Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The whole city is awake only at dusk

I am referring to Bangalore, but this is probably true for plenty of metros in the developing world. Fewer and fewer people look up at the sun to determine the length of their day or read the clouds to know whether they should sow, till or reap. That bucolic Utopia is history for the urban dweller. But wasn't this statement true even a century ago. It was. And yet, we are still in denial.

Let's see if I can back my assertion that the whole city is awake only at dusk.
The typical - by which society means respectable and responsible people - wake up anytime between 5 and 7am. As they are beginning their day, the last Sumo-loads of ITes workers - those who work the graveyard shift - are drifting off to sleep. These people, just like blue-collar night shift workers in labour-intensive industries, will begin their day anytime between noon and 3pm. Of course, by this time, a different segment of society - the Elderly, the frail, the jobless and the lazy - is busy catching a nap.
So it emerges beautifully that the only time slot when the whole city is awake is between, say, 5pm and 7 or 8pm. Around this "late" hour, the Elderly and the tired are ready to call it a day.

What I'm saying is that Bangalore's population is distributed into uneven "sleep buckets". But is this fact reflected in the manner we treat public spaces? I'd like to argue that it isn't by citing an incident from this morning.
For perhaps the fifteenth time in 12 years, my sleep was cut short by the same rude cacophony outside my window. The source of this disturbance was, as usual, a man begging for alms by playing the nadaswaram (the bull or cow that accompanies him is optional) . The nadaswaram is the loudest non-brass instrument in the world. Yes, it is louder than even the vuvuzela. And since most exponents of this instrument are neither trained on nor passionate about melody, a typical nadaswaram performance is about as pleasant to the ears as a shriek of death. Its sound can pierce the deepest sleep and make the sleeper wonder whether God is announcing the imminent dissolution of the universe. So I awoke. Checked my watch. It was 8am. Four hours since I hit the sack. I buried an ear on my pillow and tried to re-invite sleep. But the nadaswaram monster kept going in circles around my block. Perhaps people give him alms not out of sympathy but out of a desire to get rid of his unholy din. Imagine! Even the respectable and responsible citizens find this intrusion unwelcome. And for them, it is just another discordant note in the chaotic orchestra that is urban India. But for nocturnal creatures like me, it is a terrible way to begin the day.
Are you thinking one of the following thoughts? "But the nadaswaram is a divine instrument." Or: "8am is late enough to begin the day." Or: "If you defy Nature, your health will suffer." Or: "Society is designed as per the needs of the majority."
I have written before about the Tyranny of the larks. Won't go into that again. But let me propose an experiment. Let me hire this nadaswaram fellow to play outside your window at 3am. And let's see if you feel the pulse of divine music or whether you feel your needs can be sacrificed to satisfy someone else's.
From my perspective, either that fellow or I do not fit in. But he has social sanction. I don't.

And let me ask you a larger question: can any society call itself civilized if it is unable to accommodate all kinds of people? Can we aspire to build a society that will accept and accommodate people of different genders, religions, languages, classes, castes, sects, skin tones, ethnicity, sexual orientations, mental health, ideologies? While we are at it, can we find that fellow another job?!? And can I - and half a million other Bangaloreans - be accepted and accommodated despite my sleep pattern?

1 comment:

  1. ...its so very true 5-8-pm is the day at dusk...and the city awakens only at dusk...Seems to me that Naadaswaram player has a self acceptance and is self accomadating....rather than social sanction...if giving was to get rid of the unholy din! After all its sleep and not disturbing others...how does the society matter...and if its society, it means usually that one person...and ie, self...God is announcing the imminent dissolution of the universe, oh God that is so funny...Thankyou Eshwar..another job or convince him that its at dusk that his job is in Urban cities;)