The Silent Treatment


With the advent of the mobile phone we have been smartly introduced to the silent mode, which enables us to get along with our work, without worrying about the noise generated by someone nearby, or even remote. I’m sure the designers of the mobile phone must have lifted the idea from our own daily lives.

When ‘just married’, my wife and I, often found solace in the Silent World. We start discussing a topic – often forgetting to listen to each other; each one pinging the mind on what to say next, rather than become all ears, listen, and make a sensible reply; and end up fighting like cats & dogs. In the end, suddenly there is an eerie stillness, not a word, not a sound, and we finally agree to treat each other silently, no confrontation. We find our match in the silence, allowing it to fill the space between us. This may last a few hours, a day or even more, with only the ‘basic sounds being made’ to live the daily grind. Over the years the Silent Treatment has survived, evolved, and taken many avatars, but refuses to become fully extinct.

That takes me back to the School Days when as growing-up kids we fought over boy-boundaries, pencils, rubbers, scales, compass boxes, comics, books… and what not? When the trade between partners breaks-down we end up saying the famous line, ‘I’ll not talk to you again’. We are enemies, and enemies don’t talk to each other, do they? Most often we show the white flag, call truce, patch-up, and are back to talking again. How many times have we done this? I wonder.

When in College and University we follow a similar pattern: there are some people we just cannot tolerate, or simply do not want to talk to, often the end-result of a ‘bare the fangs, rowdy’ first meeting. Here, more than the silent treatment it is a cold disengagement; our personal version of a Cold-War.

When I returned to my Hometown, after a glorious run around India, and some parts of the World, I settled down in my own Flat in a small Apartment Complex built by a close bloodline relative – The Owner. With the confidence of the many places I had lived, I decided to take up the task of painting and re-furbishing the Apartment, dreaming of making it a ‘Paradise on Earth’ (Why, Kashmir?). The Apartment wasn’t maintained well and needed some decent paint work to be done. I went about talking to the stakeholders, planning, tendering, calling for quotes and shortlisting a Contractor. Meanwhile, I sounded the Flat Residents, including The Owner, on the cost involved, secured their approval, made the cash flow, and got the work started. Midway, I had to handover the work to another Person as I was starting my new Apparel Manufacturing Business in a nearby Town. Further, the cash also dried-up as The Owner reimbursement himself on previous Expenses; another Resident, tied to The Owner, did not pay up his share; and in addition, we had to talk to everyone on the need to collect more. My emails to all concerned were on an even keel, and somehow the written word made the Owner testy, and he went into the Silent mode.

It’s over four years now, since The Owner and I have spoken – the last time was, when he was after me to copy-write his Resume, he knew I was a damn good Writer and a storyteller – during which time the talk was primarily over email. We do bump into each other in the parking area or at the few Weddings I attend, but he looks the other way, suddenly discovers a new-found friend, launches into a Chandrayaan orbit; or puts his ear to a nonexistent ‘silent’ mobile call. The relationship is truly broken. We never drew swords, fired a rifle shot or wrestled each other on the mat.  The Silent Treatment continues to this day.

While starting our (my wife & me) Own Women’s Apparel Manufacturing Business, we set up Factory and Shop in a nearby Town, off the never-fully-finished painted Apartment of my Hometown, on the undivided property owned by my wife’s late Father. She thought she had a share of what was left of her Dad’s Estate; the Law said so; until one day her Brother decided to make a new Law, dispatches an Army of Blood-line relatives, led by a  ‘fair’ double-MBA US Residing Cousin, to talk to her on leaving; ignoring facts, and failing to acknowledge that she has an equal share of the property. Girl, there are blood curling debts and issues which the poor rich Brother has to encounter, she was told. They fired a broadside of unforgivable lacerating words, which made wounds deep inside, and stormed out never to speak to us again. They were people we dined and laughed with all these years. The unfinished paint work stuck here and too and manifested into the Silent Treatment. We play the cat & mouse game when and wherever we meet, especially in Family Events, to avoid each other, exercising the neck and back muscles – stretching to the maximum. That’s a Tom & Jerry moment we’ve learnt to celebrate!

Nearer Home, it’s been months since I’ve talked to my Dad; had a proper conversation; a Dad-Son talk. We seem to disagree on everything except the word disagreement. We have now weaponized it into a Silent Treatment grenade, which pin is pulled whenever we meet; the devastation causing us to scurry into our own thick-walled bunkers, for our own safety.

A relationship is surely dead when subject to the Silent Treatment. Isn’t it?

Suddenly I found a long and ever-growing list of the ‘Silent Treatment Fund’ in many other Groups, beyond mine; and when I silently turned around, opened my ears,  and listened to the neighborhood I found about the same silence. So silent I could hear my beard growing!

Why do we – the thinking and talking Homo Sapiens, do this? We have disagreements, opinions and judgments that vary as much we are all so different. But why can’t we accept this and move on? Agree to disagree? Become better listeners; listen to understand instead of listening to respond? I remember, Aristotle famously said, ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it’. Why cannot we just entertain thoughts, and not chase them to destruction?

This Diwali season, maybe a bust of crackers would make the right noises; the sounds to be heard beyond our individual walls!


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