Quarantine tales: What’s all the noise?

March 22, 2020

Donned in PPE, I was sitting with my senior resident and intern at the Flu Clinic, which had started that day on the premises of AIIMS Patna Trauma Building. COVID 19 was the invisible enemy against which we were all battling. Like a Trojan horse, it can come from anywhere, through anyone. It was a little intimidating at first, being a newcomer front-line worker, knee deep in the trench, awaiting a shell to be dropped on our heads anytime. There was a steady inflow of patients coming to the clinic with one or the other symptoms, and majority of them were afraid, panicked and not totally aware of what this novel virus can do.

Time was trickling slowly. I was checking the clock on my phone, and it wasn’t 5 yet. I was posted in the evening shift there, on the “Janta Curfew” day, when something big was about to happen nationwide. When the clock struck 5, unexpectedly, no sound came. Where is the banging of utensils? Clapping of hands? The roar of the nation?

But of course, I was sitting inside a hospital building. It wasn’t expected anyway. After a few hours, videos started pouring in online. The virtual world held synopses of the ways people banged utensils with wooden spoons like some drum set, children with kansor ghonti frolicking around posing in front of camera, even coming out on streets and making a procession yelling “Go Corona Go”. So much noise had erupted in the streets and from the balconies of India that Corona virus might just take note in the wake!

April 5, 2020

It was 9 PM. The hostel lights went off one by one, as I saw through the window. Illuminated by the bright flash lights and burning candles, the terrace in the neighboring hostel looked so different. It was again one of the PM’s request…to shine a light, show solidarity and fraternity, and be wary of the darkness which COVID 19 has brought into our lives.

The thing which was surprising though, was the shock waves in the form on “Go Corona Go” and then the unmistakable bursting of firecrackers. 9 minutes were ebbing away fast, yet the celebration of mini Diwali showed no sign of diminishing. The lights came back, but the crackers went on exploding. Videos cropped up on social media again…. although it was NOT meant to be a celebration, people have gone to great heights to make it the one to remember. Candle light march was a surprise! Now as I think back, on this day, along with air pollution, the decibels also spiked up more than usual.

So, what is the big deal?

Noise was always there in our lives. Whether you are in the city, or slum, or village…it is one of the most common yet unseen factors in the world. Humans have taken it for granted. Especially in the city, the roar of the engines, the hum of the electricity in the buildings, the annoying honks of the buses and cabs, the footsteps of millions of people all send a hum through the air, and down the ground. The noise remains in the background, and it is ever increasing. With more industrialization and advancement in technology, that is bound to happen.

But since the lock-down happened last year, thanks to COVID 19, activities dropped on the road, just like that. No vehicles on the road, no trains or flights, no offices being run, no malls or big markets running day and night, no hawking of vendors or shouting on the road… the world literally came to a standstill. Noise had gone down for the first time in so many decades, maybe. Mass quarantine has done something which weak willed people haven’t been able to do for so long….reduce noise pollution.

The Earth itself started vibrating to the slow, sporadic pulse of geological disturbances. It was always there, but oblivious to humans. Cataclysmic events such as a volcano, tsunami, meteor crash or avalanche send low-frequency sounds reverberating through the Earth’s crust, but below the threshold of our hearing. Noise reduced to the minimum, for almost 5-6 months. Our hospital became COVID exclusive from July, and hundreds of patients came inspite of strict protocols across the nation. The disease was spreading like wildfire.

But all bad things do not last for long. Phases of unlock were put in place, and the summer went, following which little by little, lockdown became more lax, restrictions uplifted, markets opening, social places started thrumming, people started going out on the streets with lesser fear on mind. Jobs changed their work-from-home policy back to office-going regularity. Migrant labourers started going to other states for job prospects. Restaurants and cinema halls opened, with Diwali and Christmas and New Year celebrations underway. Winter was a welcome relief, because not only the weather was better, but cases and deaths declined to an all time low in January. The sounds started returning, while we social creatures rejoiced to it. There is simply nothing like the sound of life…or so we think. We have confused “noise” with sounds.

Our souls are ethereal…it is our ultimate destiny to blend with nature, to return to the abstract concept of Eden. In Eden, there is chirping of birds, the humming of the bees, the rustling of tree leaves and the splashing of rivers making their way down to the ocean. We identify the purest of our vision with sounds. But those sounds are lost in the “noise”. What is this noise?

Noise appears when we have lost touch with the Eden the world has to offer. Noise is when we rely on how much we can dominate Nature than the other way around. The chirping gets replaced by sawing of trees, the splashing and rustling gets drowned by the honking of cars and the throbbing of industrial effluents being thrown out into the water. The humming gets replaced by loud firecrackers which nowadays appear even in the want of an occasion (I am also not advocating the same DURING any occasion either). This nuisance is a disaster to some people who cannot tolerate such high decibels. Eardrums can get permanently damaged in old/geriatric people and children. There might be hearing impairments, rising cardiovascular problems. Not to mention, stress the silent killer, always creeping inside our body and chipping away at our health little by little till we are ravaged by its consequences.

Return to the Sound

COVID has shown us a glimpse of the world without noise. In its throes, we had a chance to understand that we can survive without the noisemakers and thrive on our bare minimum. Sure we need more face to face interactions than we are having in lockdown, but that does not have to include roaring rides to sunset, or smoke-bellowing cars on the way to work. There should be space for public transport or eco-friendly options such as electric vehicles or cycles. Returning to sound friendly environment is a much needed sustainable future for us. Hopefully we won’t need another disastrous pandemic to make us realise that. Take care. 😀

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