A recent comment on my ‘Please shut the door’ post got me thinking about Indians and noise, and how we just love annoying sounds.
It’s not just that we don’t value silence – the idea of a quiet zone near a hospital, for instance, is laughable here, as is the idea of being fined for honking too loud (the first thing you’re taught in an Indian driving school is how to out-honk the other guy). I’m not even talking about the fact that we like our music, movies and celebrations loud and colourful, or that we enjoy shouting over our family members’ voices at the dinner table — those aren’t necessarily bad things.
No, what I realised is that we really, really like to surround ourselves with the most annoying and repetitive noises in the world. Like, for instance, Nandini madam and her bi-lingual nagging in lifts all over the city (and country). I don’t think this lady would have a job in any other country in the world, because their lifts don’t remind you over and over again to do what you know you have to do anyway. Then you have those incredibly irritating reverse-tunes in cars. You know, those tinny tunes that destroy any vestige of melody or soul in everything from Jana Gana Mana to the Wedding March to Jingle Bells, and repeat over and over again for as long as the car is in reverse? Apparently, that’s the only way people around you can know your car is moving backwards. Strange how people figure this out all by themselves in the rest of the world, no?
Don’t even get me started on toys. Indian toys have got to be amongst the noisiest and most intrusive in the world. (Ok, Chinese toys do give them a run for their money. My daughter was obsessed with a giant orange snail that sang Chinese songs determinedly off tune, and flashed blue and red disco lights, accompanied by a background score that would make Bappi-da jealous, for months. My sanity hung by a thread). Items in my toddler’s toy box that assault my senses daily:
1) A white and florescent green chicken that plays ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’, ‘sung’ — and I use this word in the loosest sense possible — at the top of its voice by a child with the brashest, brattiest style of singing, devoid of any subtlety or modulation. Think of your neighbourhood vegetable hawker. Now reduce his age to around 8 years. Now have him sing ‘Twinkle…’ Yeah.
2) A keyboard that sings ‘Polly Put the Kettle On’ — and other equally incongruous nursery rhymes — in the tones of totally demented cows, sheep, frogs et al.
Even religion isn’t spared. One of the serial noise offenders in our residential areas are those mobile-religious-song-stations. Or whatever they’re called. You know, the ones that blare pre-recorded Sai or Krishna or <insert godly entity> bhajans as they go round and round your locality. Now, I mean no offense to anyone, don’t want to hurt any religious sentiments, etc. But why are the singers always off-key? And why is the singer’s off-keyness always directly proportional to the volume at which the song is played? Why do they always choose to sing at the highest possible register? And why, why do they have to play the same song over and over again? If the point is for god to sit up and take notice, you’d think they’d take a little more care about how the song was put together (I would think that this is the sort of thing that gets you struck by lightening).
I used to think that the problem is that we’re too noise tolerant — you know, we’re just surrounded by so much sound all the time from the time we’re born, whether it’s hawkers or TVs or cellphones or garrulous families or car horns, that we’re desensitised to loudness. Noise just doesn’t bother us anymore. it’s part of the very fabric of our society. Like corruption.
But now I’m starting to wonder if it’s something deeper. There has to be a reason why silly, unnecessary noise-technology thrives here and doesn’t exist anywhere else. I think we actually like this stuff. We like making unnecessary noise when we reverse (I refuse to call it music. It’s even an insult to call it musaic). We like our lifts to talk at the top of their voices. We like our toys to blare discordantly. Why? You got me there. Maybe we need every waking moment to filled with noise, otherwise we feel lost. Disoriented. Maybe we just like to annoy the heck out of each other (I’m leaning towards this one). Or maybe we just like to have yet another reason to complain (see above).