Loud, louder, loudest

It’s often said there is an underlying unity in India’s huge diversity. We don’t agree on many things. But one of the few things that we do agree upon wholeheartedly is a strong preference for noise, the louder the better. Our diversity converges around extreme loudness. A few weekends ago this was brought home to me once again. Suddenly, quite out of the blue, a massive thumping of electronic music started up from behind our house. It’s a massive parking lot owned by a massive builder. It’s always full but not on weekends. So the builder has been renting it out to ‘events’ companies.

TCA Srinivasa Raghavan
TCA Srinivasa Raghavan

One of these organises musical events, which would be fine if there was indeed some music. Instead, only the loud thumping of drums and bass guitars is there. It’s apparently called techno music. You are supposed to jump up and down with your girlfriend thinking you are dancing. So on that weekend this assault went on for seven hours, from 3pm to 10pm. It happened again two weeks ago.

One of the neighbours successfully measured the decibel level. It was 90. The legally permissible level is 45. So the next day, the head of our housing society asked the local police station how this was permitted. The police said the district magistrate had given official permission. But it seems the permission made no reference to how loud the music could be. It is also doubtful if the application said where the event would be held, that is, that it would be adjacent to a cluster of residential buildings. Attention to detail was missing. We are like that only.

So we got the full 90 decibels. The windows in all the houses started rattling. As did our bones. I had to stuff cushions and pillows to stop the glass in the windows from shattering. The flower vases and bottles and other glass things had to be saved from falling. The dogs in the houses, of course, went berserk. As did small babies and the very old people. Only the deaf… lucky people… managed to escape unscathed. This ‘music,’ as I said, lasted for seven hours. Yes. seven. There was nothing we could do about it but grit our teeth in case they also fell out.

We are loud everywhere. We speak loudly, we play music on our phones loudly, indeed, we speak to our wives loudly even in public.

Lest you say this was an unusual event, perhaps it was. But let me say we as a people are loud even in everyday life. In buses, in trains, in planes, in theatres, in shopping malls, in restaurants, in offices and even in homes and hospitals, mosques, temples — we are loud everywhere. We speak loudly, we play music on our phones loudly, indeed, we speak to our wives loudly even in public. Once on a plane I heard — not overheard, mind you, because they were sitting across the aisle — a couple discussing their medical issues. The man had prostate issues and the woman had rotting teeth or gums or both. They talked very loudly for the entire duration of the flight from Delhi to Bhopal which takes just 75 minutes. I thanked my stars that it wasn’t a Delhi-Trivandrum flight which can take nearly three and a half hours.

But loudness has its funny moments, too. By far, the funniest story I have ever heard was from a retired officer of the foreign service. I don’t know if it’s apocryphal. It seems one day, long ago, our ambassador in Berne in Switzerland heard someone shouting away. He called his PA and asked what was happening. The PA said “Sir, Mr so-and-so is talking to the consulate in Geneva.” The ambassador was totally mystified. “Please tell him to use the phone, then,” he ordered the PA!

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