Tanuj Solanki \ Monsoon 2015
The Mechanics of Silence
Abha thinks about the silent movie she has just finished watching.
The actors over-animated through necessity.
The dialogues mimed, shown.
And they must be precise.
This constraint, Abha thinks, this constraint of not being able to give sound to what is said, must
have made silent movie writers creative.
Creativity is from constraints, she feels like noting this down somewhere.
Creativity is from the ardor to work beyond the constraints, she corrects herself.
Creativity is tunneling through the constraints.
Creativity is going beyond a boundary, any boundary.
Even if that boundary is arbitrary and self-made.
So why doesn’t she call him?
Everyone in the silent movie is dead now.
That brute of a hero, his gestures brimming with strength, is dead.
That radiant heroine, a jailer to the camera’s gaze, is dead.
The director is dead.
Everyone who ever had to do anything with the movie is dead.
She plays the movie again.
The movie is now a pageant of death.
She feels as if she is ogling at the actions and gestures (even if make-believe) of the dead.
The movements of the actors get a new meaning load now.
The certainty of their death weighs down on everything.
All comedy is now a larger human tragedy.
The over-acting doesn’t look like over-acting now.
It looks like lived life.
The movie is a ruin in perfect condition, she thinks.
It is its own contradiction.
She needs to distract herself.
Maybe silent cinema should be a genre today, she thinks.
Just so that writers have an entirely different creative outlet.
Should she call him?
Her throat feels dry.
She shuts her laptop and goes to the kitchen.
She drinks a lot of water.
There is still thirst.
She puts the bottle inside the fridge and goes to the bathroom to look at the mirror there.
Her face is her face.
He will not call.
She thinks of touching herself.
She should go outdoors.
She should stop doing random things like watching silent movies on a Saturday.
She should run on Saturday mornings.
She is getting fat.
She washes her face and pins up her hair.
For a second she appears beautiful to herself.
She puts on some shoes and steps outside the apartment.
On the street, the spring sun, clear and liquid, goes through her.
She reminds herself not to smoke a cigarette the whole day.
Some of the silent movie directors must have known that the silence of movies was temporary, that
one day movies won’t be silent any more.
A camera could track her right now.
Right now, a camera tracking her would convey that she is going somewhere.
But she is not going anywhere in particular.
Where should she go?
The silence of silent movies is a felix culpa that allows us to know sound and soundlessness intimately.
The silence of a silent relationship is a __________ that allows us to know _______ and
Pain and its pastimes.
Anger and _________
She could go right or left.
Inside the mall, there is a small strain of classical music, Western classical music.
Abha thinks of Schubert’s Impromptus.
He could play a couple of them, though not very well.
She doesn’t know where to go inside the mall; some of the stores haven’t even opened yet.
Not that she is here to visit the stores that are still closed.
Or have just opened.
This coming-to-the-mall with nothing to do is not happening for the first time.
She wonders if it is a signifier of some malaise in her.
Like previous instances of being purposeless in the mall, she starts moving toward the top floor,
where the food court is.
There is a series of escalators to be taken.
She has always found the appellation food court bemusing.
She has always found the serrated steps of the escalator dangerous.
She reaches the food court.
There are people there.
Are these people like her, lonely people who come to food courts inside malls?
She goes to McDonald's and orders a meal.
She nibbles at the burger and fries but she is not really interested in eating.
The camera could be in front of her, focused on her eyes.
The movie will be a silent one.
She will not look directly into the camera.
But the gaze of the camera will make her confront the malaise.
She will probably cry.
The televisions of the food court are all switched on together.
There is a live cricket match on the televisions.
India is playing.
He must be watching.
She is thankful that there is something she can watch.
It seems that India is in a tight spot but it also seems that India will win.
She munches the burger a little more.
The food court begins to fill with more people.
Couples and families are joining in now; the singletons becoming a minority.
The noise of the place is increasing.
She listens carefully to the increments in sound.
There is that rustle at the food counters.
There are shout-outs to family members, things said loudly, loud laughter.
She decides to gape at the action at a distant table, distant enough so that none of its sounds will
The kid is engrossed in the fries.
The father looks up to the television while dipping his burger in ketchup.
The mother has a bad posture while eating.
The mother just stares at the food trays in front of her.
What would a silent movie director make of this scene?
The actors aren’t animated enough, so something will have to give.
The camera can move.
The camera will slowly move towards them.
The closing-up may mean picking out this Indian family as the Indian family.
The camera should keep going closer.
There should be silence, unforced, unexamined.
The camera should eventually go behind the father’s head and trace his gaze, toward the television.
The camera should then focus on the television, but it should show the action on the screen only as
What will this scene convey?
As far as the Indian family is concerned: nothing.
Or perhaps the camera shouldn’t move.
It should stay where Abha is, and keep gaping.
Some unsayable is bared when a gaze fixates on something with life.
But there should be silence.
There is a loud roar in the food court now.
The elements of this roar are indiscernible.
The roar just is.
It is a roar that enmeshes appetites, desires, grouses, anger, discomfort.
In that, this roar is akin to silence.
But roars and silences, both need subjects; they both need to belong to someone or something for
them to convey anything.
This roar at the food court belongs to the crowd here.
The silence of a silent relationship belongs to _________.
Why are things so difficult to end?
Abha is done with the burger and the fries and the softdrink.
She just sits there, watching India’s advance in the cricket match.
India will win.
He is watching.
He will be happy if India wins.
The roar at the food court is a kind of silence—she convinces herself of this.
The food court—the mall—is a festival of—what?—life?
If it is a something of life, that something is not a festival.
The food court—the mall—is a depression of life, a trough.
She is being insane.
She feels bad that she buys a lot of groceries and yet eats from McDonalds.
The silent movie she watched today, The Docks of New York, was released in 1928.
Should she buy something?
She gets up from the seat and shoves the tray’s refuse down a bin’s rectangular mouth.
She puts the tray on top of the bin.
She looks at the television.
India is very close to winning.
The roar is still there, unwavering, unperturbed.
A good looking man passes by, holding a McDonalds tray.
Abha feels like telling him ‘Don’t eat that garbage.
Come to my home.
I can fix you vegetables.’
The roar is there, unremitting, loud, silent.
She moves toward the escalators.
She will now go down down down.
Then she will walk back home.
It is likely, she knows, that she will watch another silent movie.
Instead of showing dialogue as text, could silent movies just show any text instead?
She gets new ideas when she watches silent movies.
Could the visual and the displayed text work like a catechism?
It is good to have new ideas.
Silent movie characters can then be truly silent; they don’t have to say a thing.
Is there a movie like that?
The afternoon is hot.
Abha wants to put something inside her vagina.
She fixes herself a drink, a sort of rum punch.
She googles for the best silent movies ever.
‘I’m a woman,’ she speaks aloud, for no reason at all.
The grill outside her window casts a grilly shadow on her ceiling.
I am decent, she thinks.
In the world of silent movies, there can be no wastage of words; the displayed text has to serve great
She feels like buying a video camera online.
Tanuj Solanki lives and writes in Bombay. His fiction has been published in
The Caravan, Out of Print, and others. His first novel will be out in 2016, published by Harper Collins India.