Friday, April 25, 2014

He who screams the loudest...

    My cycle of buying televisions seem to be curiously tied to elections. I bought my second-last because I did not want to miss out on the best TV America has to offer-- election campaigns and debates. I bought my last TV just in time to be able to catch up on the Indian election coverage.
    And I'm thinking it might be enough to put me off TV news for forever, because coverage as of now seems to be a blur of people trying to outscream each other, blatant and crude favoritism and poor anchoring rolled in a mind numbing capsule, punctuated by a host who typically tries to outshout them all.
    I have always had a problem with too much noise. Screaming, loud music, hysterics, honking, dancing, dirty neighbourhood fights -- whenever decibels go unnecessarily over acceptable limits I get uncomfortable. I am not very proud of it, but sometimes I just flee.
    That is not to say I don't go to movies or clubs-- I do. But movies are a controlled environment, as are clubs.
   The few times I do go out I still take many breaks to go out and clear my head, much to the annoyance of my friends. Anyway, the point of this long digression is that I am simply not well equipped to handle unnecessarily loud noise, including ma on the phone.
    And then I landed in Bombay. I am extremely happy with the city on many levels, but I doubt I'll ever fully come to terms with the constant noise. That made me begin to wonder, why do we love noise so much?
    Bombay might be an extreme, but we as a people are noisy. Just peep into our classrooms, canteens or even toilets. There's this one junction in Kolkata just near a famous university where ambient noises hit such horrifying levels  no normal person should be exposed to them. Yet, being close to the university, this crossroad is also a popular adda spot -- the young and the old hang out there day after day.
    Sure, habit is a big leveler. It would be dishonest of me to say all the noise bothered me as much three years ago as it does me now, but I've never really been able to figure out this love of it.
    I told you, I've always disliked too much loudness, the reason for many a cold war between ma and me. I had at one point stopped calling her more than once a week because she won't stop yelling into the phone. That might sound too rude to you, but desperate times call for desperate measure. She talks normally on the phone now. Disclaimer: please don't stop talking to family because of this anecdote. Try asking before you do it. ;-)
    So we talk loudly, we watch TV loudly, we drive loudly, we eat loudly, our movies and TV shows are loud and come with too much background music and distractions.
Even our leaders seem to gain popularity on the basis of who can bray the loudest.
When I was in school, they came out with a movie called "Taal". You remember it for the songs, I remember it also for the scene where the hero, without raising his voice one bit, silences a raving man and proves his point. If there is one thing Akshaye Khanna should be proud of  in his acting career it should be for carrying off "maine aapse 10 zyada glass todey, toh kya mera sach aap ke sach se bada ho gaya?"
 Go check it out.
    So what is it that makes us love noise so much? Especially when we all seem to appreciate quietness when we can get it?
    Almost everyone I know here thinks Prannoy Roy is the best anchor we have on TV now and the man seldom raises his voice.
    In school my friends and I were decidedly more scared of the teacher who never raised her voice than we were of the teacher who would scream at us every single day. Fun fact: we also took her more seriously than said yeller. And she got more Teachers' Day cards too.
    We all laugh at saas-bahu background noises, but won't try and control our own voices while yakking in the canteen. We will put up pictures with hastags like #silenceisgolden #serenity and other similar words and phrases when we go on vacations, but once home we instinctively turn our TVs to the 50s in volume, without bothering to check if we need to at all.
    We insist music must be blaring to be able to enjoy it. We will yell across the store aisle for our lost friend instead of just trying to walk a few steps and check if they're just round the corner. We will yell even if the person is standing right next to us.
     I'm not propagating library standard quiet everywhere, I love talking too much for that. But why can't we all be a little quieter, please?

    See? That's the sound of silence. There's a reason they wrote a song about it. Which sounds sweetest when played in moderate volume. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Bombay challenge

   It's been a whirlwind month- half of which I spent in freezing temperatures and frosted roads and the rest in sultry heat and showering twice a day. As you may have imagined, moving cities comes with its own set of baggage; countries, even more so.
    This blog is for those friends who asked me to spell out what it actually is like. You know, the BIG return, so here goes. The rest of you are more than welcome to read too, but remember, this is not going to be a romanticized post about desh ki mitti with violins in the background. Read, enjoy, laugh, be horrified and then return to your country.
    1. All stereotypes about big Indian cities (in my case, Bombay) stem from truth. The moment you step out of the international airport, the heat, humidity and stench hit you like a Fireball shot. And if you are in Bombay, which is quite a different animal altogether, you'll also be hit by this omnipresent noise.
    2. The Noise, mainly from indiscriminate honking, is a thing in Bombay. If you are in Delhi or Bangalore, you can get away from it, but in Mumbai, no. Mumbaikars revel in their noise. They don't want to change their habits. Because, "everyone gets used to the noise, you will too." Sound pollution? Say what?
    3. You will fall sick. The food will tempt you and you will give in. You'll be careless with the water you drink. No matter how expensive the restaurant is, you will still fall sick. Caveat: has never happened to me when I hit Bangalore on my trips, but I got the Delhi Belly in Bombay. The doctor said it's the water.
    4. Bombay is an expensive city. If you have a budget for house rents in your mind, add 10k INR a month to that already, for that is what you'll end up spending. Or considerably diminish your expectations of what a house should look like.
    5. No matter how much you pay for rent and what locality you choose to live in, you'll never be too far from the omnipresent slums. Unless you live outside the city altogether. Burberry showrooms coexist with multi-tiered slums like happy neighbours. I have almost forgiven all white men who have, for years, written, filmed and documented this phenomena. I have also laughed at my conversation in LA about how a high end store was placed right next to a Target , and about wondering how they hadn't planned the city that well. Someone was laughing up there when my friend (incidentally, a Mumbaikar) and I were having that chat.
    6. You'll take time to adjust. I am still unable to ignore the city noises, but every single person I've met or have spoken to has assured me it takes time. And then, suddenly, you fall right back in love with the city. I'm still in the "maybe" stage.
    7. People are helpful. They understand the challenges a newbie faces in the city. This is true for all of India, but Bombay will go out on a limb to help you fit in. If you give it a chance, that is. Step one is to lower your defenses. Step two is to accept the city, dirt, noise, sweat included. Step three is to go to Cafe Mondegar.
    8. Everyone knows it is a city that will and does overwhelm any outsider. So they make sure you are ok during the adjustment phase. The broker who helps you with house hunting will check on you to make sure you have dinner at home, colleagues will ask you out and to dinner till you have your house set up, cab guys will give you right directions or will even help you find your way, acquaintances will walk you through the city's system-- how to ride the trains, how to work the traffic, how to find your rhythm.
    Oh also, adjustment phases are subject to changes. A colleague has been here for three years and says he's still adjusting. Another one took three months.
    8. Don't expect anything to be done the American way when you are in India. No matter how tony a neighbourhood you are in or how fancy your office is, never forget this is not the USA, it is another country and has its own dos and don'ts. So no, your plumber might not be right on time when you make an appointment, but know what? If you are thirsty and have no water at home, he will get you a bottle of Bisleri. And sometimes, not even accept money for it. The autos may drive you crazy, but if you are lost, they will take you to the point where you can get into a cab and wait till you are safely on your way. And you don't need to tip. In fact, they'll happily take a 50 if the meter says 52 and you don't have change.
    9. If India is chaotic, Bombay is its crown jewel. But like a friend born and raised in Mumbai said, you need to find your rhythm in the city. I am guessing it is more or less true for all new cities you move to, but in Bombay it is not just a "good to do", it is a must. And once you find it, the city suddenly becomes very beautiful.
    10. For all the disadvantages, you are home. If you are not Indian, how about this: for as long as you stay here you will never have to do your dishes, do laundry or even go grocery shopping out of necessity. There are helping hands who do it for you. And the local grocer will be only too happy to take your orders via phone. And even pick up other stuff on the way if you become friends.
    That's about it for now. I'll let you know how things change when they do.

PS: adding one more. Total dependence on plastic money does not fly in India. Always keep some cash with you. If you're in Bombay, keep a lot of cash with you.

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..