Saturday, November 13, 2010

Noise pollution

When I went to Bulgaria 3 years back, one of the first things that struck me as remarkable (and there were quite a few!) was the extra-ordinary level of “silence” in the atmosphere. There just weren’t any sounds around. Nobody said anything loudly, nobody shouted. No cars honked. No hawkers selling their wares. Smooth and noiseless vehicles. No loudspeakers blaring music or ‘celebrating’ festivals. No noise at all. It was almost haunting, even during daytime. You could actually ‘feel’ the silence.
It was quite a change from the noisy world that we are living here in India. There is noise everywhere.  Just switch off the TV (here you go!), close your eyes and try to listen. Even in pin-drop silence, in the middle of the night, you can actually ‘hear’ something. Some of it will be specific sounds made by clearly identifiable objects, like the fan or the air-conditioner, or an occasional car passing by on the road below. But you will also hear a slight humming in the air. If you don’t, then that’s because you are not able to identify it, to distinguish it from a truly silent atmosphere. Because you have never ‘heard’ the real silence.
I think the biggest contributors to noise pollution in our atmosphere are the automobiles. Autorickshaws rattle as if the silencer is yet to be invented. In fact, I am surprised how such a vehicle is even given a license to be sold. Some of them create so much noise that they deserve to be out of the roads. It is a clear encroachment of an individual’s right to privacy, to a calm and peaceful surrounding, a right not to be disturbed. Another and perhaps the biggest contributor to noise pollution is the incessant honking of vehicle horns all around us. It is just too much, we honk anytime and everytime. Just start observing once you step out on the roads from today. We don’t even realise it. Here are some of the reasons people honk on our roads:
·         To tell the vehicle you are overtaking “I am overtaking you!”.  This is universal, followed more religiously than even the traffic rules themselves. I won’t be surprised, if, in a survey, someone finds out that more than 50% of the drivers think you SHOULD honk while overtaking others, that is the rule!
·         To tell the vehicle in the front “I am overtaking you from the wrong side”. This is used as a ‘disclaimer’, once you honk, you have the right to overtake from the left. Nobody can complain!
·         To tell vehicle in the front “I am overtaking you rashly.”  Same as the point above, disclaimer. Now the onus is on the other guy to ensure there is no accident.
·         To generally announce “I am coming!” and warn everyone else on the road and on the footpath to be careful (!). Shows how much confidence the driver has in his own driving.
·         To “announce” that the signal has turned green and now everyone can start moving! As if, the signal was red for so long that some of the drivers might have fallen asleep at their steering wheels. I find this the most amusing – just observe how many horns blurt the moment a signal turns green. I have never understood why.
·         To shout at the pedestrian “abey, andhaa hai kya?” or some other such homilies.
·         To call the security guard to open the gate.
·         To tell the security guard to open the gate fast!
·         To call someone in the balcony from the road below (!)
The list is endless, you can go on adding to it.
Most of the people honk quite mechanically most of the time, it comes as naturally as applying the clutch, break or the accelerator.
According to my observations, 99% of the honking is futile. Whatever you are trying to tell, the person is already doing it. A simple slowing down of the vehicle will do. In fact, the most interesting thing is that honking does not avoid slowing down anyway, since everyone honks so often that most of the people ignore it, defeating its very purpose. Excessive honking is a reflection of the agitated and irritated state of the driver’s mind, it just reveals his impatience, and even immaturity. It causes stress to everyone around. Noise pollution leads to aggression, hypertension, high stress levels, sleep disturbances and other harmful effects. Stress and hypertension in turn lead to several other severe health problems.
The U.S. President Barrack Obama, during his recent visit to India, said that India is no longer an emerging nation, it has already emerged. In some respects, this might be true. But in many others, we still have a long way to go.

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