Sounds Like Home

It’s never quiet. Never. From the first thing I hear – the piercing door bell at 6am (the morning milk run), to farting rickshaws, crashing utensils, bird calls, hawkers peddling their wares, multiple cricket matches, to the lone barking dogs past midnight, I share the day with constant clashing sounds.

I’ve grown up with these sounds. They take me back to my first summer in India. I was a wide eyed teenager fascinated by the way of life here. That first weekend, there was a man walking around the colony with what looked like a bag of discarded crap. He kept yelling at regular intervals in a high pitched nasal note. I wondered if he was hurt or mentally disturbed. He wasn’t. He was the raddiwala – the guy who takes away your old newspapers and magazines for recycling (you get paid a small sum by the kilo for the pile you give away). My parents and uncles swapped stories of times when the last week of every month ran on raddi money alone, their hardship glossed over with a coat nostalgia. The raddiwala’s cry has been a part of my Sundays ever since.

These sounds have always been around, part of the landscape, blending into the day, like sugar in milk, together and inseparable. But it’s just now that I’m learning to isolate them, holding each one away from the setting, appreciating each sound for what it brings – a constant reminder of life all around. While people can be (and usually are) overbearing, invading one’s privacy without a thought, these sounds rarely are, many a times they even transform into something soothing, comforting.

The last monsoons brought little rain – crops failed, water cuts were put in place, and now a heat wave has come our way. I’m sitting right under the ceiling fan, sweating as it churns the hot morning air round and round. The windows are wide open just in case a misguided breeze comes around. It doesn’t, but a rush of sounds comes barging in. It doesn’t help with the heat, but it makes me smile.

The summer holidays have started and three cricket games are taking place outside. One full of teenage boys, throwing in the occasional cuss words in the midst of cricket lingo. The other games are run by tots; the cricket bats are bigger than some of the kids there. As the heat gets rougher, so will the games and complains. Later in the evening when the live telecast of the local league begins, I’ll hear these very kids screaming and cheering in front of their TVs. In all probability, I’ll do the same.

The screaming kids are interrupted often. From where I sit, kitchen sounds dominate. It’s almost ten o’ clock, breakfasts and lunches are being prepared. I catch the shrill whistle of a pressure cooker and the rush of steam shooting out. Through another window comes the sizzle of spices hitting hot oil in a wok and steel ladles clinking against pans and pots, and the customary crashing utensils (most Indian kitchens use steel utensils, including plates and tumblers. The fancy china is always stored away for special occasions, and no occasion is special enough for the fancy china). It sounds less like cooking and more like a violent attack. I wonder if I am as noisy a cook. I probably am.

Even the birds here are super noisy – usually sparrows and crows – constantly gossiping. The sparrows tweet and chirp, creating pretty melodies. The crows however squawk a constipated tune. If only I had a rupee for every crow I wanted to chase away. When lunchtime rolls around, they’ll sit outside the kitchen window, waiting for bits and pieces to be put out. Of course if the food is not up to their standards, they don’t bother, they chirp and squawk and flap their wings in disgust.

I could write about these sounds for four more pages and then some more, but I have a long to-do list to wade through today, so I’ll crunch them together – crying babies, ringing doorbells, car horns, hawkers, ringing cell phone with annoying ring tones, gushing water, mixers and grinders, cross balcony conversations, music classes in session, TVs and radios, hammers and drills.

Outside, rickshaws rattle along, the engines sound like injured toads. Cars, buses and trucks follow suit. Not far away the brass temple bell rings thrice in its usual patter clang-clang-clang. The bell will ring every time someone steps in to offer a prayer. The last bits of the recession are still around and the exams are just winding up – there are many prayers on offer – clang-clang-clang.

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