2020, for me, is divided into packets of sounds—the buzz of news in the background, thaalis banging, bells ringing. During the lockdown, the cacophony of news was interspersed with that of movies, OTT content, constantly streaming on TV. Calls, updates, worried whispers, Zoom meetings, listening to hours and hours of recorded interviews to transcribe—we might have been physically isolated from one another, but there seems to have been no distancing from the escalating levels of noise in our lives.
Sounds became markers in the day like never before. Waking up to shrill alarms. Mornings marked by the cantankerous horns of the water tankers doing the rounds in a perpetually-parched Gurgaon. Sounds of washing, scrubbing of utensils, groceries and clothes. Pressure cooker whistles. Sounds of cooking. Broken sounds of meetings because the wi-fi would simply have to act up. And in the middle of all that was hissing of the sanitiser bottle every ten minutes or the furious typing of the keyboard emanating from all the rooms. While earlier, it was only the sound of traffic during the daily commute, the hum of the office place, and the closing sounds of the day at home that used to define my schedule, suddenly my life was full of spurts of sounds.
Somewhere along the line I forgot to listen to myself. I knew this difficult year was changing me too, just like the people around me, in some way, but what those changes were, I couldn’t comprehend as I hurtled between these packets of noise. As I spoke to friends and searched the internet for studies on the effect of sound on daily living, I realised I was not alone in wanting to shut out noises for some part of the day.
A 2019-article on HuffPost, titled Why Silence is So Good for Your Brain, spoke about how pockets of stillness could benefit your brain and body. “A 2006 study published in the journal Heart found two minutes of silence to be more relaxing than listening to ‘relaxing’ music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain,” it mentioned. Cleveland Clinic had an article by clinical health psychologist, Amy Sullivan, who stated that “When we’re frazzled, our fight-or-flight response is on overload causing a host of problems. We can use calm, quiet moments to tap into a different part of the nervous system that helps shut down our bodies’ physical response to stress.”
But it sounds easier said than done to carve out those little pockets of silence through a busy day. Sullivan suggests some easy hacks such as enjoying your tea or coffee without any device, walking by yourself and listening to natural sounds around you instead of music.
I decided to do just that. As 2020 melted into the new year, I took some time out to just sit still. For a few minutes, I moved away from the laptop, put everything else on hold to simply hear the chirping of the birds and the rustle of leaves. I realised these moments helped me get through the ensuing noise of the day much better. 2021, I have zero expectations from you, but if you allow me those two minutes of silence everyday, I will consider you a year well done.