Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Sounds of India

Picture from the web
Imagine a day when you wake up and find yourself in the lap of silence with nothing except the terrible quopping of your heart reminding you that you are in some extraordinary domain, that something around you is seriously amiss. For people living in India silence is probably as intimidating as a bad dream. To them silence is supererogatory, an artificial bubble in the presence of which people’s lives cease to function; the vehicle of their constantly moving lives halts, and the driver looks around and begins to check if there is a problem with the machinery, the physical process of movement in this case, that is. So extreme is the idea of silence in India is that not a second passes without you being reminded that in this world the mortal millions do not live alone, thus proving that the erudite irrealist Matthew Arnold was totally wrong in supposing the contrary being the truth of human existence.

Shortly after I relocated to India, it occurred to me that probably I would be able to scoop out a spoonful or two of silence for me. But no sooner had I had that thought in my nut than India laughed a mocking laugh. For only after a fortnight of my stay in the country, I realized that silence is the last thing you could expect in a nation so thickly peopled with the creatures of God. And having jettisoned the hope of silence, I am now finally at bliss with the sounds of the country — the thousand vibrations, the innumerable resonations, the honks and the shouts, the hammerings in the morning, the loud television noises in the evening, the noisy ringtones on the streets, and the list goes on. The incessant prattling of life in India that hugged me soon after my return to the country — a compliment I could have well have excused — has of late become such an intrinsic part of my life that now I have started to feel anxious in the wee hours when for a brief period the constant drumming stops and all seems to be at peace. For it is strange, rather unbearably strange, to devour great chunks of noise throughout the day and denied even a morsel around midnight!

For a person who stayed for half a decade in a foreign land whose salad green leas are but the opposites to the land in which she currently dwells, I have well acclimated myself to the changed circs. I remember before my return to India how nervous I had been about giving up my long relished quiet. But now even the idea of that long relished quiet gives the impression of a thing of the past; something that happened a long time ago and is no more available, except in museums, a relic, if you will. But I am not saddened by the sudden lack of noiselessness; I am, on the other hand, quite enjoying this overactive livelihood. I get up every morning and I am greeted by the guttural noises of a hundred pigeon that hang around the building, and then the day unfolds itself one noise following another, reaching its crescendo just before twelve and then continuing on the bemolle till four-thirty, in the meanwhile loudening once or twice for a brief period of time only to drop with a discordant bang at the close of the day. If you listen carefully you can actually quantify the sounds — collect, organize and interpret the various noises that reach you throughout the day.

These discordant jingles and crashes are the life giving sparks that fuel our huge nation and to turn a deliberate deaf ear to them — not that it is possible to take that action; still, by some ingenuity say you could do it — is correspondent to turning away from life itself. India and its colors and sounds are the atoms that bind the system. Several nations may pride themselves on their glum quietness. They may take it as a mark of sobriety to inhabit with their classical monotones; but then where is variety in their method? Where is life? Life is where the clatter is, and India is filled to the brim with life; rather it’s over-brimming with its myriad sounds, it is bursting with life.