Grandma's Tales

November 2, 2006

Can you hear me?

Filed under: Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:24 pm

Ask people in Chennai what the major problem in this fast-expanding (in more ways than you can think) city is, and you’ll get varied answers. People in low-lying areas will shout “water-logging!”. Those in by-lanes will mutter “illegal parking”. Street corner dwellers will hold their nose and grumble, “Uncollected garbage”. Those whose misfortune it is to live on main roads will scream above the noise, “It’s the traffic!”

Most people now agree that noise is the worst enemy in the city. Noise from various sources. At all times. None of them natural. Except when it thundered with a vengeance one night.

From the street: Silencer-less autos, vehicles fitted with prohibited airhorns and unroadworthy engines that leave a racket in their wake. Cars with drivers who believe they own the roads and all others are trespassers; and once they blow the horn, those who value their life, limb and vehicle should move out.

The worst are those who return home late. They stop in front of the gate and start honking. The poor watchman is fast asleep and it takes a full five minutes of ear-splitting noise to wake the bloke up. But it never occurs to the owner-driver to get down and open the gate. Once I went down and asked him why he was waking the neighbourhood up. “Do you realise it is close to midnight? People in these apartments are sleeping!” I hissed.
“How do you know that?” he asked.

And then there are those who need patriotic songs to guide them while reversing. They take the car out at hours when you feel least patriotic. “Sare Jahen se Achcha” is not an appropriate serenade at 5 am. Nor is a barking sound. To me the guy with a reverse horn is public enemy number 1. I have not seen a single car or two-wheeler or auto or bicycle stop because the reverse horn is blaring. Vehicles rushing past are driven by maniacs with  thumb firmly on the forward horn.

“How do you manage to do anything here?” I asked an officer at the Pollution Control Board in Guindy. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “The street noise. It’s deafening! Doesn’t bother you?”

“Oh that,” she said calmly.  “I’m so used to it. I miss it when I go home. The quiet there keeps me awake all night.”

to be continued …


  1. Dear Mam,

    This is the guy who spoke with you after class on October 30 about my father.

    All along I used to think that he was one in a billion-he raises the same issues that you have been writing through your blog and newsprint.(especially your take on the “sounds made by cars when reversing”)

    Now I know that he is not the eccentric character I make him to be!

    Your writings have helped me connect with him better than before!

    Thanks a lot!

    With Regards,


    Comment by Rajaram — November 3, 2006 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

  2. Patriotic songs and dog barks while reversing or horning are, as you said, things that do not make us give way for the vehicle.

    so my cousin in ahmedabad has gone one step further. she has a horn which says “hath be hath be hath be”
    and trust me, they really move.

    Not only partiotic songs but also those om jai jagdish devotionals are played when you feel least prayerful or religious

    Comment by Varun Chablani — November 3, 2006 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

  3. Hi Rajaram,
    If what I write has been instrumental in your connecting with your dad better, I couldn’t ask for more! Thanks a million for sharing that bit of info with me! Please tell your dad these are issues I feel intensely about. So much so my husband will go for a walk with me only on condition that I don’t start a conversation on civic issues!

    Hi Varun,
    Hope nobody comes to know of this “hath be” idea here. Imagine a car going “Thalli po, thalli po, thalli po” in guttural tone in the middle of the night! 🙂

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — November 3, 2006 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

  4. I drive a somewhat tall vehicle (Scorpio) and I once completely missed seeing someone despite carefully looking at all the mirrors provided in my car. In a country where pedestrians are considered as rude intrusions to the horn-loving-road-runners, some indication is definitely needed. I’m just not sure if “This car is backing up” is appropriate, especially when it is announced in English.

    Comment by rockjongleur — November 4, 2006 @ 10:35 pm | Reply

  5. Hi RJ,
    Is that a problem with the design of the vehicle?
    I’m glad you understand the plight of the pedestrians. There is no way anyone can walk on the roads anymore.
    My question is: Was the guy you almost ran down blind? The reverse horn becomes necessary only if the guy cannot “see” the car. Doesn’t light travel faster than sound?
    Even if you feel you can no longer drive without that blasted tool (I have no reverse horn, I cover the city like no one else does, and I haven’t had a problem in 5 years. But then I deliberately chose a small car and I am patient:-)) why can’t you at least have a switch-off option? Why would you need to let off a banshee wail between 11 pm and 5 am? And whom are you warning to be careful when you are backing into your own parking space in the apartment building?
    One last point. I’m positive the decibel level of the sound is way above the legal 45 mark. Has anyone checked?

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — November 5, 2006 @ 7:38 am | Reply

  6. I should have mentioned earlier that I was backing up in public space, but near a side-walk and only at .005 km/hr. You raise another interesting point. Was he blind? Well, my driving seems helter-skelter because I was making a few presumptuous and mindless decisions: There was no need to cry like a goose (honk,) needn’t look out for approaching blind people, and there was none so short I’d miss them in all my mirrors. Oh there’s one more: How could anyone in their right mind not notice a vehicle as large as a Scorpio backing-up?

    Come to think of it, my own desciption of the incident makes me feel ashamed of my actions. I think what really happened that day is the person I very nearly drove over got into my blind spot sometime after I’d looked in one mirror and disappeared from another I hadn’t looked at till later.

    We are too many people cramped too close to each other in the cities. As a result, we’re always intruding into one-another’s space in some place or another. We’ll just have to learn to be more sensitive and respectful of others’ needs, but for the moment, I’ll say “Adujust Karulo (from Rang De Basanti).”

    Comment by rockjongleur — November 5, 2006 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

  7. Hi RJ,
    LoL! That’s a delightful piece of writing!Thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Will always look forward to your comments.
    There’s a reason why I asked “Was he blind?” When I was making a case against vehicle noise (as usual!)at a meeting, Mr. Mittal of NIVH politely pointed out that honking (gaggling in your case) could save the life of a blind person.
    And “adjust” is a very commonly used word in Chennai, second only to “superb”.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — November 5, 2006 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

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