On the second day of the weeklong festival involving daylong loudspeakers in my usually quiet locality, when my options to attain silence were either strangling myself with the nada of my ancient pajamas or skipping town, I decided to take the latter.
With the blessings of my long-suffering wife, I waited to board a plane to a resort known for its quiet, and yet my problems apparently were far from over. For right next to me was a robust member of that alarmingly invasive species you find in profusion at airports, in waiting rooms and other public places: men who shut their eyes and speak on their phones with voices like power drills.
The gentleman next to me was obviously a marathoner. He held forth without pausing for breath for forty minutes nonstop. I alternately recited the Hanuman Chalisa and select sections of the Indian Cinematograph Act 1952 (silently) to selvedge the frayed edges of my sanity, while totally unsolicited, Ostrich Man informed me (and everyone within a thirty-foot radius) of things as diverse as his inseam measurement, his adult children’s food intolerances and sexual orientations, the bills receivable of his fledgling adult diaper company, his own chronic fungal issues that hadn’t been quelled by the equal-parts mixture of engine oil and baking soda prescribed by his folk remedist, and his mistress’s sudden disappearance — the last two of which, I deduced, were connected perhaps.
His words continued to ring in my ears hours later at the holiday resort, which I somehow managed to reach without stabbing the cab driver who insisted on playing the collective works of Sirkazhi Govindarajan’s devotional oeuvre on his car stereo for the entire length of the two-hour drive.
To check in, I had to cross a young man who was taking pics of a woman from various angles on the corridor to the lobby. And her poses apparently needed music. Because a medley of Anirudh’s latest was playing from invisible yet deafening speakers. No one, not the staff, nor the guests in the reception area seemed to think anything was amiss.
When wedding celebrations — probably of the same couple — kept me up all night, and I had run out of tears, I took a pill recommended by my veterinarian friend from Blue Cross. It was either that or the Van Gogh option. I woke up twenty-four hours later and decided to return home, figuring it would be a cheaper way to go deaf, demented or both.
At home, wonder of wonders, I was informed that the loudspeaker festival had ended prematurely thanks to the serendipitous explosion of a transformer followed by a couple of organizers catching fire (which, I was told, caused much gaiety). I fell to my knees and wept soundlessly. Silence at last.
That night, as I stood on the balcony, clutching a glass of whisky for dear life, all was quiet. Bad things do come to an end. Perhaps the Hanuman Chalisa does work. Peace, finally. It was the moon, me and whisky. Just like the Bagpiper ad.
If you’ve read my work, alas, you know things rarely end predictably for me. The brief hush was shattered by a sudden, deafening row from the street below. It seemed to be coming from two women.
I stopped myself in the nick of time from dropping my glass and looked downward. But all I could see was one woman, dressed in Tamil Nadu’s national costume: nightie, dupatta, a string of dead jasmine dangling from her head. She was striding up and down our otherwise tranquil, empty street with her phone on speaker.
The subject of discussion: the menu for the upcoming thirteenth-day function of the recently departed husband of the woman at the other end. I could hear the other woman loud and clear, too, like she was right here. The two strays of our street — normally involved in playful battle — were huddled together, tails tucked between their legs, befuddled by this two-voiced monster.
I leaned over, thinking I’d tell the woman to give it a rest and leave the night alone.
Then something snapped. It happens to people at the end of their tether, with nothing left to lose.
I moved out of her field of vision and went “Hadutha budutha madutha, kadaa gudutha fadutha. Budootha hadutha jajjadatha madutha gadahaditha sudutha raduthe-kudutha daddadutha ladutha…” very loudly.
The woman began looking around to see if she was really hearing what she thought she was hearing. And if she was, what the **** it was. She couldn’t see me though. My lights were turned off and I remained silent.
As soon as she began speaking, I began again. This time softer.
“Madootha claduthooha bhalutha, narabadutha preamfadutha chachcha-chuduta huduthootha birpidutha!”
When we went through this routine a few times, “Yaar-raa, adu?” the woman yelled out tremulously. She had a hunted expression, and was looking in every direction but mine.
One of the strays let out a howl. The other one joined in. A sympathetic rival from the street across followed suit.
The nightie lady cut short her conversation and decided to head home.
As she hurried away, she heard “Hadutha budutha madutha — bwahahahahaha — kadaa gudutha badutha. Budootha hadutha jajjadatha madutha gadahaditha budutha, grrrrrrrrr …”
After a long time, that night, unaided by tranquillizers of any sort, I slept like a baby.