The ? of Silence

What is it about silence? For once I haven’t found the right title to what I want to say.

Is it the problem of silence or the power of silence? Is it the treachery of silence, the dread of it, or the threat of it? For context, I saw this documentary on Challenger, which exploded the hopes of millions and ended the life of seven, on 28 January 1986, because of a technical glitch; something as simple as the tube gasket in your pressure cooker.

This post is not about the tragedy.

The contractors for NASA knew about the problem and tried hard to warn NASA and postpone the launch till the temperatures became normal so that the rubber tube could do the work that it was supposed to. Now, NASA was under pressure to meet the launch date, so it put pressure on the contractors to confirm whether they were recommending abortion of the scheduled launch. At a critical time, when this question was put on a teleconference, the contractors were silent.

Silence is abundant with a million meanings for man.

NASA, aware of the implications, took the silence as acceptance, and the ill-fated Challenger rose up to its doom.

How many times have you kept silent on something that you wanted to shout about? How many times have you kept silent and have shouted after the repercussion of your silence has kicked in? And then…

How many times have you heard terrified voiceless shouts when someone around you has kept silent? How many times have seen the trembling larynx, when a voice was trapped by the silence?

That January day in 1986, a few people remained silent; that silence determined one of the biggest disasters in space history.

What you and I keep silent about doesn’t often cause a disaster, but I know it causes small cracks – one at a time, often irreparable. It causes damage at our workplace, in our relationships, and to our lives. The only thing that you can do after your silence has caused the doom, is climb a terrace and shout your guts out and return to the drudgery, where more opportunities will present themselves for you to keep your silence intact.

Some call it being smart.

So be it.

There is also a lesson for the ones who don’t keep silent. Your conscience will remain intact; keep your bags packed.


One thought on “The ? of Silence

  1. 15 Comments:

    (These comments were posted on my earlier blogspot blog, since this post did not import, am reposting these comments – manually)

    kundalini said…a very thought-provoking post atul, wonderfully written as always.

    Sundar said…powerful post , atul

    Jolvin Rodrigues said… wow! Need I say more…

    Sagar said…It is not in the silence, it is in it’s keeping.

    Abaniko said…Your silence can be misunderstood but never misquoted. I like it that way.

    Arundhati said…:-) very well written Atul! However, sometimes silence serves better than words! One thing I have learned in life: even if you don’t know when to talk, you should know when to shut up! Then, there is the “inner” silence that needs to be felt rather than described!

    aquamarine said…In certain situations, the best possible reply would be remaining silent. But some people just do not have thte guts to speak up and face life. In the end, their guilt kills them.

    Atul Sabnis said;

    –kundalini: Thank you!

    –sundar: Thank you too!

    –jolvin: would you rather keep silent? 😉

    –sagar: that is what the post is about 🙂

    –abaniko: well said 🙂

    –arundhati: thank you, yes and sometimes it doesnt 🙂

    –aqua: well said @ guts 🙂

    Accidental Fame Junkie said… When my mom was growing up, being silent meant a difference between life and death. The Naxalites of Bengal were running loose on the streets of Calcutta in the 70s and reactionary papers had to be smuggled (under the folds of the sari of my mom and her sister to another house) to be burnt to destory the evidence so that this house could avoid being victimised by the police. She was going to college at a time when all youth were uniformaly classified as a threat to the state and the establishment. At a time like that, she had to be silent even when she knew that her best friend (who was also Nafisa Ali’s sister) Salima was a Naxalite. Because silence then meant a difference between life and prison. The fact that you are innocent somehow didn’t matter.

    Atul Sabnis said…

    –AFJ: the silence that you talk of, is a different genre altogether. in that situation, the meanings change completely, I suppose.

    Sharmishta said… Like a previous comment to this post “it is not in the silence, it is in its keeping”….when the silence gets comfortable thats when u know ur at peace, peace with the world and with urself. If this could be achieved, then the world would be a more beautiful place to live in…..don’t u think?

    Atul Sabnis said…

    –sharmista: welcome! the ‘brand’ or ‘genre’ of silence that you speak of is very different from the one i talk abt. i talk abt the everyday tentative silence when words make a precise meaning unlike silence. 🙂

    Accidental Fame Junkie said… Silence has various shades. It is knowing which one to use where that we knows its true character. To say “silence” without specifying which kind you mean will give rise to confusion.

    Atul Sabnis said…

    –AFJ: noted m’lord 🙂 like in the context (the NASA story), i was referring to the silence in more everyday situations when expression is more important than silence. one person becomes a victim of someone else’s silence – when a single word could change things 🙂


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