Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 19 May 2013





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

It’s the Age of Silence!

Sociologists and anthropologists believe that the human race has reached the highest point of civilisation. In the modern era, we are surrounded with hi-tech gadgets such as mobile phones, laptops and hands-free phones. All the time, we listen to music. Even when we travel, we use earphones to listen to our favourite songs. Gone are the days when we talked to fellow passengers in buses and trains. Instead of talking, passengers prefer to doze off until they reach their destination.

We are living at a time when there is a serious breakdown in communication between husband and wife, parents and children, teachers and students and voters and elected Members of Parliament. By not talking to others, we are trying to live in our own worlds. Once an elderly man confessed: “I’m sandwiched in silence. My father used to talk to me all the time. My mother, amidst household chores, talked to me while narrating beautiful stories. However, my son doesn’t talk to me. He is always talking to somebody on the mobile phone.”

Talking seems to be going out of style, not only at home, but also at workplaces. Colleagues no longer crack jokes and exchange their views on the cost of living or gossip about their wives and children. They are eternally glued to the computer or the telephone. What happened to the past generation who talked all the time, and produced a silent generation?


Out of the four skills in learning a language, speech is the foremost factor. Writing, listening and reading come very much later. Talking shaped our lives and sharpened our oratorical skills. If you look at the face of a talker, you will see marks around his eyes and mouth. Children who talked incessantly licked their lips gleefully. It was a beautiful sight.

Philip Gunawardane had an
interrogative face

As children, we used to look at the faces of great talkers who had declarative, interrogative or compound sentence faces! For instance, Philip Gunawardane had an interrogative face. He used to question the validity of everything starting from democracy, sociology and communism. He used to analyse social problems clinically and raised hypothetical questions, expecting the audience to answer them. He talked so convincingly that most of us thought he would end up as the Prime Minister. But that was never to be.

Not only living people, but also the authors we used to read began to talk to us through the printed words. Dostoevsky, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce talked to us on politics, love and many other topics. When they put questions to us, we used to write the answers on the margin of the page. Such annotations cannot be made when you read an e-book, can you? When Sigmund Freud came up with his psychoanalysis, most of us used to lie on Freudian couches to talk to him.

Lust for knowledge

Today’s children grow up with a lust for knowledge. Not being satisfied with what they learn at school, they attend numerous tuition classes to broaden their knowledge. But those who were born in the 1930s, 40s or 50s grew up hungry for talk. They always talked to their parents, siblings, teachers and even strangers. The modern generation has to be taught how to talk as they think talking is a waste of time.

About four or five decades ago, children and even adults did not have enough money with them. During the vacation, children used to go for long walks without a red cent in their pockets. They walked miles and miles, quenching their thirst with water found in Pinthaliyas kept at strategic points in most villages. Good-hearted villagers provided them with lunch and tea. Villagers loved to talk to young students who mixed freely with them. When it comes to romance, talking took precedence. Young men and women used to talk for hours “whispering soft but nothing.” When they were unable to meet, they used to exchange love letters written neatly and scented. Today talking and love letter writing have been replaced by short messages sent on mobile phones. Can anyone fall in love without talking? It’s a near impossibility.


Is modern education responsible for our silence? For instance, students are asked to accept victory and defeat in silence, with what the Greeks called “apatheia.” When they speak, however, they take words not singly, but in groups as if they are speed-reading a passage.

All this makes one wonder whether talking has lost its credibility and glamour. Has it been devalued like money and sex? It may be that we are gradually passing the Age of Talking and fast joining the Age of Silence. Perhaps the Talking Age like the Stone Age will not come back. As one writer put it succinctly, talking is like the Impressionist period in the art of living. Today we are living in the Age of Abstraction which is equal to the Age of Silence.


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