Its mid-afternoon in the stillness of a lazy, sunny ashram afternoon; the breeze is enough to softly rustle the leaves occasionally and the crows are chit chatting back and forth rather desultorily. Such complete tranquility is exceptionally rare in India. India is many wonderful things but quiet is not usually one of them. Its gotten me thinking about trying to capture some of the sounds of India for you.
I’ll start with the guest house in Tirumangalam as my journey also started there. As I think I have described it before, the guest house is an oasis of warm greenness. The first trees – tamarind, palmyra, bodi and palms were planted over 40 years ago – they have grown tall and strong. Muthupandi who looks after everything and everyone at the guest house has planted hundreds of flowering bushes, vines and potted plants – despite the ongoing drought he has managed to keep most everything flourishing. Which is all to say that the place is a haven for birds!
The morning chorus starts around five (ish) with what I call the “whoop whoop” birds. No idea what they are – I’ve never seen them but I imagine something like a toucan’s massive beak to create this huge hollow booming whoop, whoop, whoop! Depending on where you are in your sleep cycle that sound can either catapult you to a state of wide awake attention (not appreciated at that hour) or insinuate into your dreams with interesting results – I’ve been laying siege to a castle (shows I’ve always wanted to be a warrior I guess) and sailing a caravel though stormy green seas with the wind howling through the stays, snapping the boom back and forth (pretty cool and damned realistic with the sound effects!).
The crow are some of my favourites – they have huge vocabularies within their families – chortles, cackles and chuckles, funny little squeaks and their loud communal caws across fields and forests. They are most raucous at dawn and dusk but do have the decency to at least wait for the sun. I love the high lonesome scree of the kites; all raptors’ calls seem to resonate for me. The gabblers are robin sized and dive in and out of low bushes – they sound exactly like a really good cocktail party being held three or four doors down the hall. Then there are the peepers – again I don’t know what they are but they only seem to call in the heat of the day. Their monotonous peep, peep, peep, peep, peep, peep….. about every two seconds is guaranteed to put anyone into a somnolent stupor – probably a contributing factor in the need for a siesta – it isn’t just the heat!
Running underneath and in counterpoint are the insects; the crickets and grasshoppers sound subtly different than North American ones but are still recognizable. Then we have the mosquitoes, slightly different too – much smaller sized with a softer whine – still just as irritating though and legion at this time of year; of course just one is enough to throw any thought of going to sleep right out the window. I have this mad theory that there is a panel of mosquito judges up in the rafters who send just one mozzie into a bedroom and then proceed to score the antics and gyrations of the poor fools who leap around just before bed trying to swat “that thrice damned mosquito!” “Oh lovely arabesque but too bad the landing wasn’t spot on”, or some such thing!
Despite all, these are rather bucolic sounds and therefore not unappealing. It is the human noises which can drive you crazy. There is a susurration which never goes away but rises and falls loosely based on the time of day – traffic! There is a joke here that you could drive without brakes and get away with it but never survive without your horn! Every vehicle – tuktuk, motorcycle, lorry, cars large and small, transport truck, tractor, pedicab, push cart, you name it – they all have different sounding horns and they are all used all the time! A horn in India isn’t just an exclamation point, its an “I’m passing you”, a theoretical signal left or right, a “hello, I’m here”, a “you’re crowding my space”, a “we are all stuck in traffic so lets make noise”, a “cow please move”, a “hey, you almost ran me over!” and my favourite used when passing a vehicle in your lane but telling the vehicle bearing down on you from the opposite direction “get out of my way!” Some people send out short toots and some blare away but everyone leans on the horn – the back of some big trucks actually say “please sound horn” as if they don’t want to just trust to their mirrors – mind you their music is usually blasting so loud I don’t suppose you’d hear a horn anyway….
Which brings me to music. Now I love music and different music from all over the world but it has to be in tune and coming out of good speakers. In India you drive through just about any village and some enterprising soul (or some politician which is something else entirely) will have set up a pair of huge speakers either in a temple or at some other gathering spot. Music bellows forth massively distorted from blown speakers and at jet engine volume. Thats not too bad except when temple prayers go on all night or there is a funeral or a wedding or a festival or a holiday or a ….you get the idea? Our neighbour has built one of the ugliest houses I have ever seen right on the property line closest to the guest house – not in the middle of his three acres for an unknowable reason. The drill rig for the bore well ran well into the late night, that night and then the next morning that household decided everyone within a probable 3 kilometre radius needed to hear Bollywood tunes at 05:45! A celebration of some sort? I can handle birds at that time of day – not Bollywood!
So there you have it and that only the “rural” sounds – the next instalment will be “urban”. Sorry but no pictures – partly ‘cause I have hardly any bandwidth and partly ‘cause you know – sounds not pictures.
Quiet hugs and kisses!