Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai, Benaras, Lucknow, Hyderabad…big cities. Asansol, Howrah, Ranchi, Aligarh…midsize towns. Or, no-name places in the middle of nowhere…everywhere you go. Across India. Across the subcontinent. Terrible noise. Filthy noise. Noise that makes you sick to death. Noise that keeps you sleepless at night.
I remember how my grandmother cried in fear on the eve of Diwali. Why? because local machos would explode loud firecrackers right in front of her ground-floor shack. A very religious person, she never enjoyed Diwali that coincided with Bengali Hindus’ annual worship of Goddess Kali. She would cringe. She would faint.
I remember how my father slowly went deaf. Yes, it was because of his old age. Last year, he passed away around this time at the age of 93. But over the years, his hearing sharply went down, also because of the unbelievably loud microphone blasting in his neighborhood. He was confined in his home, and even after shutting all the windows and doors tight, there was no escape for him from the horrendous noise 24/7.
And those are two minor stories, compared to the gravity of the situation. Media never talks about it: they have other pressing stories to report. Like, a film star’s third divorce. Or, a cricket or football player’s million-dollar purse. Or, the chief minister’s new antics. Or, the prime minister’s helicopter tour above the flood-stricken areas. You know, the usual routine.
Nobody is dropping dead in front of you, because of noise pollution, right? Nobody is bleeding to death. Therefore, as one of my Columbia University journalism professors used to say, “If there’s no dead bodies, and if there’s no blood…it’s not even news.”
But people are dying every single day in India — across the country — because of the grotesque violation of human rights. And it’s both Hindus and Muslims and capitalists and communists — who are responsible for this criminal violation.
Microphones blare any day, any time. Anywhere. Randomly. Unexpectedly. You don’t know what the reason is, and when it will start, and when it will stop. It’s pure nightmare.
Noise. Full blast. No questions asked. If you are a club member in the neighborhood, you can decide to turn on the pathetically high-decibel loudspeakers — on any occasion. It could be somebody’s marriage, it could be the local politician’s birthday, it could be a temple or mosque’s three-day festivity, it could be the death anniversary of a poet, or it could be one of the countless holidays. It could even be France’s winning the World Cup.
It doesn’t matter. If I have the microphone and loudspeakers and high-volume stereos, I shall turn them on. Electricity — I can steal from municipality. Any day, any time…and I shall not comply to anybody’s requests to turn it off, or turn it down.
I belong to the ruling political party. I belong to the opposition. Police would not touch me. Media would never bother to report on it. I am the king. I can do anything I want.
And I would not care if there is a sick patient. I would not give a darn if there is a group of young students studying for the final exams next day. I couldn’t care less if small children can’t sleep. Let alone the countless, hapless innocent people who do not want to be subjected to this gross atrocities on their humanity, and their right to live a quiet life at home. A small but powerful, violent and illiterate group of people has taken over.
There are rules of law. And there will be new rules of law. But in India, if you are a political mafia, you rule above all rules. Nobody can touch you.
Criminals run amuck across India. Ordinary people fear them to death.
Extremism has reached a new level — with zero action from the government, police and media. Along with many other grotesque flays of human rights in India — brutality on women and children, barbarism on poor Muslims and “low” castes, rampant destruction of the environment…etc., noise pollution and noise barbarism have become a “normal.”
There is no escape from this brutality.
India is not a civilized country. I know it’s not, however much I love my motherland. I can’t do much about it because I have no power to change things there.
This expression of my anger, frustration and hopelessness is my only power. And I know very few people actually care to read today. Or, do anything about it.
Brooklyn, New York
Photo courtesy: Hindustan Times (for one-time, educational, non-profit use).