Loudspeaker Row: Who are the noisiest of us all?

Though Indians are known as the noisiest people in the world, some Indians seem unusually sensitive to some kind of noise!


Arun Sharma

Raj Thackeray and his men are gearing up to chant Hanuman Chalisa in front of mosques in Mumbai on 3rd May, unless loudspeakers are removed from the premises of the targeted places of worship; and Chief Minister Adityanath’s teams are out in Uttar Pradesh to monitor the sound level emanating from the mosques located in that state.

Even as I read these reports, a procession passed through the street 300 metre from the house, accompanied as usual by loud music, the jarring sound percolating through my living room and through closed glass windows.

Noise, I reflected, does not actually bother us. Wasn’t it Rudyard Kipling who pointedly declared that Indians were impervious and indifferent to noise? Many studies since then have endorsed that Indians are the noisiest people in the world. We talk on the phone, at home, in offices or on streets a wee bit too loudly. We close doors emphatically with a resounding thud.

And if it does not close securely enough to our satisfaction, then we do so with a louder thud. Our railway stations, our bazaars, our living rooms, even our hospital lobbies are among the noisiest places on the planet. So, what is the fuss all about and why single out a particular community?

The reason for this, I believe, is to be found in our propensity to see a speck in the other’s eye and not to notice a beam that is in our own, in our tendency to judge others rather than to look inward into our own faults, to borrow the phrases from the Bible.

It is unfortunate that two unknown politic i a n s f ro m Maharashtra, Navneet Rana, an independent MP and her husband Ravi Rana, MLA jumped into the fray with their bid to recite the Hanuman Chalisa in front of chief minister Udhav Thackeray’s residence in Mumbai. They are now in judicial custody.

Lord Ganesh is the presiding deity in Maharashtra and Hanuman Chalisa is hardly the book of prayer used in Maharashtrian homes. I will cease writing in these columns if Hanuman Chalisa is found in even five per cent Marathi homes. Maharashtrians are also not so familiar with the Ramcharitamanas (Tulsi Ramayana) popular in North India.

A Maharashtrian Hindu lady, who was attending an Akhand Ramayan Path out of neighbourly courtesy, I recall, was totally ignorant about the book. Later she asked me, ‘Wo aap logon ka puja tha na’ (So, it was your religious ceremony). Indeed, Hinduism is far more diverse than the ‘Neo-Hindus’ would have us believe.

The aim of reciting the Hanuman Chalisa, therefore, is, apparently to harass the Muslims and embarrass the Government of Udhav Thackeray. An additional aim could be to destabilise the MVA Government and win some electoral dividends in the upcoming municipal elections.

While one may not like to make the admission, though one cannot help doing so, but when it comes to the decibel level or the sound barrier on religious and social occasions, the Hindus are far more guilty than the Muslims.

For one, the number of festivals and other festivities among my community far outnumber those celebrated by the minority community. One can easily count and find out. In addition, the number of local deities run into hundreds, or even thousands all over the country. There are then, various godmen and their followers. A wedding is a big event that also regularly assault our auditory sense and sensibilities.

It may be mentioned that nearly all the celebrations mentioned in the foregoing paragraph and processions, are invariably accompanied by beating of drums and playing of musical instruments. Several of these processions and celebrations are also accompanied by the bursting of fire crackers. Loudspeakers are present during these celebrations more often than not.

In comparison, the Muslim community have just two festivals, namely Eid-Al-Fitr and Eid-Al-Adha. The birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad is not observed by the Muslims as it was also the date on which he died. Besides the two Eid festivals, Shia Muslims also observe the tenth day of Muharram, known as Ashura to mourn the martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussain and his family.

Celebrations during Eid-Al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha include Eid namaz, obligatory charity, sermon by the Imam and seeking of forgiveness, mercy, kindness from Allah by the faithful. This is followed by visits to relatives in the evening, feasting and giving of gifts.

Eid-al-Adha also includes a ritual of sacrifice to commemorate the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to Allah’s command.

It is pertinent to mention that none of the celebrations involve taking out of public processions or playing of musical instruments or bursting of firecrackers. Loudspeakers are totally absent during these festivals.

The Shia Muslims do take out a procession carrying the replica of the mausoleums of Karbala, known as Tazia, on the tenth day of Muharram to mourn the death of Imam Hussain. Those in the procession traditionally walk through streets of their town mourning, accompanied by flagellation and wailing to a local pond where the Tazias are immersed in the water.

This happens once in a year and lasts for three or four hours. It is significant that Hindus have also been known to take part in the Tazia procession, as recorded by Peter Gottschalk, in his work, 'Beyond Hindus and Muslims', published by the Oxford University Press.

It is conceded that the azaan or the call of the muezzin for prayers is relayed through loudspeakers installed on the minarets of a mosque. It would, however, surprise many to know that it consists of a few phrases and lasts for hardly a minute and a half. Many mosques relay the Friday prayers on loudspeakers. This may last longer for three or four days during the Eid festivals. That is all there is to the sound of loudspeakers coming from mosques.

It can be safely concluded that noise produced during Hindu festivals far exceeds the noise produced by the loudspeakers installed on mosques.

If BJP and its leaders consider this to be a more important issue than the problems of unemployment, rising prices and growing social discord, as it appears from their support to the chanting of Hanuman Chalisa, they may appoint a Commission of Inquiry comprising sound recordists and physicists to measure the decibel levels of sound produced by Muslims and Hindus and accordingly apportion the blame.

That would be in the fitness of things to put an end to the absurd theatrics and ‘noise politics’ we are being forced to witness.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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