Cultural differences

What did you say….?

11:48 AM

I didn’t hear you!

If I had to sum Urban India in one word, the world would be LOUD, it’s loud in your face, assault all of your senses at once and can be confusing. But out of all the loud definitions, today I will write about how noisy a place that can be, and no cities are really spared, some worse than other, some areas of said worst city better than average, but if you move to India to live there, be prepared to have loud decibels a pretty constant in your days and possibly nights.

The most obvious of all the noises is the never ending honking of car/bus/trucks/bike/auto horns…honking is a national obsession that I would rank right behind cricket. People honk to warn they are coming, to warn when they are overtaking someone, to ask someone to get out of their way, and I’m even convinced some think it has some magical powers seeing how they honk and honk on no end at a red traffic light, clearly they must think it will or make the light turn green on command or make all the other vehicles vanish from the road. They honk in a parking lot, when stuck in a line, in no honking zones such as residential buildings and hospitals…it’s pretty much honking and beeping the whole day long. 9 years later I’m pretty much immune to it when staying home, I can totally phase that one out, it still annoy the crap out of me when I am out probably because all my other senses are equally assaulted and there is nothing like a few honk honks to stress you out.
Still in the traffic noises department, you have to bear with farting auto rickshaw noises, noisy trucks, coughing buses, day and night.
In a city like Mumbai chances are you are going to live near a construction site, regardless of where you live, the whole city is in perpetual construction/demolition mode. Where I live it’s a brand new residential apartment building complex that is taking shape, they are building around 10 high rise structure, and have been since we moved in last year in August, it’s nearing the end, but it could easily be another year of hearing concrete trucks, excavators, drilling, cranes, hammering and cling clanging. Fortunately we are lucky, they observe the rules and are done with the loudest work by 6-7pm and completely done with work by 10pm, at least we can sleep in relative peace and quiet. but there are days that are so bad I need to close all my windows, which I can do only if it’s not too hot, as a) I don’t have any AC in the living room and b) I don’t like running high energy bills just to keep the noise out.
Then if the outdoor decibels weren’t enough there is the household noises, the one that is the most constant being ceiling fans, you can’t live with them, and to be fair they don’t make a huge amount of noise, but still enough for one to increase the volume on the TV drastically during the hot season as compared to Winters. My cousin who came to visit us for the second time last year said she wasn’t used to having the fan running all the time and that it was a noise that she found hard to phase out while sleeping, but the fan is of course completely and absolutely necessary most of the year.
And then you probably have what I call the worst of the worst in matter of noise pollution: Festival noises.
Don’t get me wrong, festivals are cool, it’s supposed to be louder than usually, the problem is that the rest of the year is anyway loud and noisy, so it seems most of the country is hearing damage and breaks loudest loudspeakers every festive season, to blast some music on no end. Recently we had Ganpati festival, where Ganesh is celebrated high in colours all across the city, each residential area or building usually have a big idol displayed for people to worship daily during that time, last year it was quiet, nice and cheerful. This year I don’t know who in the housing society thought it was a good idea to get a microphone on during prayer time so that devotees willing to sing could do it for the whole building to hear. The problem is that it’s pretty much like karaoke, you have those with a fair singing voice, and you have a whole bunch that sing in the key of OFF and make all those who didn’t go down for prayer time cringe and shut themselves in. When the live singing wasn’t going they put a tape on the loudspeaker with proper devotional chorus sang in a soothing way, still loud, but at least sang by professionals. DH who is Indian and Hindu found the “karaoke” singing horrible himself, and I kid you not, twice a day while it was on, nobody could do anything but listen to it, no one could watch TV, answer the phone or even hold a conversation with their family inside their home without shouting in a vain attempt to cover the noise…that’s how loud it was. And I’ve gone through the navratri singing last year which yup was on loud speaker in the building for 9 nights and drove both DH and I insane, again letting people sing live on a microphone. I don’t get it, never will, those who attend the puja are all gathered down, they are the ones that cared enough to go, they can sing together and they would probably hear themselves without a microphone, so why assault all those that made the choice not to attend the puja with some nasal, shrilling singing? And why hiring a audio system and play music from a tape when one could hire a few well singing pundits and traditional instrument orchestra instead, which would make it that much more festive and probably less offensive to the ears as well? not to mention keeping dying cultural traditions alive?
And if festivals were the only occasions, fine, but political rallies are loud with Bollywood music and slogan shouting as well. To me it seems that the message gets lost in the noise, and will irritate the crap out of those not attending. Once in Bangalore, in our relatively quiet residential neighbourhood we had a political rally going, the loud music played on scratchy antiquated loud speaker went from 8am until close to 10pm! On a WEEKEND! DH and I fled the house for a solid portion of the day simply because we could do nothing else at home.

Now I used to live on the side or a noisy road in Geneva, the reason why I was out of the apartment every Saturdays during the day. Nights were still noisy enough with drunkards zooming at high speed toward the French border. And for that I found some relief in India as nights are relatively quiet, with just the few stray dogs barking and the few odd cars honking.
But when I went back to Switzerland for 2 months in 2008, I found the lack of noise unsettling, that’s how bad India’s noise level affected me. Nights without the noise from the ceiling fans where though, days, disturbingly quiet. Not that there is anything wrong with quiet, I LOVE quiet, but a few years living in India and you totally forget there is even such a thing in the first place


  1. Hubby always told me he couldn't sleep unless there was "pin drop silence" around him. I just busted out laughing after I got to India. The only pin drop silence I ever noticed was the rare occasion that there was no festivals or weddings going on and the streets got almost quiet between 3 and 4 am. The rest of the time there were weddings, dogs, vehicles, temples (we had 3 in our neighborhood), loud speakers, DJ's playing music, etc. He had just learned to sleep through the noise and didn't realize it.

    I have noticed a lot of tone deafness in India. In our household people could hear each other call out their names (ex. Mummy calling to hubby) from 2 floors away without yelling. But the TV had to be on full blast or no one could hear. When the phone rings, MIL has been sitting 2 feet away and not noticed it. Uncle could only hear if you yelled at him and looked him straight in the face.

    I think a lot of the traffic noises people have just learned to tune out. Or perhaps they are tone deaf to them as well. All the noise can be quite overwhelming to a foreigners senses though. I just to listen to my iPod while we rode around town just to drown it out.

  2. I have a sharp hearing, I learned to hear things such as the phone when it is in another room despite the construction site noise, the TV and the docking station on, DH can't even hear the doorbell most of the time! But yeah I noticed that I need to keep the TV at a higher volume here in India that I would normally do it, and my mom noticed it to in our flat in Navi Mumbai. But it also had to do with terrible accoustic there, the things was such that seated on the sofa right in front of the TV you could barely hear the dialogues in a movie, but moved to the kitchen that was quite a distance away and separated by a wall and you could hear everything with clarity...crazy.


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