You can tell when someone isn't a Bombayite by the looks of pain that frequently cross their faces. These grimaces often appear when they are stuck in traffic, cornered at a busy signal, or at the home of friends or relatives when they are suddenly subjected to aural attacks in the form of honking or what passes for celebration in our part of the world. A lot of us no longer react to these things, even though they are unnatural, because we have been trained, like circus animals, to tolerate them. Our right to silence has long been stolen from us, without us knowing we were entitled to it in the first place. This is why quiet places are overwhelming for so many Bombayites, and why we often carry boom boxes to beachfront properties in an effort to carry our noise with us.
It's hard to explain to a foreigner why our gods are supposedly appeased only if we blare item numbers at ear-shattering volumes on the street. Representation pic
It's hard to explain to an outsider why we need to be noisy about everything. It's hard to explain why children and senior citizens unfortunate enough to live in buildings alongside busy roads struggle to sleep, simply because motorists use their horn for no apparent reason. It's hard to explain to a foreigner why our gods and goddesses are supposedly appeased during our many festivals only if we blare item numbers at ear-shattering volumes on the street. It's hard to understand why our weddings and private celebrations, which ought to happen indoors, usually start out in public, with the manic beating of drums. I never wish those couples a happy, married life, simply because they embark upon their journeys together by making my life and the lives of my neighbours miserable. I'm churlish that way.
And then we have religion, culture, and tradition, all of which conveniently shift and change depending on the dominant narrative being thrust upon us by politicians eager to divide and rule. This is why so many of our festivals have degenerated into chest-beating exercises and one-upmanship, a chance for groups to pit themselves against another by showing who can scream louder, play Bollywood songs at higher volumes, hold up traffic longer, or dance more raucously on the streets. They forget what these festivals stand for, ignoring their spiritual aspects in favour of contests and collections, replacing fervour with a notion of festivity borrowed from the dance clubs of Ibiza — a notion that eludes them completely when they denounce influences from the West while defending their peculiar notion of Indianness.
There have been sensible people trying to change this for years, of course, but their efforts usually fail when politicians step in, eager to protect the right of their constituencies to create a ruckus whenever necessary. And now, the final nail in our coffins may well have appeared in the form of an amendment in noise rules requested by the government of Maharashtra, stipulating that no area will be deemed a silence zone. The government wants to decide if hospitals deserve silence at all, as do courts, educational or religious institutions. Only the state government can now pass a notification declaring any place a silent zone.
It wasn't as if the earlier silence zones did what they were supposed to. When was the last time the demarcated 100-metre radius around a hospital was respected during a festival? When was the last time someone in your neighbourhood thought nothing of setting off fireworks at 3 am, safe in the knowledge that no one would intervene? When was the last time a road in your neighbourhood was blocked because a group of people decided it would be the best way to celebrate an auspicious date you didn't even know existed?
We have also lost the right to silence after 10 pm, not that it was ever effectively enforced to begin with. Earlier, the state government would decide on 15 days where loudspeakers could be allowed until midnight. Now, district authorities have the right to decide. In other words, if some politicians think celebrations until the wee hours will translate into more votes during the next elections, you can forget about sleeping.
Maybe we don't deserve silence because we are no longer treated as human beings with rights. Our right to eat what we want to has long been threatened, as has our right to protest, practise whatever faith we choose to, or even sleep with whom we want to. Maybe we should give up hope for peace and quiet because we have given up so much already.
Silence, like freedom, is probably just overrated.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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