard him, his silence, his thoughts, his love. Everything has a sound if you want to hear it. ***