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Cover Story

Cacophony of wake-up calls


Sometimes the best way to scold a neighbour is through a formal letter. Three years ago, 29-year-old Ganapathy Ramachandran received a leaf of a double-line notebook where he could hear the handwriting. An irritable, elderly south Indian man had knocked on his door and, without speaking a word, given him this letter whose subject read: "Shame Shame Puppy Shame". Here, the man mentioned that "the noise of water droplets falling from your air conditioner keeps hammering in my head through the day. Please take care of it at the earliest so I can enjoy a good night's sleep. " 

Though Ramachandran might have developed a slow, silent hatred for south Indians as a result of such encounters, he understands. There are enough noises that wake him prematurely and tempt him into contemplating juvenile subject lines of his own. He is now attuned, for instance, to the resident who calls out the name of the driver - Rajesh - at precisely six every morning. But the cacophony of summer cricket coaching camps that takes place on the ground opposite his building (" with loud commentary by children" ) still manages to keep him from finishing his forty winks.

Such sounds, that work as inevitable alarms, are partly the reason why metros such as Mumbai are able to live up to their cliche of being 'sleepless'. As a consequence of their pin code, few city dwellers can boast of being exempt from the early morning aural assault of things like construction work, mill hooters, grunting pigeons or even some of the pastimes of neighbours.

Mumbai's Sriram Narayanan, for instance, isn't usually prone to hallucinations. But early one morning, in the twilight that exists between sleep and wakefulness, Narayanan was gripped by a surreal feeling. It sounded like a collective, fanatical 'I-will-take-over-the-world' laughter and it came in bursts. The culprits, though, weren't so much in his head as the garden outside his in-laws apartment at Siddhachal, Thane, where the local laughter club assembles each day. "The pitches differ and some are really shrill when they laugh. So, you feel like you are dreaming with all that delusional laughter, " says Narayanan, whose instinct was to cover his head with a blanket and bury it under his pillow though that brought little relief. "If they gather on weekdays, you can get up early and go about your routine anyway. But on weekends, it's painful, " says Narayanan.

Certain sounds, of course, are a consistent side-effect of geography. These can especially end up altering your dreams. Standup comic Rohan Joshi, who grew up in South Bombay, has been living in Santa Cruz for a year now. His house falls directly in the flight path now. "Believe me, no alarm can match the sound of the Boeing 737, " says Joshi, whose brain took two months to come to terms with the sound that greets him at 3 am. "There are days when I'll be dreaming about sipping a drink on a beach and then, suddenly, a flight would pass from beside me, " he says. On the other hand, Sapan Verma, who used to live right across from Churchgate station in Mumbai, says, "The announcements worked as snooze function after a while but a lot of my guests who would stay over wondered how I lived there".

Then there's the inevitable cacophony of flourishing real estate. For a year, construction work outside his house in Greenlands, Hyderabad has been keeping Sudhir Pai sleepless nights. "I once woke up to find cement spluttered on all our windows. Then, on another day, they decide to dig a borewell at night, " says Pai, a copywriter.

Another unexpected fallout of skyscrapers is that pigeons have now usurped the role of roosters. Aditi Mittal usually wakes up to stare into a pair of bloodshot eyes belonging to pigeons sitting on the windowsill of her 13th floor house in Andheri. Besides, they don't coo. Instead, they grunt. So, "they are nothing like the Yashraj pigeons, " says Mittal, who now carries an eyemask and rolls up like a shrimp in trains. But here, too, she is faced with a different sound. "It is the symphony of women snoring, " she says.

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