I wake up to boom, boom, boom. It is five thirty, maybe five. I rub my face, my stubbled chin. And then speakers blare. Someone is singing. My first thought is, No, wait this is not possible. No one, no one sings this early in the morning. Has someone bought a new karaoke set?
Yes, it is Diwali. Kids are up. Kids are always up when there is excitement in the air: favourite uncle arriving from the States (imagine the goodies); a cricket match to be played (the pride of winning), Holi around the corner (colours, oh so many colours), and of course Diwali. Gathering their friends, they’ve come armed with crackers, each louder than the last one. I push my in-ear headphones even further down into my ears – realising there is wax to be cleaned out – attempting unsuccessfully to stub out the sounds ruining my Sunday morning, my lovely, most cherished Sunday morning.
Someone is singing. Actually, a few are. I can make out both male and female voices singing popular Hindi and Marathi songs. Why? Why do all our festivals involve screwing it up for others? Why the loudspeakers? Why this need to involve everyone in this madness that is Hindu festivals?
Are these singers daft for coming from wherever they are coming from and agreeing to sing at five thirty? Are they paid well? If they are, how much? How much should they be paid for ruining someone’s morning siesta? Don’t they understand the value of a precious weekend? Don’t they like weekends themselves? How are they able to sing so early in the morning? When did they warm up their vocal chords? Did they wrap scarves around their neck when they travelled over here? What kind of a car did they use? Did they roll up their windows to escape the cool breeze? Did their husbands or wives or mums wake them up at four thirty to tell them, ‘Listen, it is time for you to leave. I will make tea. Would you like to eat something?’ Did they eat anything? Or were they too nervous to think of something as banal as eating? Did they wake up in comfortable beds or a worn down mattress? Or did the pressure of singing in the morning keep them tossing the entire night? How are they singing with bombs going on in the background? How are they focussing? Do they feel they are at the border entertaining troops while the enemy is attacking, taking advantage of this distraction?
The kids are now playing cricket, squabbling over who gets to bowl or bat first. They are done with the crackers. Do they have more at home? For evening? Did their parents encourage them? ‘Go out and spread the joy. Wake up a few people, it’s OK, really.’ Will these kids grow up to be strong men with healthy calves and toned arms on the account of playing so much cricket? Or will they with age and the routine that is life, grow a big belly and lose their hair that they are so careless towards now? They seem happy. Who wouldn’t be with no school to attend, no sour teachers to look at?
The singers are going at it like their life depends on it and that if they stop, they will never get to sing again. Do they have families to take care of? How many shows do they do in a month? How do they take care of their voices? Do they practice at home? With a harmounium or a tanpura? Do they have affairs with other singers in their little crew? Are they fans of Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi? Do they have pictures and cassettes and CDs of their favourite artists at home? As they sing, some priest screams into a microphone from a temple nearby and a mullah yells into his own microphone from a mosque somewhere. In winters, beautiful winters, sound travels further. I know this, I studied science, well, OK I Googled, and Google never lies. And all these three sounds are now creating a horrible harmony.
When did this happen? When did we become a culture of loudness? Or were we always like this? Just a little while ago we had the Ganesh festival. There were displays, in every corner of the city, showing the Elephant God in all his glory. That is fine. However, there was music. Loud music. Film music. Sometimes religious lyrics in the tune of film music. Actually, almost all of them. And it seems the Elephant God enjoys them because he hasn’t done squat about it. And during the last day, the day of the immersion, they are the loudest. For what joy? The festivities go on way past twelve in the night with everyone dancing and chanting the lord’s name, but mostly dancing to the beats of Shiela ki jawani and Munni badnam hui. Before that, Gokulashtami. And when you go on roads where there are processions with drums and cymbals, and when you drive past them, you can tell that your heart is about to pop out of your mouth any minute. And before that it was something else. And throughout the year, weddings; weddings that make full use of orchestra bands and firecrackers. Where do they get the stocks from in the middle of the year? As though overbearing noise would somehow dull the pain parents of the bride feel at seeing their daughter leave their house or plug the huge financial gap this wedding is going to leave them with. What’s with this announcement? Some idiot is getting married. What has that got to do with me? With anyone? Celebrate, sure, but why the noise?
There is something wrong. Yes, we have always been loud, but I have a feeling our loudness quotient has skyrocketed in these last few years. Maybe because that’s what sells. Look at our politicians, especially the recent contenders for prime-ministership. It is quite clear from the way they are screaming about each other’s achievements or making promises about a great future if we elect them, that there is zero substance or credibility in their words. Nada, nadir, naught. I might even go with the none-of-the-above option this year.
I think it all comes to having a little sensitivity. Sure, add a little empathy. OK, throw in some commonsense. How hard is it to cultivate these things? Shouldn’t these things be inbuilt, come pre-packaged? Yes, you can upgrade over the years, but they are part of the basic package. How can you sit in the balcony of your apartment at three in the morning, with lots of people, and argue, at the top of your voice, about some shit that has nothing to do with the others in the building? Or does that come easy to you? This behaviour? Is someone overreacting when they wait and wait for them to shut up, and when they don’t, politely say, ‘Shhh’ from their window to see if these boisterous people get the hint, and when they don’t, go up to their house and knock, mind you, still knock (they could’ve rung the bell), and tell them, when they reluctantly open the door, calmly, that you have an office to go to in the morning and are trying to catch a wink, so can they please keep it down, a tad?
Or is it wrong for someone to go out and ask rudely, yes rudely, ‘Who is this?’ because for the past half an hour this someone has been honking non-stop, trying to get someone’s attention. And when you did, he said, ‘Aggarwal,’ and for a minute you were amused, because who gives out their real name when the tone of the one asking is menacing? Or so you think.
Isn’t it time we understood the importance of peace and quiet and silence? I read somewhere that our ears never sleep. They are always open for business, they listen in on everything, even when we are out cold, they are constantly working. Isn’t it fair we give them some rest? Isn’t it time we tone it down a tad? How will be an India without its usual cacophony? How will be an India that followed rules? What if we made an attempt to keep the decibel levels down, way down, for once? What if we honked less, kept loudspeaker and stereo volumes down, spoke softly, kept our televisions low?
Original Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthijs/
How nice it would be to not be woken up by the harsh sounds of the tempo that brings milk before dawn? Appreciated, but hey, come on. When they would stack their plastic crates gently on top of each other instead of throwing them carelessly. When the maid would press your doorbell with just the right amount of pressure and not try to make a crater with her index finger?
Won’t it be nice to wake up to silence? Someday I hope I do.