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This culture of noise

By Vaneisa Baksh

So accustomed have we become to contradiction as a daily supplement, we don't even see its absurdity any more. While daily noise levels continue to be unnecessarily and annoyingly high, these past few weeks have been particularly dreadful.

It's not just that people play their music at unconscionable levels; it seems every other car is trying to deafen the driver and anyone in its precincts. Wasn't there a time that the situation had been so bad with maxi-taxis that laws were passed to control this? I know in this Carnival season the big trucks will be up and down inside our heads, but do we have to behave as if it is a perpetual party?

On Sunday night, somebody decided to finish up their stash of fireworks, and it struck me that this onslaught has been going on since weeks before Divali.

A few nights ago, I called the police to complain about the fireworks. I ended up talking to a number of policemen out of curiosity. At the first station, the officer was sympathetic, bringing up the effect on animals, particularly dogs. He scoffed at the $400 fine; who would that deter? We were going good- good until he asked if I had complained to the EMA, and that was when I lost my cool and deflowered my language. Of course I have. It not only shunted me off to the police, but didn't even bother to take information. I called it afterwards at a number he urged me to try, but there was no answer.

I called another station on his advice. Would you believe we've had about 25 calls in the past half an hour? This was from the officer on the line after I'd made my complaint. He too lamented the inconsiderate nature of a populace who had become so fixated on fireworks for every festival that they did not care about babes, the elderly, or the animals, far less their neighbours.

He raised the frustration felt by officers who respond to these calls. It's a cat and mouse game. People stop when you come and resume when you go. They don't care about the fine, but mostly, they don't feel they will be fined, because they trust that the laws will not be enforced.

And why should they bother? How many people get charged for talking on their cellphones when they are driving? Or driving drunk? People trust that the police cannot monitor, will not monitor, and mostly, cannot be bothered to enforce the laws. This is what the police are saying. Maybe it makes them feel inadequate, or maybe it makes them feel like their job is a joke, or maybe they just don't care. I don't know.

What I know got me really irritated for many reasons was that for two or three nights running, on the news programmes on CNC3, they carried clearly promotional features for Fireone Fireworks, which claims to be the legal pioneer for fireworks in this country since 1995, practically 18 years.

Given that this was a news programme, one might have reasonably expected some journalism here; but instead cameras were placed inside a crate so the viewer could see the vapid expression on the reporter's face when he opened it, extolling its wonders. There was no discussion of the complaints that this culture of fireworks had introduced. There was no mention of the laws relating to fireworks (both the sale and the discharge of them). There was no statement from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA). Not a word was sought from pet shelters (where a manager had said on a TV news programme that one assorted box of fireworks costs about $4,500, why would a $400 fine matter?) There was nothing about the insane cost of these fireworks. Nothing about the pollution—no footage of the debris scattered on streets and in people's yards, no mention of the countless reports to the police by citizens (calling round to police stations made me realise that this is not something confined to a few locales; it is truly nationwide). No, this was an all-out bloc of advertising. The Fireone Fireworks people had their ads too in the middle of the news programme, and the owner was a guest on a morning show where he boasted of having introduced the culture of fireworks to the country.

It has been nearly 18 years since that culture was introduced. It has become offensive, expensive and impossible to manage, but as the policeman said, even though it bothers so many, the majority like it. Sounds like our politics, and maybe that is why it flourishes; it is at one with our overpowering heartbeat of absurdity. Every political event is staged with big trucks and fireworks; the examples are conspicuously set.

Nobody sees any contradiction with the police statements carried on the news programmes that the police were going to be tough on offenders. Nobody feels comforted when the EMA puts out its ads saying that any police officer is authorised to deal with offences relating to noise pollution (or any other). Nobody bats an eyelid at its slogan: Music is our culture, noise is not.

Unless our laws are enforced, people will continue to flout them comfortably.

As I was writing this, the EMA ad was on the TV, and in the background, the fireworks were exploding. Duss in dey face.

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