Column: When music becomes noise!
Right through the month of April, I came across quite a few reports of bikers being pulled up, penalised and ‘challan’ed for causing 'noise pollution'. The city of Nagpur seemed to be taking a lead in this crusade, not just because we have a higher percentage of ‘pious’ people in the city. Now, this is a new one. We knew of young 'Docs' being made lighter in their pockets for over-speeding, lane-weaving and even wrong-direction riding… but noise pollution is definitely a completely new note!
And it's not about the riders making noise, but their bikes doing the job with exhausts working overtime with aftermarket units or by just doing away with them altogether.
It seems there is an 80db limit on vehicles, which, on a quick random survey done across two dozen friends, no one is really aware of. So, while we have signage all over the roads on speed limits, we have none on noise limits. Not that we citizens would really abide by them, but just that the more you see, at least the more aware one is. At least I will be consciously breaking yet another rule on the road.
I decided to ask a few traffic policemen in Delhi and Gurgaon. Got around to interacting with five that were kind enough to discuss the very subject. None were aware of the noise regulation. In fact, two of them thought I was part of one of those television 'prank' teams who would suddenly point a finger out and say, “You are on TV. Bakraaa!”. But on showing a screenshot of the new item, they turned serious, each admitting it was a big issue in the traffic zones they monitored. “There need to be very strict rules about this nuisance. There are old people in my colony who are constantly disturbed by these Bullets at night and cannot sleep.”, one said. One in Gurgaon confided that he had even pulled up his son for having modified the silencer of his bike and creating a cacophony in the narrow lanes of Carterpuri, a village within the city!
My faith in the law having been bolstered by these interactions, I decided to interact with a few bikers. They are easy to find, in the sector shopping complexes, crouched in bunches, usually in “geri” mode [readers from Delhi northwards will understand this specific mode, well beyond merely eco, sport and off-road]. The clusters are quite hierarchical. Commuter bikes, performance bikes and ‘alpha male’ bikes typically do not mix too much. So, there was a cluster each of the performance and alpha male to walk into. Ten-odd youngsters, after work, getting together over chicken rolls, momos and fresh juices. Two were aware of the noise regulation as they worked in the automobile industry. The others were blissfully unaware! In fact, four had actually modified the exhausts. “Why would you tinker around with the exhaust?” A few looked at me with an expression that said, “Why would you ask such a stupid question?” “Are you doing a survey?” “Yes.” “Aah that explains it… they ask stupid questions in surveys.” Literally empathising with my fate as a survey guy, they said that the bike has to not only look but also sound masculine and ‘sexy’. “Like how?” Like Bachchan or Salman Bhai. It has to have a certain seriousness and depth in it. “Would all of you guys go for the same notes?” Not at all…there are racing bikes and rally bikes and then there are Bullets! In no pecking order…just differentiation. Typically, they spend between `2000 to `5000 on such mod jobs. It enhances the ‘status’ of the bike. The clan takes you seriously. The girls look at you. And basically, you become more 'macho'. None were bothered by noise pollution. In fact, some justified their personalised exhaust notes by saying they worked as advance announcements of their arrival home or to friends and enemies alike. “Why would you not spend that money on buying a better helmet, or actually two, as the pillion also needs one?” Again that look. Falling further in their assessment of my level of stupidity, I decided to meekly walk away.
I'm convinced that we need to move a few of those traffic policemen from Nagpur right here, to drive home the right notes, in this mess of sheer masculine cacophony!