Monday, 9 November 2015

Hemantha Kalam - 37 "We are a 'Sound' tolerant people"

It is Deepavali now - A festival of Lights and Sounds. Yes, sounds of crackers (not the eating ones but the exploding ones) and fireworks. Children, growing and the grown, look forward to this festival for outsmarting the neighbours in the decibel levels.

We are basically a ‘Sound’ people, where we like to eat loud, belch loud, fart loud, talk loud, entertain loud, watch TV loud, drive loud and sleep loud!

Sounds appear to be the epitome of our way of life. Even when we talk on mobile phones, we are so loud, making the passersby a part of our confidential affairs and many a time I wonder whether this is done deliberately or out of ignorance. On watching our people using the mobile phones, for over 15 years, I had to come to the unscientific and unexplainable conclusion that many persons want to show off their abilities and status, whatever that might be, to others and get some superiority satisfaction out of that.

For many years, yours faithfully had been equally guilty of several of these qualities, especially in listening to music. That is till I started to really grow and started appreciating more and more of silence. And then my wife started blaming the cubicle culture in the offices to be the real reason of my drastic change towards sounds.

One of the questions, all my foreign friends and acquaintances on their first visit here, ask me is “why is it OK to horn” as that seems to be statutory and written behind almost all big vehicles.

They are more perplexed, especially, when there are requests to Blow Horn, as in many countries, honking is not tolerated at all. In almost all the countries I have so far visited ours is one place where the honking is incessant (I was driving in Thailand recently when the cab driver refused to honk even once saying that nothing irks the Thai driver more than honking from behind. He also mentioned of several incidents where drivers were shot by other drivers just for honking for two to three times. With the gun crime rate in Thailand allegedly equal to that of the US, this story sounded plausible).

The problem starts very early with us. For a long time, a majority of the population in the country could not afford a motor vehicle of any kind but always fantasized driving one. So the practice of making honking sounds with the mouth starts at a budding age where children chase one another running around and chasing each other, imagining to be driving a motor vehicle that suits their imagination. And there lies the country’s first problem. Even ultimately when they succeed in acquiring one vehicle or the other, the practice of honking by mouth gets transferred to be a reality and most of us just cannot resist such a wonderful opportunity of doing the ‘real thing’! 

There lies, probably, the answer to this part of the malady? Ban the children from making honking sounds by mouth!-Well? ;-)

But more practically, in a God Driven country, where most of the things seem to be moving and happening thanks to providence, the driving is an everyday adventure. When, people tend to stop in the middle of the roads to answer a mobile call or to chat with a ‘long last friend’ whom they have not met since the previous evening, or take sudden turns after waking from a slumber or enter / exit main thoroughfares nonchalantly as getting into one’s own house, other users always have to make their presence felt through continuous honking.

But when the ‘law reneging citizens’ wait patiently at red lights or at Zebra crossings to let the ‘no-good’ pedestrians live that day while crossing, the majority of the ‘law abiding’ road users impatiently keep honking nudging the people to move on.

I am not being a less patriot when I am writing this. I try to do my share by telling the youth, the light of the future of the country that if only they can be little more patient, things could be more comfortable.

But I guess I was barking at the wrong tree because, I find that the new generation youth really seem to be more concerned than the arrogant and mostly ignorant generation that immediately followed the independence period in the country.

As one of the youth was confiding with me (verbatim) ‘uncle, I would abide by the traffic rules and not honk, but who will tell the government bus driver, behind me, that I am abiding the traffic rules?’

Indeed, it is very common to see nowadays, that drivers of government buses in many states nonchalantly break traffic rules of any nature and seem to be driving more by blaring horns and terrorizing other road users, than by using the fuel. Thanks to trade unions, that crew members are affiliated to, no state government seems to be in a position to rein in them efficiently.

While I can empathise with the bus crew members of the troubles they undergo in maneuvering the huge vehicles on city roads that have been designed for periods that are a century behind, they also should realise that they do not always sit in the buses and that they too have to walk on the roads and the same fate can befall them when they are walking.   

But I am going astray and afar. Let me come back to Deepavali and the crackers. 

For the last few years a few states in the country, like Tamil Nadu, have imposed a ban on firing any sound making crackers after 10 pm. While I am writing this, it is well beyond that time and I am still hearing the city reverberating with the sounds of the crackers. In many households that cannot afford air conditioners, babies, the old and the sick suffer and take the brunt of this, most.

The celebrations with fire crackers in apartment complexes sometimes are pathetic. In one apartment there is a death and the family is mourning, but people in the other apartments continue with their merriment. So much respect for the dead and empathy for the bereaved!

But of course, even death is a matter of sound for us. There have been traditions where people {Oppaaris (Professional lamenters - for a payment - or genuinely out of grief, Rudalis or professional mourners} sing loudly at the death. Even the hearse follows loud singing and dancing and yes bursting of crackers and fireworks on busy roads.

Music is doled out, beyond listening decibel levels, at festivals, weddings, puberty functions and what not. Some of the music played at the religious festivals can only be listened to than imagined for their gross impropriety, several times causing great amusement too.

In many states of the country, a whole industry thrives on this sound and cacophony.

Talking about religion, my apartment is juxtaposed between three religious places of worship, belonging to different faiths. One place starts chiming the clock, that can be heard around four streets, every hour, from 5-00 am till 10-00 pm; the chime followed by some religious sermon as per their religious book. At the other place, the devotees are called for praying at particular intervals of the day, through huge loud speakers. And then the other place of worship which virtually barricades the road, on which it is built up, at occasional festive times blaring inconsequential music and loud and many a time vulgar merry making, with not a least amount of thought to public or their convenience er inconvenience, so to say and forget about any devotion to GOD!.

This year, there has been a Bang er ‘Ban’ imposed on crackers from China being sold in the country, for much lesser prices. Well, I am certainly with my country on this as the native economy has to be encouraged.  

But then, now that the demand for crackers and fireworks is increasing thanks to functions that welcome ‘just released from jail’ criminals, politicians returning from attending parliament, election victories, celebrating the birth and death anniversaries of some persons who were born and dead before two generations, at places of worship and yes, nowadays, at weddings too, bursting fire crackers have become an everyday affair in the country, maybe the fear is far-fetched for the time being? 

I forgot to mention that bang opposite our apartment complex, we also have a wedding hall and when the bride groom arrives (at whatever auspicious time convenient to him - but mostly in the middle of the nights to save on cost of the venue that is charged on hourly/daily basis) crackers are exploded so loudly, that many people are disturbed from their sleep. 

Yes, there is a continuous demand for fire-crackers in the country and I am sure that in days to come it will increase too!

After all, we are ‘Sound’ people. And yet, we are dubbed as intolerant! Really?

(The following paragraphs are added when it has been brought to my attention that I had missed out on a couple of other 'Sound' related matters)

The Talk shows on our Television in any language but especially anchored by a couple of famous (or should one say notorious?) gentlemen, are mention worthy as everybody talk at the same time and in any case, except the anchors nobody else is allowed to complete their talk, leading to frustrating and yet hilarious situations almost every time, without fail. 

The second one is induced by technology. Most of the mobile users in the country are plugged with wired and wireless earphones not to miss the 'Sound' of music, 'Sound' of their "companion's" sweet nothings and many a time are oblivious to other sounds while walking and thus endangering themselves while travelling or walking. A few have lost their lives while crossing railways tracks as they could not hear 'Loud Hooting' of the train but only the sounds produced / relayed by their mobile phones! 

This goes to prove that we live by 'Sound' and die by 'Sound' and even after death are followed by 'Sound'

Well, folks, what do you think of this 'Sound' theory of mine? Please, do tell me! 
Meantime, a colourful and ‘Sound’ wishes for a Happy Deepavali!

Till then, 

Krutagjnatalu (Telugu), Nanri (Tamil), Dhanyavaadagalu (Kannada), Nanni (Malayalam), Dhanyavaad (Hindi), Dhanyosmi (Sanskrit), Thanks (English), Dhonyavaad (Bangla), Dhanyabad (Oriya), Gracias (Spanish), Grazie (Italian), Danke Schon (Deutsche), Merci (French), Obrigado (Portuguese), Shukraan (Arabic), Shukriya (Urdu), Sthoothiy (Sinhalese) Aw-koon (Khmer), Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai (Laotian), Kob Kun Krab (Thai), Asante (Kiswahili), Maraming Salamat sa Lahat (Pinoy-Tagalog-Filipino), Tack (Swedish) and Fa'afetai (Samoan).

Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy
Chennai, India