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One of the many things that overwhelm tourists to India is the noise levels. The noise levels of the city I live in, Hyderabad, is higher than the prescribed norm of 55 decibels. The readings procured from the pollution control authorities for the first week of September show that that there is no respite from this nuisance even during the night.

During an important festival in that month, our ears were assailed by blaring music and loudspeakers turned to full volume for hours on end. Unable to bear the cacophony, I rang the police station at 10pm to complain about the non-stop music and the incessant beating of drums that were driving me round the bend. I was given a patient hearing only to be told that this happens once a year and there wasn’t anything the police could do about it. Now I am a reasonable person but to be told that this happens only once a year is a complete exaggeration. In a country where festivals are a dime a dozen, the loud celebrations are pretty much a monthly affair.

And if there isn’t a festival, there are weddings galore with musicians strolling down the streets followed by a horde of people, stopping every now and then to allow people to dance, revving up the sound of music. Each musician tries to outdo the other and, as the music rises to a crescendo, my blood pressure shoots up to match the beat.

Not to be outdone, there are a few wandering minstrels who are not fazed by a lack of money. You see these small groups armed with a tin drum or barrel and a stick, making frequent stops at shops to let loose a burst of sound that any sane person wouldn’t mind paying to put a stop to the torture.

What amazes me is that often the music is popular Bollywood or Tollywood hits. I think I would prefer hearing devotional songs that don’t make the listeners break into dance.

Noise pollution is a known destroyer of a healthy lifestyle but the lack of enforcement in this matter is an issue of grave concern. One contributing factor is the mix of residential and commercial areas which compounds the problem.

There is a supermarket on the ground floor of my building and every morning my wake-up call is the sound of loud music as the big trucks arrive, laden with goods. The driver and cleaner seem to be happy that they have reached their destination after a long drive and the loud music is indicative of their mood. And yes, I have complained about the rude awakening and now that I have put a stop to the music, my wake-up call has now been replaced with the repeated sound of a horn. Apparently the supermarket workers are being summoned to help unload. Now, when the manager sees me coming, he suddenly disappears from sight.

The constant honking on the streets is something we put up with, often contributing to the problem by resorting to this when stuck in traffic or even when you are too impatient to look for a parking spot. You excuse your behaviour by telling yourself that you are completely justified in using the horn to draw the attention of others, such as your spouse shopping inside or the shopkeeper who is expected to rush to your car to serve you.

An activist in Mumbai who has earned the nickname the Minister of Noise has been working with a grass roots network of concerned citizens to convince the authorities that the sonic onslaught is not just grating on the nerves and eardrums but a serious health hazard. They carry sound meters and although they know theirs is a losing battle, they choose to fight back by trying to spread awareness.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India