He who shouts loud­est... BREAK­ING BAD

Peo­ple vis­it­ing our country as­sume we have an aver­sion to si­lence. They fail to un­der­stand that we think of noise as our birthright

Mid Day - - WORLD -

Lind­say Pereira

ou can tell when some­one isn’t a Bom­bayite by the looks of pain that fre­quently cross their faces. These gri­maces of­ten ap­pear when they are stuck in traf­fic, cor­nered at a busy sig­nal, or at the home of friends or rel­a­tives when they are sud­denly sub­jected to au­ral at­tacks in the form of honk­ing or what passes for cel­e­bra­tion in our part of the world. A lot of us no longer re­act to these things, even though they are un­nat­u­ral, be­cause we have been trained, like cir­cus an­i­mals, to tol­er­ate them. Our right to si­lence has long been stolen from us, with­out us know­ing we were en­ti­tled to it in the first place. This is why quiet places are over­whelm­ing for so many Bom­bayites, and why we of­ten carry boom boxes to beach­front prop­er­ties in an ef­fort to carry our noise with us.

It’s hard to ex­plain to an out­sider why we need to be noisy about ev­ery­thing. It’s hard to ex­plain why chil­dren and se­nior ci­ti­zens un­for­tu­nate enough to live in build­ings along­side busy roads strug­gle to sleep, sim­ply be­cause mo­torists use their horn for no ap­par­ent rea­son. It’s hard to ex­plain to a for­eigner why our gods and goddesses are sup­pos­edly ap­peased dur­ing our many fes­ti­vals only if we blare item num­bers at ear-shat­ter­ing vol­umes on the street. It’s hard to un­der­stand why our wed­dings and pri­vate cel­e­bra­tions, which ought to hap­pen in­doors, usually start out in public, with the manic beat­ing of drums. I never wish those cou­ples a happy, mar­ried life, sim­ply be­cause they em­bark upon their jour­neys to­gether by mak­ing my life and the lives of my neigh­bours mis­er­able. I’m churl­ish that way.

And then we have re­li­gion, cul­ture, and tra­di­tion, all of which con­ve­niently shift and change de­pend­ing on the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive be­ing thrust upon us by politi­cians ea­ger to di­vide and rule. This is why so many of our fes­ti­vals have de­gen­er­ated into chest-beat­ing ex­er­cises and one­up­man­ship, a chance for groups to pit them­selves against an­other by show­ing who can scream louder, play Bol­ly­wood songs at higher vol­umes, hold up traf­fic longer, or dance more rau­cously on the streets. They for­get what these fes­ti­vals stand for, ig­nor­ing their spir­i­tual as­pects in favour of con­tests and col­lec­tions, re­plac­ing fer­vour with a notion of fes­tiv­ity bor­rowed from the dance clubs of Ibiza — a notion that eludes them com­pletely when they de­nounce influences from the West while de­fend­ing their pe­cu­liar notion of In­di­an­ness.

There have been sen­si­ble peo­ple trying to change this for years, of course, but their ef­forts usually fail when politi­cians step in, ea­ger to pro­tect the right of their con­stituen­cies to cre­ate a ruckus when­ever nec­es­sary. And now, the final nail in our coffins may well have ap­peared in the form of an amend­ment in noise rules re­quested by the gov­ern­ment of Ma­ha­rash­tra, stip­u­lat­ing that no area will be deemed a si­lence zone. The gov­ern­ment wants to de­cide if hos­pi­tals de­serve si­lence at all, as do courts, ed­u­ca­tional or re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions. Only the state gov­ern­ment can now pass a no­ti­fi­ca­tion declar­ing any place a silent zone.

It wasn’t as if the ear­lier si­lence zones did what they were sup­posed to. When was the last time the de­mar­cated 100-me­tre ra­dius around a hos­pi­tal was re­spected dur­ing a fes­ti­val? When was the last time some­one in your neigh­bour­hood thought nothing of set­ting off fire­works at 3 am, safe in the knowl­edge that no one would in­ter­vene? When was the last time a road in your neigh­bour­hood was blocked be­cause a group of peo­ple de­cided it would be the best way to cel­e­brate an aus­pi­cious date you didn’t even know ex­isted?

We have also lost the right to si­lence after 10 pm, not that it was ever ef­fec­tively en­forced to be­gin with. Ear­lier, the state gov­ern­ment would de­cide on 15 days where loud­speak­ers could be al­lowed un­til mid­night. Now, district au­thor­i­ties have the right to de­cide. In other words, if some politi­cians think cel­e­bra­tions un­til the wee hours will trans­late into more votes dur­ing the next elec­tions, you can for­get about sleep­ing.

Maybe we don’t de­serve si­lence be­cause we are no longer treated as hu­man be­ings with rights. Our right to eat what we want to has long been threat­ened, as has our right to protest, prac­tise what­ever faith we choose to, or even sleep with whom we want to. Maybe we should give up hope for peace and quiet be­cause we have given up so much al­ready. Si­lence, like free­dom, is prob­a­bly just over­rated.

REP­RE­SEN­TA­TION PIC

It’s hard to ex­plain to a for­eigner why our gods are sup­pos­edly ap­peased only if we blare item num­bers at ear-shat­ter­ing vol­umes on the street.

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