Thursday, 3 May 2012

Horn Hounds

A detour from my short trip to nostalgia made me focus my thoughts on the looming nuisance of noise in India's mercurial cities. 

Unlike the Scandinavian cities with eerie silence even during the day, Indian cities are  full of sounds, all kinds of them. It continuously stresses the ear drums with fervent noises vibrating them at high amplitudes all through the day. Our cities wear a fair like look and create a din that resonates in your minds. The sounds are unmistakably Indian and these are typical to our country alone. 

Though just about a third of India's population live in cities as compared to a little more than 50% in China and over 70 - 80% in developed nations, they are pretty overcrowded and are already reeling under severe shortage of good infrastructure for people and automobiles. Indian  cities are witnessing heavy vertical growth which is unprecedented. More and more migrants in search of jobs are drawn to the city lights every day and the authorities are a stressed out lot trying to make everybody's lives easier. A latest census / survey reveals that India is in dire need of more than 900 million square meters of residential space, 500 km of metro and underground railway systems and over 25000 km of roads every year to cater to the perennial growth of urban space. 

The current situation in Indian cities is similar to disturbing a hornet's nest. The automobile boom in India has choked up the streets in such a way that it leaves little space to even walk about freely. Rampant violation of construction norms set by city development authorities due to gnawing corruption within the departments has led to swanky 4 wheelers beings parked outside homes on spaces meant to be pedestrian sidewalks. On going development projects such as pipe laying, construction of underground drains, cable laying, under pass constructions etc etc also severely cripple the free flow of traffic and expose walkers to serious risk. 

The walkers, especially bear the brunt since their right to walk on areas designated to them has already been encroached upon by car owners and poorly constructed pavements. Speeding cars and trucks honk their way to move ahead through the milling traffic. Particularly in New Delhi and the national capital region (NCR) where driving sensibly is not one's cup of tea, the pedestrians are a harassed lot. Harmless walkers are startled by inhumane drivers who speed about the narrow residential lanes honking away to their glory. The horns here I have observed are so loud and long that it borders on torture rather than annoying. Southern cities such as Bangalore & Chennai are more kind to pedestrians and exercise sensible use of the horns. I have had the opportunity of visiting western cities such as Pune and Ahmedabad and the situations there are not that bad either. 

It is a well established fact that drivers in NCR are most impatient and intolerant. This region has the highest concentration of 4 wheelers when compared with the rest of India which has added very significantly to the infrastructure woes here. It is worthwhile to note that NCR enjoys the maximum allocation of funds from the center for infrastructure development and yet the problems never seem to subside, mainly due to the attitude of people. Lopsided development translates into concentration of employment opportunities in certain regions only and skilled workers need to travel long distances to their places of employment. While Noida has a good concentration of power & manufacturing sector, the IT sector has made Gurgaon their base camp. New Delhi acts as both hubs for all kinds of industries as well as a transit point for people crossing states. 

The traffic congestion in NCR is made of stuff that amounts to legendary. Bumper to bumper traffic that normally stretch to a couple of kilometers are testimony to heightened levels of noise. The high levels of noise pollution has led to the permanent disappearance of several species of birds and animals from Indian cities. Though temporary in nature, noise has lasting effects that are normally detrimental in nature. Call it frustration, but drivers go over the top by adding to the chaos on the streets when they honk their loud air horns with vengeance. It definitely does not help convert the inching traffic to even a canter. 
The noise levels on Indian roads could perhaps be likened to the deafening noises of a mechanized jack hammers that are used to break rocks and roads. On particularly noisy days the levels can be compared with the deathly sounds on a battlefield. Though the law forbids from citizens using horns that emit sounds louder than the allowed dB level, this law is seldom followed and worse the authorities turn a deaf ear to cases of blatant violations when truckers honk air horns during peak our traffic. Air horns are the ones that are used in stadiums and are banned for use in vehicles. These bullies on roads just petrify the small cars and bikes in front of them with their unbearably loud horns. 

I call all of these honk happy drivers as 'Horn Hounds'. They are without minds and resort to this daylight crime. Sudden outbursts of high decibel sounds increases the heart's pace and it can be very harmful for children and senior citizens. I myself had been a horn hound and I resort to mindless honking whenever I drive around in my car in Bangalore. My wife's constant rebuttals has reduced this habit of mine to a large extent. The horn hounds' apathy towards order is more evident when they choose to ignore obvious signs to maintain a silent zone, especially near hospitals, funeral homes, creches and schools. 

I especially detest these truckers who encourage drivers to honk their horns by painting in large prints urging cars and bikes to press the horn to get their way ahead. It is common sight for all Indians when behind a truck. I really wonder, if the trailing traffic would not have ever honked if the truckers did not endorse the same. It is liking authorizing a person for murder. Come on! they would do it anyway! 
I really wish that my fellow Indians would get less horny (pun intended) and when trapped inside the tin boxes, think of something pleasant to kill the time. May be tune into the radio or recall fond memories of your boyhood and contemplate over the reason you got married! But please! pull a plug to those awful horns. After all, no one likes to be called a hound and even dogs do not bark without a reason. 

A careful driver is one who honks his horn when he goes through a red light.

- Henry Morgan

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