The effect of noise on human mood is not only about decibel levels, but to do with the nuisance value. Unless one is in a disco asking for louder music, a pair of ears begs for peace and quiet. Even the best news in your life only sounds high-volume – they are usually whispered; ‘I love you’ or ‘you have a baby girl’ or ‘the job is yours’...
On the other hand, angry outbursts, however, softly uttered, go off like bombs in your bloodstream.
No one likes to be told off, no one told off learns the lesson. Add to that the screaming and shouting coming from someone in a superior position in an office or a home. Kids who don’t get marks, maids who break a glass, husbands/wives who come into marriages with issues. All the bullying only ups the toxic atmosphere. Whether in the workplace or in domestic spaces, someone randomly just presumes he/she knows best and lords it over the others. Trainees, interns and juniors have to suck it up. In familial circumstances, of course, toddlers are left at the mercy of the adults around them.
We have all witnessed this at some time or the other, while travelling or in someone’s home, when an inexplicable tension rides the air. The temper tantrum when it comes is almost like a downpour after a dry spell.
Recently, I was stopped short by a sudden sparking of violence between a married couple in a parked car in a dim-lit deserted parking lot. In language most foul he greeted his wife who had just gotten into the car. There was such raw fury on his face – because she was late from wherever she went – that it froze everyone.
For a full fifteen minutes, he held the steering wheel with threatening force as he berated her loud and clear. What’s heartbreaking was the little girl, about three years of age, between them in the front seat, looking on blankly, with no change of expression. Like she had seen this too many times before; her dad laying down the law and her mom cowering.
I wanted to pull the woman out, I wanted to shut the man up, I wanted the little girl to grow up and not seek men exactly like her daddy. Without ending the tirade, the husband started the car. Even as they drove away the daughter remained stoic, deadpan.
Words, especially angry ones, may seem like a minor weapon, not capable of any physical damage. But, oh, the aftermath!
There is no killing anyone softly with your words. Words, when raised and rapidly delivered without love and with lots of hate, kill on the spot.
We are all agreed that physical violence is not to be tolerated; not on the streets, not in marriages. But what of verbal abuse? Why dismiss this as a passing bad mood or the victim’s fault? This is plain emotional blackmail to establish hierarchy, manipulative and belittling. Add to that, men who think they are the gold-class gender and women who fear precisely such men and decide attack is the best form of defence. There go your eardrums.
When voice becomes noise, just walk away.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.