Life in the armed forces, as anyone would tell you, is tough. Armed forces are not a vocation but a way of life; and hence, one is on duty 24/7 throughout the year. You hardly have any family life. With the perpetual shortage of officers in the armed forces, you actually end up doing the work of your absent friends, in addition to your own. Hence, when you retire after nearly 37 years, as I did, all that you are looking for is some well deserved peace and quiet. You know that with your armed forces’ savings you cannot have too much of a comfort and would get just about 900 feet of accommodation poorly constructed house in an Air Force Naval Housing Board colony; poorly constructed being more a norm than an exception in AFNHB (Air Force Naval Housing Board) houses.
After retirement, I shifted to this flat I had bought through AFNHB in installments. I soon found out that because of poor construction, most flats leaked and most flats had renovation going on even after eleven years of construction, causing perpetual noise of tile cutting and other machines especially on the weekends. Each one of us had to shell out more than one tenth of the original cost of the flats (available at the same rate as any accommodation in civil areas; thereby doing away with any advantage whatsoever for having found a flat through the armed forces) to leak proof the houses collectively. In addition, each one has spent more than twice the sum in leak-proofing bathrooms and other rooms. And this is for a housing colony in Indian Navy’s station whereat it has its premiere command.
To add to these woes is the fact that some denizens of our society love noise. Indeed, they have promoted, together with many people in modern India, noise as a form of devotion. They get very vociferous and violent if told to curb noise. Their reasoning is that the government, whilst respecting the sentiments of people (Please read: ‘Who Are The “People” Whose “Sentiments Need To Be Respected”?’) have permitted noise up to certain hours and hence they intend to make full use of those hours. Pleas to them that government orders only condone the noise but do not make it compulsory for people to have noise falls on – you guessed it – deaf ears (Please read: State Sponsored Noise). Reminders about the fact that throughout our fauji lives we never made religious noise in the open have no effect on them. When people all around you are making religious noise, you feel left out.
So, now, if there is one thing that the denizens of our colony guard fiercely, it is their right to make noise so that they won’t be seen as less religious in comparison to our neighbouring colonies who make unfettered noise during festivals. Indeed, it appears that if there is one thing that they ruefully missed whilst being in active service in the armed forces, it is noise. So, now that they have come out of the imposed discipline, they want to do with vengeance what they missed all these years.
Recently, when it was proposed that since ours is a colony that already has an indoor community hall for such purposes and that they don’t have to make noise in the open, they took their petition straight to God. It went like this:
God: You don’t have to rely on loudspeaker to make me hear your prayers. I can hear all my devotees even when they silently pray to me.
Noisy Devotee: We know it, God. But, we want people to hear our prayers DTH.
God: What is DTH, for heavens’ sake?
ND (looking shocked and surprised): You don’t have cable TV in heaven? DTH is Direct To Home. When we pray in the open with loudspeaker, people really don’t have to come to pooja pandal since they can hear it DTH. Also, God, what’s the point in praying to you unless maximum people come to know that we are praying to you. This cannot happen in indoor community hall. There only the devotees who are present can hear the prayers.
God: You appear to be confused; are you praying to me or to them?
ND: Don’t abandon us, God; already there are people who behave like as if they are God. Today they would ban noise; tomorrow they may have objection to our breathing too. Ham dharam ka satyanaash nahin hone denge.
God: I am not convinced. I think you are imposing your own style of worship on others who have a choice to worship me in their own quiet way.
ND: We beg you, God; don’t do that. There is hardly any religion left in this world. People hate you. We are the only ones who still have devotion for you; the noisier we are, the more godly we become and the closer we get to you.
God: Sorry. I made each one of my people in my likeness. I cannot make any special concessions for you because of your propensity to make loudspeaker noise.
ND (On his knees now): Please God, don’t take away from us our right to make noise. If you wish, take away anything else that you have given us or intend giving us. But, we are emotionally attached to having us heard on the loudspeakers.
God: You have too many issues; OROP for example…
ND (Eagerly): We can do without it, God. In any case, the politicians and bureaucrats took it away from us 42 years back. Noise is all that is left with us; something that we can call our own. What’s the point in living in a free country if you cannot make noise 15 days in a year?
God: You have water shortage in your colony; what about that?
ND: We are used to being without water. On our ships, water used to be available only once or twice a day for short durations. But, we cannot do without our right to make noise.
Listening to this conversation, I wonder what used to happen to devotion of people when loudspeakers were not invented. I also repeatedly ask myself in the nearly three months of noise immediately after the rains ‘A Quiter Mumbai – Is It A Pipe Dream?’ It is not just 15 days of relentless noise, as ND told God; it is actually a full season of noise.
Deepawali, for example, used to be a festival of lights (Deep + Awali = Row of Lights) to commemorate our Lord Ram returning to Ayodhaya after 14 years of exile. In our colony, for the last six years that I have been here, it is no Deepawali but ‘Patakhawali and Bombawali That Has Nothing In Common With Depawali’. With incessant explosive detonations during the Diwali week or ten days (it is not a day’s festival in our colony), we often feel that we are ‘In The War Zone’.
So, now that, about one fourth of the year is taken up by noise, the question is why don’t we raise our voice against this flagrant noise? You cannot raise voice against noise because that adds to the noise. We can only educate people about the ill effects of noise. Fortunately, in our colony, there are also many right minded people who are convinced that we need to carry these people too with us. Already, it has become a worrisome problem and people are engaged in finding solutions.
A number of solutions have been suggested:
- When you admonish children not to watch too much of television, the incorrect method is to just rhetorically keep telling them not to do so; the more you tell them, the more they want to watch. The best method is to create an alternative to television that adds to their learning as well as is equally entertaining. Similarly, some of the members have suggested that we engage the community in something constructive in the name of religion rather than in destructive crackers and noise.
- We have so much of poverty in our country and we have underprivileged children. We, as a colony, can sponsor anti-poverty programmes and programmes for the education of the underprivileged. We can collect funds to do so rather than wasting these on crackers and loudspeakers.
- We can educate the people that chanting hymns and mantras over loudspeakers is not the only method of devotion and worship. We can have indoor discourses about our religion, history and heritage and even plays and drama. After all, we are all religious in our own ways and not pagans.
- I am sure making noise in the name of religion or otherwise is a problem not only in our colony but also in thousands of colonies. Already, the High Courts are ruling that people can get together to have pooja pandals at a central place rather (to be shared by many colonies) than at hundreds and thousands of these places making cacophony that doesn’t help anyone. Noise by itself is bad. However, competitive noise that we have got used to now is really harming the society. Perhaps we should listen to the courts and not the politicians who have vested interests in promoting parochialism and religious noise.
When people get used to a way of doing things (Read: Whose God Is It Anyway?), it is generally very difficult to wean them away from their habits. As Abba Eban said: “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives”. For every argument that we present to them now, the noise-makers have a counter argument. They would probably listen after they have exhausted all such arguments.
I am, on the other hand, a great believer in the intrinsic goodness of people. I sincerely believe that we have all been made by God in His own likeness and that goodness finally prevails. I can only do my bit to nudge them in the right direction.
If you have any suggestions or even differences of opinion, please do write in the comments below.
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