criticalvoices

On issues that matter …

The Unbearable Loudness of Religion October 19, 2012

So call me a heretic because I really, really hate noise, not noise of any kind, but in the Indian context, the noise of festivals. I mean, the kind of noise that invades the air all around during the very publicly celebrated festivals in India. The ear shattering cacophony of the synthesizer-drum-dhol-whistle-fire cracker mix combined with chanting of prayers and singing of bhajans on really loud loudspeakers played out by the “devout and faithful” worshippers whether to welcome the gods or bid them farewell after their temporary earthly visits, is insanely distracting.

Trying to keep simple thought processes intact and ordinary speech coherent under the canopy of that noise, is a struggle what with the heartbeat going way erratic than considered healthy.

You think I am exaggerating? Then check this out: Last month, during the Ganesh festival, at least 20 locations in Pune city had experienced sounds that shattered the permissible decibel levels. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board found that decibel levels in certain parts were way over 100 where the permissible limit was only 65 decibels.

Last year, the Central Pollution Control Board had declared Mumbai the noisiest city in the world.

Sounds take on a different connotation in the Indian context and you have to be away from the country for a while to begin to hear them when you come back. Everything from the rudely assertive cawing and cooing of crows and pigeons outside your window, to the competing-with-people-in-numbers population of dogs that seem to bark with no apparent provocation, to the constant blaring of vehicular horns, the non-stop plying of rickety auto-rickshaws, and even the television in the living room affects you.

The volume button on a television remote has no meaning here. Because, the programming itself is loud. And by that I mean, everyone from the newscasters, show hosts, panel guests, comedians, reality show judges, participants, you name them, and they all seem like they have been trained to vocally reach – without mikes – the last man in the last seat in the last row of a 1000-seat auditorium. And I am not even talking about the high decibel posturing by the so called ‘experts’ on news channels.

I remember when I took driving lessons here… the first thing the driving instructor taught me, even before showing me where the brakes were, how never to take the thumb off  the horn button on the steering. And to think in the US it is not only considered rude to honk but in many areas honking can incur you more than $100 in fines. I think those American policy makers should come to India to understand the pure physical joy of honking.

But I am digressing. Even if I am on a slippery slope here, let me not veer off from the subject of religious celebrations. Either Indians think their gods are deaf and so make so much noise to catch their attention; or considering the kind of money that is spent on these public celebrations of festivals, denoting wealth at least in the hands of those patronizing these celebrations, they perhaps think the gods are actually enjoying the noise.

I am being facetious of course, but it is a serious issue. Not because there are people who realize it’s noise, but because they all seem to think it is music – music of the gods, no less.

Srirekha Chakravarty

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