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Using the inside voice

  • Published at 11:00 pm February 25th, 2020
Speaker loud noise protest megaphone

The noise problem is easily solvable

The woman who lives in the building opposite the one I live in enjoys Tagore songs and retro Kolkata film soundtracks. Her bua has burnt the daal three days in a row. Her baby daughter treats all bath times and meal times like a contest of wills, and there’s often no clear winner. 

She has a teenage son, the human embodiment of what one may euphemistically refer to as “the place where the sun doesn’t shine.” He spends money he doesn’t have, on video games he can’t afford, prefers PUBG to physics homework (although, to be fair, who doesn’t?), and constantly talks back at her. 

How do I know all this? They conduct their lives at full volume all day, every day.

This daily soap opera gets backing vocals from various beggars, vendors, and repairmen that ply their trade in our alley during the day, and at night, it gets an industrial remix courtesy of the perennial construction work that carries on throughout the year. 

None of what I’ve just described is unique to my life. No matter where you live, Dhaka is a massively noisy city, and it’s getting too loud to ignore. In a 2017 study conducted by the Department of Environment, noise levels in the city have reached dangerous levels -- going as high as 132db during peak hours. 

To put things in perspective, human beings can safely tolerate sounds at 85db -- 60db if we’re talking lengthy exposures. Our city is easily twice as loud as it should be, and to what effect?

Lengthy exposure to high levels of noise have been proven to cause a range of physiological and psychological ill-effects, including, but not limited to, permanent hearing loss, migraines, hypertension, stress, anxiety, irritability, and impaired cognitive function. 

It is a pretty serious problem. However, of all the problems that plague this inhospitable city we live in, noise is one of the more easily solvable ones.

To clean up our polluted air, for example, would require strong policies, heavy duty (and costly!) industrial restructuring, and re-wilding/reforestation. But to bring the noise down, each and every one can make a difference every day by making a few active choices. 

It’s as simple as not screaming at your infant child every time she refuses to get into the bath. Children absorb, internalize, and mimic that kind of toxic behaviour.

It’s as simple as choosing not to lean on the horn like it owes you money when you’re in traffic. It’s not going to change the signal lights faster, and chances are, if you’re the entitled unprintable who’s doing this while speeding down the wrong way on the footpath that I’m trying to walk on (a pretty common phenomenon, I assure you), I’ve cursed your 14 generations.

It’s as simple as turning off the mic at midnight. Just because you feel like gyrating to the new remake of Dus Bahane, doesn’t mean the old grandpa three doors down needs to hear it. 

Of course, why lay all the blame on ordinary civilians when our leaders take to the streets with ear-splitting slogans whenever they want a vote, or when they’re celebrating/protesting something, or sometimes, just because they feel like it?    

A survey conducted last year by the DoE reported that very few people are actually aware of existing laws regarding sound levels and noise pollution. The findings are being used as a way of explaining why the problem persists. I can’t help but think of my four-year-old niece who instinctively knows to use her “inside voice” when she’s playing by herself. 

She knows of no laws, yet chooses to be respectful of others around her. Education and awareness definitely help, but it says a lot about our fundamental lack of empathy and consideration that we are unable, nay, unwilling to change our own ways to solve our own problems. 

And unless something changes, all our complaints of the same are doomed to fall on ears deafened by all this noise.

Sabrina Fatma Ahmad is Features Editor, Dhaka Tribune.

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