This is the second of an autobiographical series on my experiences with hearing loss. Posts shall appear every other Friday. You can view the first post here.
I. Seeing Sounds
I lost my hearing at the age of four following a serious bout of meningitis, but my world never became silent. I may not have heard words escaping from someone’s mouth, but I heard their heartbeats, their laughs, cries, and sometimes, their thoughts. I may not have heard the school bell ring, but I heard the teacher’s lessons, marvelled at the stories in my books, and the gleeful noises children made on the playground. I may not have heard the newer songs of Bollywood, but I heard music in the dancing, harmony in the colors of saris, and echoes of former, favourite songs.
That’s important to remember: my world was never silent.
Or at least, I don’t recall having lived in silence, even if I could barely hear sounds of life rotating around me. What I recall the most is the frustration. Speaking and having no audience to pay attention to me. Screaming, throwing tantrums, sobbing, never grasping that those who tried to hear me, could barely comprehend what I was saying. I heard them well enough, I understood them well enough, so why couldn’t they all bother to listen. Was I too young? Too bothersome? One day, when I had nothing more to say, no more energy to demand attention, I would eventually retreat into the abyss of my imagination.
I wish I could tell you all the thoughts that ran through my lonely mind, how the more I felt ignored, the further I delved into isolation. I felt left out in many, many instances during my life, but never isolated, or at least by force. I became quiet, because I didn’t have much to say, not necessarily because I felt no one was listening. When I learned to speak again, my stutter could barely stop me from chattering away with my sisters late into the night.
I wish I could tell you how different my life was in Kuwait after I lost my hearing. The truth is, I don’t remember. I remember fragments of a childhood but I can’t discern what was before and what was after: the lion chocolate candy, playing with my sister and my cousins, eating Cheetos, walking outside with my nanny. Reciting the Ik onkar prayer in front of the congregation and my dad beaming proudly. Eating kebabs and hummus. Shopping for my birthday dress, getting the blue instead of the green one. Travelling to Holland and running away into the field of roses. Getting a kinder surprise from a convenience store in England. Meeting bhangra dancers at a festival. Arguing with my aunts as they placed shiny tape on the wall as decoration for my birthday. A poster of a motorcycle on the wall. I remember the cement wall that enveloped our backyard, where one day, I skinned my knee quite badly in a failed attempt to retrieve a ball that went over the wall. The joy when I finally learnt how to braid my hair. My mom’s puzzled look when I insisted on her buying me the blue Mickey Mouse blanket instead of the brown Tom & Jerry one—she knew Tom & Jerry was my favourite cartoon and couldn’t get why I didn’t want it. I never knew how to tell her the brown color was the ugliest I’ve ever seen.
I remember packing the steamer trunk with my prized possessions, fearfully clutching my Dennis the Menace doll as not to lose him; my new pencil crayons went in the box, with a promise that I’ll see them again. Of course I never did—the Gulf War broke out while we were safely settled in Canada.
These are not silent memories.
Beautifully written, Jai.
Lovely. I have suffered from tinnitus the last several years. There are good days and there are bad days. Some days I think I’d rather have hearing loss than the constant ringing. I’ve tried different therapies, but to no avail. It is a day-by-day process. Thank you for the thoughtful post.