19 December 2011

Shut up and Listen

Shut up and Listen

Everywhere you go in the Sundarbans you meet loud tourists shouting at the top of their voices to each other “Eikhaney kichu nei, there is nothing here’. Looking out of the enclosed walkway meant for tourists at the mangroves and the mud they are convinced there is nothing out there worth any attention. Thankfully they leave quickly. The trick that this place teaches you over and over again is to stop filling the space with you and then, ah, and then the Sundarbans offers a feast for the senses.

Take a walk at night with a torch and all you can see are the two steps in front of you lit by torch light. But switch the torch off and suddenly, amazingly you can see clearly right till the horizon lit by the brilliance of the full moon.

Talk, night or day, and all you can hear is yourself and the person next to you. But stop talking and the sound of the waves leap up at you louder than anything before. Listen, and it is not just the waves; you are immediately struck by the depth, density and intensity of sound that you were not even aware of a second ago, such pitches, tones, clicks and rhythms. The deep underlying steady hum of the insects, above that the lower tones of the waves, each wavelet finishing with a gentle high tabla tap, persistent and rhythmic. Over that the plopping of the mudskippers and the staccato clicking of the crabs at your feet. Then both a high pitched and low pitched wind that rustles through the leaves. Above that the myriad calls of birds each with their own musical time, unpredictable like improvised jazz but still the perfect counterpoint to the steadiness below it. And somehow, caught in the center of it all, the peace, that only a rest could bring in the middle of a musical score. Caught in the center of all those tones is silence.

There can be no doubt in such an intricate orchestra of sound that the Sundarbans are full of life. Listening to all that life it is incredible to believe anyone could think “eikhaney kichu nei”. All anyone needs to do is shut up and listen.

[read more on the India phase of The Edge project]


  1. What a good thought.

    Perhaps it should be a sign put up for the benefit of eco-unfriendly 'eco-tourists' at the Sundarbans

    "Shut up and listen".

  2. sweet dana - there is nothing there.
    nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to experience for the unfriendly tourist - a "V" like ellie told me last night. "V" she said was someone who see's just the eiffel tower in Paris - maybe on a bus even!
    here is a poem from aurobindo's world ... about
    Man, the Despot of Contraries
    "I am greater than the greatness of the seas,
    A swift tornado of God-energy;
    A helpless flower that quivers in the breeze
    I am weaker than the reed one breaks with ease.
    I harbor all the wisdom of the wise
    In my nature of stupendous Ignorance;
    On a flame of righteousness I fix my eyes
    While I wallow in sweet sin and join hell’s dance."