Thursday, December 6, 2007


I just woke up in the middle of the night after a weird dream, and am now having trouble going back to sleep. Sometimes I don't sleep that well here, which is odd for me because, as some of you probably know, I am notorious for being able to fall asleep anytime anywhere. I think it's because the ambient noise here is SO different than anything I'm used to. When I'm up and awake it doesn't bother me, but at night my brain doesn't quite know what to make of it. I had never thought much about the different sounds of different places, but I'll tell you what: Even if I was blind I would know I was in a different country. Well, there's the smell - an aromatic amalgam of sewage and exhaust fumes - but besides that just sounds so different. Right now, in the middle of the night for example, the stray dogs are going nuts. There are stray dogs everywhere here (the doc at the travel clinic told me that 95% of them have rabies...and then she told me that the rabies vaccine was $800). They are usually really mellow during the day. I don't try to make friends with them or anything, but I don't mind walking right by a pack of them. At night, though, they go crazy and sometimes it sounds like they're fighting with each other.

Roosters start crowing at about 4:30 and don't let up for a while. Another new sound is the muezzin from the neighborhood mosque which calls its worshippers to prayer five times a day. I can reliably hear it at 5 am, if I'm up, and sometimes I hear snatches throughout the day if there is a lull in the traffic noise. (The mosque pictured here, by the way, is not the one closest to me. This is the Jamia Masjid, Bangalore's most impressive mosque which was built in 1940 and can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers!)

At about 6 am, the traffic starts up, which means the normal rumbles and engine-sounds and screeching of brakes, but which also means the HORNS. People use their horns here like people in the US use their turn signals - I'm not kidding. Anytime they pass someone or turn a corner, or want to let a pedestrian know that they'll be whizzing by, they lay on the horn. Different vehicles have different sounding horns too, which is funny. Trucks and buses make these low, deafening blasts, cars have a really screechy horn, motorbikes have a high-pitched, almost musical series of beeps, and autorickshaws make a sound as though the devil himself is running his fingernails down a chalkboard. I guess this is so - if you get hit - your dying thought can be, "That bloody [fill in the blank]!" The other funny and noisy thing about traffic is that vehicles play a song when they back up. All day long I walk around hearing snatches of Fur Elise and American Patrol, which never fails to make me laugh. I have to say, though, the only close calls I've had with cars (besides one that happened before I understood how to cross a street), were with ones that were reversing out of a driveway or parking lot, so maybe they're onto something. I still maintain, however, that just because your car is blaring "Dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me..." doesn't mean you don't have to use your rearview mirror when you're backing up.

Anyway, at 6:30 the security guard starts coughing so forcefully that every morning I'm afraid I'm going to walk out of the apartment and find him keeled over with his lungs hanging out of his mouth. At about 7, the vendors noisily open for business. There's an old woman who sells brooms and wanders from house to house, hollering at the gate. There's a kid who yells something in a language I don't recognize. I'm not sure what he sells. And at about the same time, the workers at the construction site just adjacent to my apartment complex wake up and start pounding. At this point, traffic is in full force and the city is awake. It only gets progressively noisier throughout the day, and sometimes I can hear explosions, which I tell myself are merely firecrackers that people saved up after Diwali.

Someone told me that the first time I go back to the US it will seem so quiet that it will feel a little unnerving. I don't doubt that. A funny memory that's come back to me a few times since I've been here is that in the middle of the night at my parents' house in Bellevue you can hear the soft beeping of the crosswalk signal that's about a quarter mile away. I'm not kidding that here you wouldn't be able to hear that sound AT the intersection. Anyway, it's been interesting to consider that different places have different "sound profiles" and to compare Bangalore to other places I've lived. And I guess it's no wonder that I can't sleep sometimes. :)


Joel W said...

Do you have an audio recorder? You could immortalize those sounds, and that would be awesome. Let me know if you need one, and I will send you one.

Chloe said...

I am from the B3 ward - Marcie Taylor taught the relief society lesson on Sunday and was telling us about your new adventures in India, which sound amazing, so I was checking out your blog (found you through Abra's blog). Anyways-I enjoyed reading about your experiences. Thanks for sharing them! Chloe Maycock

Anna said...

Chloe - Happy to share! Tell B3 hi for me. :)

Joel - I don't have an audio recorder yet, but I'm getting one for sure. Don't send one though, it would probably get stolen in the mail. I think I can buy one here. Thanks for thinking of it, though! I hope you guys are doing great! I'll sit down and write you a real letter someday. :)