The loud and noisy Punjab-ification of India

RATNA RAO SHEKAR writes from Hyderabad: I am not sure if you have noticed this, but in our country, the higher the decibel level, the easier it is to get noticed. While Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev were in the media glare because of the noise they created and received the government’s attention, Swami Nigamanand died unsung.

Because, unlike the other two, he was protesting quietly against illegal sand mining by the Ganga.

Or, who has paid any attention to Irom Chanu Sharmila who has been fasting  silently for over a decade in the Northeastern most part of the country?

We, as a country, thrive on cacophony and drama irrespective of whether it is a protest or a party, a wedding or a funeral.

So many Indians I know for instance thought the wedding of Prince William and Kate, while being elegant was more funereal than celebratory. They felt let down because the ceremony lacked the band baja of Indian weddings.

Here, we like to celebrate weddings with bonhomie, noise and crackers. The robustness of the Punjabi wedding is a case in point. At one stage, South Indian weddings were dead-serious affairs until the Punjabi wedding (propagated through Hindi films) cast its spell. The mehendi and sangeet with their colourful costumes and over-the-top Bollywood music and dancing is a shining example of how we think a wedding should be conducted.

Not just weddings, but our cinema too is loud.

The quietness of Rashomon is not for us. And a Satyajit Ray film is all right for the festival rounds. The popular choice is the Bollywood film with its gaudy costumes and inane song-and-dance sequences, epitomised by the item number which makes or breaks a movie.

And we love the fact that all this is given to us in the full throttle of Dolby Digital sound which the new multiplexes come equipped with.

Why, even Indian classical music and dance concerts are noisy affairs, whatever sublime levels the musician or dancer may take us to. The majority of us are not moved by the quiet of a Beethoven symphony played in the precincts of a concert hall.

We would rather have the informality of an Indian classical concert, so that we can talk between each rendition, clap spontaneously when a dancer has performed a particularly difficult varnam, or talk across aisles, comparing notes.

Even our family get-togethers, office picnics and outings with friends are characterized by loud jokes and louder games of antakshari, or what is worse these days, the karaoke. To prove that all is well in the family or among colleagues we like to chatter simultaneously and laugh out loud at every Osama or other joke.

How many times has the family member who does not participate in the general revelry, but prefers watching television or reading a book in seclusion, been dragged to be centre stage to cheered up? For Indians, silence is synonymous with social deviance, or worse, depression.

When you come to think of it, our funeral ceremonies too (loaded though they may be with grief of the family) are noisy affairs, too. We are so noisy, we will not let a dead Indian go to his grave in peace and silence!

In this country we have to prove we are not deaf or social psychopaths by turning on television sets full blast, talking loudly on cell phones at public places, and honking during a traffic jam even if everyone can see the cars are not going anywhere.

Most of us are so used to the chaos and noise of India that we feel nervous with the deathly silence of some European countries where we hardly see people, and even the few we do seem to feel no compulsion to talk on cell phones or strike up a conversation with complete strangers.

Even the children in these countries, it would seem, don’t cry too loudly.

I believe we as a nation need a crash course in quiet. But for this, we need to shut off the cacophony created by TV anchors, honking cars, ringing cell phones, politically minded god men and gurus—and learn to listen to that sound of silence.

(Ratna Rao Shekar is the editor of Housecalls, the bimonthly published by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories. Her book of short stories, Purple Lotus and Other Stories is forthcoming)

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