When my husband and I began hunting for our first home together earlier this year, I was full of the naïve and clichéd optimism of one fatted on popular media narratives. I wanted an airy home where my curtains would flutter with the wind and natural light would flood the rooms. I wanted tasteful fixtures and woodwork, roomy balconies to retire to with a glass of wine while I watched the sun set over uninterrupted vistas. I may as well have been a lithe pixie flitting about in a home décor ad.
We rented a place on the twenty-sixth floor and surprisingly many of those flighty wants on my list got checked. I got my balconies with uninterrupted views. I got nice fixtures and woodwork. The curtains do flutter on occasion. Sunlight does flood the rooms, to the point of being the unbearable light of my being in the summer. But, while I was concentrating on trying to re-create a Manhattan penthouse in good old Noida, I forgot about the everyday realities I’d have to grapple with.
There are many: the uninterrupted supply of dust that demands closed windows and doors (bye bye fluttery curtains), exorbitant electricity bills on account of those closed doors and windows. But the mother of them all has been and continues to be an aural assault of a multi-hued kind.
Our apartment overlooks a massive tract of land that was once, or perhaps still is an ashram (a spiritual hermitage). It’s dotted with structures, some just a storey high, others a few levels higher, and most of them seem to be inhabited.
If my objection to the articulation of your faith is viewed as an intrusion on your right to practice religion, do the reverberations of yours not impose on my right to not “practice” my own?
Also on the land are a few temples. Beyond the boundaries of the ashram are two mosques, one to the right of the landscape, the other hidden to the left but I know it is there, and this is how: see shortly after the muezzin of the mosque on the right begins his not-so-tuneful azan, the muezzin of the one on the left seems to jerk to attention and begins his own call to prayer, the stress of delay often apparent in the quivers of his notes. The flat lay of the land between us and them brings their speaker-amplified voices to the threshold of our home five times a day, every day. And in this case, perhaps ten.
Not to be outdone though are the pandits (priests) of the ashram below. The quiet between the azan is ruptured by the totally tuneless aartis of the priesthood. Their cacophony falls short of banging on our windows to let itself in. The last month has been particularly awful. The navratras (nine-day festivity dedicated to Hindu goddess Durga) have pumped our priests full with what seems like a fresh resolve at discordant displays of devotion. I am filled with fear of Diwali.
If all this wasn’t enough, our building’s society thought it would be just peachy to have a dandiya night two weeks back. I drove into the compound thinking I had gate-crashed a Delhi wedding do. Yo Yo Honey Singh’s horrendous songs were being belted out on loudspeakers, crashing against walls and trees only to find themselves amplified further. This carried on till at least eleven at night. But what time things finish have no impact on what is to occur the next day. The azans began before sunrise, the aartis a little later, and then the azan, and then another aarti…
Here’s the irony: the last time we had a few friends over for dinner, we received a call from our tower’s guard about a “noise” complaint. It appeared that our bluetooth speaker’s output had caused offense, as did perhaps the cheery voices of eight people talking and laughing in our living room and balcony. If only we’d been singing paeans of religious virtue to one another we too could have carried on till later like the cool dandiya kids.
The azan and the aarti had seemed a nice balance at the start for our own inter-religious marriage. They had punctuated the balance of our own union which saw neither faith take precedence over the other. Perhaps it was the hubbub of our initial days of setting up the home that kept us from realising how soon they’d be fighting for our attention. With neither of us interfering or enquiring even in to the way the other practices their faith, these daily renditions seem like nothing short of an intrusion.
In all that’s said and written about the “freedom” to practice religion in this great secular nation of ours, I’d like to make the case for those whose faith doesn’t manifest itself tangibly. If my objection to the articulation of your faith is viewed as an intrusion on your right to practice religion, do the reverberations of yours not impose on my right to not “practice” my own? All I’m asking is, do my ears not count?