Nations of noise and silence

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If too much noise prevents thinking in India, too great a silence indicates a refusal to think in Denmark

It is strange that I should be writing this piece. I have highlighted how the language of literature goes beyond the expectation of ‘communication’ in other language usages, such as medical literature or business writing. Literature explores, along with ‘communication’, those aspects of language that might be considered ‘non­communicative’ in other fields: paradox, contradiction, aporia, silence, gap, noise. In other words, I have stressed the role of ‘noise’ in the language of literature, just as I have underlined the role of ‘silence’ in it. But this piece, written on a train from Copenhagen to Aarhus, is about the dangers of noise. And, inevitably, silence. No two countries offer a greater contrast in this regard. India is the subcontinent of noise; Denmark is a land of silence. Partly, this is because Denmark is sparsely populated: my train is halfempty. Can we even imagine a halfempty train between, say, Delhi and Kolkata? Or, Patna and Gaya?  A matter of national character But part of the difference is also a matter of national character. People talk softly here and seldom interrupt each other, cars do not honk, even political processions almost never indulge in shouting and loud sloganeering. This might well be because, politically, Denmark has been built on compromise: on the negative side, it compromised with Nazi Germany; on the positive side, it has been run with a general degree of success by various political coalitions for close to a century now. It is impossible to imagine any single party coming to power in Denmark, and even though the party coalitions change, the nation seems to steer a steady course with regard to citizen’s rights, internal well­being, and the national economy. India is a nation of noise. It strikes me every time I go to India, and even more forcibly when I return to Denmark. I recall the first question about Denmark that my mother asked when she visited me: “Is there a holiday today? Why is it so quiet?” And in those days I was living in Copenhagen, arguably a metropolis, while my mother had only known the taluk towns of Bihar! Noise, within limits, is not necessarily bad. Amartya Sen says as much in his book, The Argumentative Indian. While I put greater stress on conversation than argument, perhaps because I have lived for many years in Denmark now, Professor Sen sees arguments as an essential part of ongoing conversations.

 

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nations-of-noise-and-silence/article25921028.ece

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