There are some things physical you can never get used to, I heard or read someplace. You can get used to smell and to sights – the brain will soon filter them out – but you can never get used to noise. And pain.
I remember chronic pain. For a period in 2012 I had migraines twice a week for 48 hour stretches. A dose of pills for three months got rid of it, mostly, something I’ll be ever thankful to the neurologist I saw.
Noise, though, is a constant. I’ve always been sensitive to sounds but this is different. The utter pervasiveness of noise pollution in this country hit me at some point a few years ago. At home. On our streets. On the highway. In public spaces and private Day and night. Weekday or weekend. Rain or shine. Bombay or Bengal.
I am, at this moment, in my living room, subjected to trains and traffic, each honking on either side of the building, the constant rattle of passing rickshaws, a community celebration blaring from loudspeakers from the hall across the street, kids paying cricket with a plastic ball, sometimes yelling in celebration, sometimes contentiously, but always yelling. This is an average evening. A sound measurement app shows the following:
84dB, in context:
I bought a few types of earplugs and settled on one, of which I now have several pairs. I wear them at home. I wear them when out walking. I wear them in cafés. I wear them to bed. I wear them in cabs, in trains, in rickshaws.
But it’s a poor compromise. No, acquiescence. I can’t wear them when in company of course. I can’t wear them when driving. It’s dangerous to wear them on the streets because the pedestrian is at the very bottom of the safety chain. It isn’t hygienic to wear them for extended periods – nor are they comfortable for that long. And no earplugs can drown out all sound across all frequencies: from the rumble of passing trains and trucks and processions to the whine of drills to the angry screech of horns, unwelcome sound has encroached on the entire aural spectrum.
I think it has a very real and substantial impact on my quality of life in ways bith physiological and psychological. I suppose there are many studies that have shown the correlation between physically measurable stress and noise levels.
But I also feel trapped because of the realisation that there truly is no other escape than to create my own, even louder sound balloon of music or white noise, pumped directly into my ears. Knowing that the only artificial respite is in the centre of some large high end urban housing complex, dozens of meters away from the nearest public space, shielded by rows of dampening trees, which also means disengaging from all society but that which lives within this sound fortress. There is no bucolic ideal in this country that is quiet; traffic, loudspeakers and generators are as much a part of rural life as it is here.
Perhaps this seems like a #upperclassproblems rant, I having the luxury of comparing from a privileged flat in an upscale area of Bombay. But that is also my point. If those with means (earplugs, soundproof panes, AC cars with sealed windows) in some of our most expensive urban places suffer so, what do those not so fortunate go through? What is the collective Indian population, across place, across class doing to itself.