NOISE; Short Fiction by Stephen Gill

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“You are now going back to Canada after your tour of eight weeks to India. Nearly half of this time you have spent in Chhattisgarh.” Driver Manoj’s tone was inquisitive while on the way to Amarkantak, where Reghu had been invited for a talk by Adivasi University.
“I have come after twenty years to see the mother that birthed me and to know the Adivasi, the Aboriginals of India. It was my love, but I am sorry to find my mother country still noise-coated. Noise is plague that afflicts the country of Mahavira, Buddha, Gandhi and your Chhattisgari Saint Ghasidas, who was enlightened in a noiseless atmosphere as the Buddha was.
“I still remember the day when I invited a friend in New Delhi to a restaurant. The noise from the vehicles was maddening and the music inside the restaurant was no less maddening. Worst were the loudspeakers that blared hymns and religious scriptures from the early morning. It is obvious that the celestial powers are hard of hearing in India. The noise made on the streets by three-wheelers, taxis and other modes of transport is not manageable. Delhi is not for writers and tourists.”
Driver Manoj added “You have mentioned tourists in your recollection about the Delhi of twenty years back. I have uncovered the graves of Chhattisgarh to guide the tourists of today. I have come to know that the war between the Panduas and the Koruas, two cousin brothers, was fought in 950 B.C. The Panduas were exiled in these forests of Chhattisgarh and the mother of the Panduas was from this area. Valmiki, who had his cottage around Chhattisgarh, mentions Ravana in his epeic as Mahatma which means a sage or a great soul. He also mentions him as a notable scholar, kind-hearted and a supporter of justice and nonviolence. The Korku, a tribe of the Adivasi, the Aboriginals of India, worship Ravana, who ruled Sri Lanka. At that time, the Aryans and the Adivasi were not on good terms.”
“Are they on good terms now?” Reghu asked. “It seems that the war between Rama and Ravana was a war of colors— a war between the Adivasi and the Aryans. Because of two women, one representing the Adivasi and another Aryans, the flourishing civilization of the Aboriginals was decimated. I wonder if Lakshman had really cut the nose of Surpnakha, Ravana’s sister?”
“The Korku and some other tribes of the Adivasi believe that Surpnakha went to Dakshin Kosala, present-day Chhattisgarh, for some work. It is believed that she must have come here to meet her relatives from her husband’s side. Her husband ruled Ratanapur which was the capital of the area, now Chhattisgarh. During those days when she was wandering in these forests to find her relatives, she stumbled on Rama in his hermitage. Captivated by his handsomeness, she proposed to marry him. Rama suggested she be friendly with Lakshman. Both the brothers made fun of her. Lakshman cut off Surpnakha’s nose.
“Back in Sri Lanka, Surpnakha told her brother, Ravana, she had seen a pretty woman of virtues in Dakshin Kosala. She wanted to arrange Sita’s marriage with him but Sita’s brother-in law wounded her. Enraged Ravana decided to avenge this humiliation of his sister. He also developed an urge to have Sita as his wife. Therefore he abducted her in the guise of a sage.
“ The Korku tribe says that Rama’s wife Sita willingly went to Sri Lanka with Ravana. Misunderstanding was created with the fabrication of the abduction to win the sympathy of the people for war against Ravana, who was not a Hindu. These are the jungles of Chhattisgarh where Sita was abducted or willingly went with Ravana to Sri Lanka about five thousand years ago. No matter what the fact is, Ravana treated Sita respectfully. He never even tried to touch her. He waited to ignite in her a spark of love for him. He showed her the beauty of Sri Lanka, where gold was in abundance. Ravana was a ruler of peace and peace had brought prosperity, health and happiness to his kingdom. Moreover, Ravana was intelligent and a learned person.
“Ravana himself was an Adivasi and the Adivasi are animists—they worship nature. Earth is sacred to them as it is sacred to the Hindu. The Adivasi also worship their ancestors and have no idols. They are tolerant and respect the faiths of others.
“Only a few Indians know that Lord Rama’s mother Kausalya was from this area and this area was ruled by the Suryavanshi dynasty; Ayodhya was its capital which is the Faizabad district, now in the province of Madhya Pradesh. The Suryavanshis worshipped the sun because they believed they originated from it. Rama was from the same dynasty. Also Manu, the lawgiver of the Hindus, was from this dynasty.”
While Manoj parked the taxi in front of a restaurant, Reghu said, “Some religious researchers believe that Manu existed around the time of Noah of the Old Testament, who was saved with the members of his family in a large boat he had constructed himself; the rest of the world was destroyed by the flood. There are fascinating similarities in both these stories for those who have interest and time to dig further.”
As they were having tea, the driver looked at Reghu, who began to stare at the sky. He asked “What is there?”
“A noiseless horizon. Unless it revives India with a refreshing rain, India is not going to go anywhere. There is every kind of technology here, but nothing works. The technology that I see working with its full fury is that of the loudspeakers. If there is any remarkable progress in any field, it is in the field of noise pollution. The antonym of noise is peace and peace is God, called Om in Indian thoughts. It seems that Om is terribly annoyed with India and now Indians explore science and technology to reach Him.”
After thirty minutes, they were on the way to Amarkantak again. While the car was speeding on ascending hills on a narrow highway passing through thick trees on both sides, Manoj told Reghu about bears, tigers, wild cats and lions that roamed in that unfenced jungle where tourists went deep inside in the protected cars to see the animals. The driver told him that those wild animals did not attack humans, but once in a while they went to small villages when they were hungry.
The taxi was zigzagging on a slope. He heard a loud and continuous horn from a car behind and then from a truck. There was a truck ahead of them with the words in bold letters on the back: HORN PLEASE.
It was usual to give long and loud horns in large cities in the north and then pass any pedestrian, motorbike and car. Unlike in Canada, where signs were posted in hospital areas and schools, there were no signs here.
“Do you know that animals in jungles have sharp hearing? Some animals can hear from a distance if there is any human. A hunter once told me that a lion can hear a person’s presence from two miles. It is because they live in a peaceful atmosphere.”
“In India we cannot drive without the constant use of horns. We have to keep honking while passing traffic,” The driver said.
“Noise pollution results in high blood pressure which damages kidneys. Because of this, heart problems and diabetes are common in metropolitan cities, where needless noise triggers the onset of diabetes.” Reghu assumed silence to assess the reaction to his comments. Noticing the driver was unmoved, he continued, “Noise also results in anxiety and lack of concentration and both lead to other complications.”
“We cannot drive without honking,” The driver was persistent.
“Noise also interferes with recreation and sleep. There are noises from lightning, transports and squeals on the street. These are meaningless noises. Look at the branches of the tree. How they hurt one another when the wind is noisy. They bang into one another in frenzy.” Reghu became silent.
The driver, who was listening to Reghu attentively said, “Religious festivals like Deepawali and Navratri invite devotees to please their deities on loudspeakers. In olden days devotees did not have these cold devices. They used to offer the warmth of their hearts. I am sure that is why God does not hear them anymore.”
Reghu interrupted, “Tell me about Amarkantak?”
“Amarkantak is situated among the forests and hills and The Narmada River is more than holy for its people. Its water brings prosperity to this region. It is believed that whosoever dies here attains a spot in heaven. It has rare plants of rare medicinal values.” Manoj said.
It was evening when they reached Amarkantak. They headed to Shanti Kuti where he was directed to go by the coordinator of his visit. Reghu was happy, because Shanti means peace and Kuti, a dwelling place. After making some enquiries, they were directed to a hotel that resembled a temple. There was no way to take the car in. Reghu entered a damp room that looked like an office. There was a large container with water resting outside close to the door. He saw a bearded man, seemingly a priest in his thirties, squatting on the floor. He observed that people removed their shoes, but Reghu had no courage to do so in that humid atmosphere.
On hearing the story, the priest asked a boy of hardly thirteen years to help them. He was apparently an employee. Once out of the room, the boy said,
“This temple is for self help.”
“What if a person is old or dying? Would you stick to your belief in self-help and let him die?” Reghu asked. “Moreover, it is a religious place.”
The priest was alone by now. He was hearing this conversation and realized that the visitor was from abroad. He directed the boy to entertain guests first with the water from the Narmada. This prompted the boy to bring a glass of water from the container.
Reghu remembered the words of his family physician in Canada who had advised him to take only the bottled water and in plenty. Reghu told the priest that he had to be cautious. Moreover, there was only one glass that was used by everyone, but the priest assured him that the water from the holy Narmada would not harm him.
To please the priest, Reghu sipped a few drops. Meanwhile the priest got busy in phoning someone to ask the number of the room that had been allotted to Reghu. As the evening descended, bells in the temple in front of his room started ringing. He looked out the window. A priest in a white robe was moving a candle light to the beat of the drum and music. Devotees were rushing in with their folded hands right in front of a large statute, leaving their shoes outside. He was shifted to another room that was smaller, cleaner and had a towel and a bed. From this room he could see more clearly and better hear the music that was the healer and friend of his soul. It was irksome when workers shouted at each other during that solemn occasion. Reghu could hear the noise from cars, buses and radios outside. He thought of the name of the location, Shanti Kuti, a place for peace.
Shortly, the coordinator of his visit arrived with two colleagues to move him to a nearby hotel, called Vishram which meant a place to relax. Outside the room, he could read in bold letters “VIP Room”. He heaved a sigh of relief, when an attendant helped the driver to bring in the luggage. Reghu looked around. There was no telephone, no buzzer and the TV was loud. The attendant looked proudly at Reghu, while changing channels. Reghu asked the attendant to shut it off. It was noisy inside the hotel and outside was no better either. Reghu went inside the bathroom to see if there was hot water for his morning bath.
He noticed attendants singing or whistling, while moving along the corridors. When he wanted tea, he had to shout from the balcony. He heard an attendant shouting at someone, ordering to bring tea. He could not fall asleep till late in the night because of the noises.
Within hours he was awakened by chanting. During the day, he was told that devotees gather on the bank of the Narmada River to pray. He heard them shouting to wish a long life to the deity. There was no way to complain, because the hotel employees appeared to be its devotees. The best thing for Reghu was just to remain quiet.
In the morning he found there was no hot water. The thought of shaving with cold water was not worth considering. He took showers with hot water even in the Canadian summers. It was extremely damp in February because of the proximity of the river and hilly area. The first thing Reghu had done was to fill the bucket with hot water. He took water from the bucket and started brushing his teeth. When halfway through, the cold water also stopped running. After a quick thought, he took the hot water from the bucket in a bowl that was questionably clean and completed the brushing grudgingly. Then he went out in the corridor to see if his buzzer was working. He kept pressing it. Still no response. He stepped to the balcony to yell. Still no response. He yelled much louder this time. A man appeared from a small room from the main floor. Reghu asked him to send someone because there was no water.
The man shouted back that the hotel could not provide even cold water and they were checking the system. Reghu looked at his watch. He had not much time left to be at the Amarkantak Adivasi University, where he had to give his lecture. He started shaving even though the water was extremely hot. He could hear devotees chanting at the bank of the Narmada. It was obvious there was no shortage of water because of the river. The taps started working when the noise from the bank began to subside. Because events usually take place not in time in India, Reghu was not late for his lecture, though he was slightly disturbed. The University in any case was friendly.
As it had been arranged, the driver Manoj came after three nights to pick up Reghu to take him back to Kaligarh University. Manoj was more polite and helpful, but the cheer from his face had gone. Reghu whose cheer was robed by inconveniences, asked the driver “What do you think about these noises? They are everywhere in India.”
“You are not referring to Barats or wedding processions, I believe?”
“Yes, they are other nuisances. I have seen the bridegroom sitting on a mare with a sword and his parents, relatives and friends forming a procession while proceeding to the house of the bride. The procession is led by musicians, beating drums as loudly as possible while the relatives dance to the beat. There is also a display of fireworks.”
The driver said, “These wedding processions create traffic congestions and noise pollution. Neighbors and motorists as well as other travelers suffer. It becomes a nuisance for students, infants and seniors because of the noise, particularly when several processions pass by on the same day. They often compete to play their drums loudly.”
When out of the city, he asked Manoj, “Is there something that is bothering you?”
Manoj who was largely quiet said, “I am thinking of renouncing the world.”
“Why? You have a daughter and wife you told me last time. Who will look after them?”
“I will make arrangement for the tuition fee and food for my daughter. My wife is a computer technician. She can manage.”
“But why do you want to renounce the world to be a baba? India is full of them.”
“I don’t want to be one of them. I am fed up with hypocrisies—these are all noises. I will leave my home without anything and go in search of peace and meaning, away from noises. I cannot trust anyone.”
“Why? What happened?”
“It is a personal matter. I had a piece of land that I transferred to my mother’s brother. He was honest and prayed regularly, fasting one day a week. He is a pure vegetarian for religious reasons. I never thought he would cheat me. I did that for income tax purposes and kept the documents with me. Still he was able to sell the property.”
“Can you not sue him?”
“It takes years to settle the matter in courts after visiting them endlessly.”
“Go to the police, because the documents are still with you. How could a person sell and buy?”
“Everything is possible in India. Police wants twenty-five thousand rupees just to register the case.”
“It is cheaper than to hire a lawyer and spend years visiting courts.”
“But there is something more. The police are asking twenty-five thousand rupees to bribe them. My uncle may pay twice that amount to bribe the police. I will also lose money.” Manoj said soberly.
“Go to your political representative. Your provincial political party wants to bring in Ram Rajiya which means a rule of justice. Ask him to help you in some way.”
“Politics here— a big noise.”
“India is the largest democracy in the world. What is your opinion?”
“Another noise,” The driver replied.
Manoj became quiet and began to think. Breaking the awkward long silence, he asked, “What are the hazards of noise? I know we talked about it before.”
“Constant noise impairs hearing and is irritating. The damage caused by noise to the wildlife has been confirmed, because it interferes in their communication. It has caused the death of a certain species of whales.
“Another source of noise is radio and cell phones. When the music is loud, you have to shout to communicate. Shouting is a waste of energy. Noise becomes a nuisance to neighbors who may be sick or some tragedy might have happened in their house. I find Indians are more tense than Canadians are.
“A citizen has every right to play music in his or her own home, but does not have any right to violate the rights of others. Neighbors hardly complain in India as I understand. Those who live in apartment buildings, where rooms are closer, face this problem often. Those rooms are not sound proof.
“At a hotel in Delhi, where I had stayed about twenty years ago, noise was made mostly by workers, while walking in the hallway or around the elevators. It was noticeable usually in the morning. I complained to the manager, but the management either did not believe me or turned their deaf ears or had been immune to noises.
“To create something, one has to be in a quiet place. Even a fowl looks for a quiet place to lay her egg and eggs are for creation. You know Buddha. He left the noise to find the key to sufferings. He was enlightened in solitude, not in noises. You also know Eklaviya. He was from these forests of Chhattisgarh. He excelled in his martial arts in the same forests where he was refused by Dronacharya. It was his devotion, away from noises, which helped him to excel. Even Guru Ghasidas, a Chhattisgarian saint, was enlightened in his solitude as the Buddha was. Why don’t the citizens of India understand their cultural heritage?
“Most Greek gods live on Mount Olympus and the main god of Hindu, Shiva, lives on Mount Kailas which is in the Himalayas. Sages who want to find gods go into the silence of the jungles, but the citizens of today make more and more noise to reach God. I believe that these people are disturbing Him with their loudspeakers. God is within, but they look for Him out of themselves. Devotees are anxious to carry their messages to Him with the help of science and technology. They are not quiet and their environment is not quiet either
to let them listen to His whispers of love. These devotees expect Him to thunder as their loudspeakers do.”
Manoj began to smile and said, “India has the democracy of thunder and yet it does not work as the loudspeakers that are used to reach God do not work.”
“Democracy is a government by dialogue, not thunders. Under the cover of the noises, smart politicians send their black money to banks abroad for which they do not even receive interest. I used to say that attempts to make laws to bring that money back were not going to work and they did not. India has the democracy of the elite who have the networks to set up concentration camps to stifle the pitiful wails of the poor. I believe, laws do not bring changes; it is the humans who bring changes.
“Politicians have means to make noises. They make noises that the British Raj had looted India. This is to divert attention from their own loot that they deposit abroad. No political leader has the courage to take an action against any looter. No matter which political party comes to power this loot cannot be stopped. What these politicians have looted in a few years of independence is much larger than what the British did in one hundred and fifty years. Moreover, the British Raj invested a part of their loot, if that is the right word here, to promote communication and they also promoted a sense of justice by allowing widow marriages, banning early marriages and Sati which was a custom of the burning of the widows at the pyres of their husbands.”
“What do you suggest?” Manoj asked.
“India has to change its thinking, not its laws.”
“India is multicultural and to manage such a society is an enigma.” Manoj said.
“Diversity is not an enigma—it is strength. Multiculturalism is a muscle in the world of today. Politicians exploit this situation. India needs a Moses who will not thunder to part the sea of noise. The nation needs a change in hearts, not changes in beards, clothes, food, personal names, the name of God, languages and noisy recitations of religious scriptures. India does not need changes in the structural make-up of the places of worship and in any deception that traps citizens to use the ideology of violence.
“Inward growth is manifested in actions. I believe that any belief without truthful actions is dead. It is the karma yoga that is mightily impressive, not the outside appearance. There can be the lizards of violence lurking behind these outward appearances. Without the karma yoga life is a noise. I admire Saint Ghasidas who openly rejected social inequity. His Satnam Panth is based on the belief that a faith without action is lifeless. He was a visionary.”
As Reghu paused, he saw the taxi entering the main gate of Kaligarh University and started proceeding slowly to the guesthouse. As they were inside, Reghu heard a loudspeaker announcing a political gathering. It was a man-driven rikshaw with a sound system attached to it. Perhaps they received permission from the police to make these noises, Reghu thought.
While carrying the luggage of Reghu to his room upstairs, the driver asked,” Do you hear another noise?”
“I once read somewhere that Aryans love noise and excitements. Most people in the north of India are from the Aryan race. Take the case of Bhangra dance. It is all noise.”
“Is God annoyed with India because of this noise?” The driver asked while going up.
“Omega is Om and Om is peace. These microphones destroy the peace of others. Jesus has advised to go into your room and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place. Silence is the key to open the door of the self to enter the stillness that is within, or, the opening in a camera lens to perceive soul. Beautiful things, such as flowers and fruits, grow in silence. The sun, moon and planets ambulate in silence to manifest the deepest depth of the infinite radiance of timelessness. Maitri Upnishad confirms this when it says that silence is the supreme mystery beyond thought. Let one’s mind and one’s subtle body rest upon that and not on anything else. To me, silence is to bathe in the imperishable fragrance of the wordless sonata. It is to communicate with the real self and the real self is devoid of the apparel of the thoughts. ”
As Manoj was leaving after receiving his fare, Reghu saw Shiv appearing with a paper in his hand. “Please, we need your signature here to show that you are a guest. How was your journey to Amarkantak? ”
“Memorable. Chhattisgarh has lush forests. To write about Dakshin Kosala, I need a support from a university or government to visit its charms that are boundless, I believe.”
“Where is Dakshin Kosala?” Shiv asked.
“You live in a part of Dakshin Kosala. I have come to know more about Mahatma Ravan than I knew before.”
“Awful! Mahatma Ravan? Awful! Is he a Mahatma? Who says?”, Shiv asked in surprise.
“Some Adivasi tribes and Valmiki Ramayana are the authentic sources.” Reghu replied.
“Chhattisgarh is still backward.” Shiv said.
“That depends on the definition of the word backward. Women during the times of Rama and Ravana were much freer than they are now. Surpnakha, sister of Ravana, had the courage to wander alone in the deep woods of Chhattisgarh about five thousand years
ago. Women today cannot dare to walk alone on the streets of Delhi which you call an advanced city. It has been reported that just in that city alone, where 18 million live, a little less than half of the population of Canada, has the highest number of sex crimes in comparison with other cities in India. Rape cases are reported on average one in every 18 hours. Delhi is said to have earned the title of the rape capital of India.
“It is alarming that rape is on the increase in the country. Indian media reports rape cases nearly every day. It is estimated that in every 20 minutes a woman is raped in India. It is also estimated that one in three rape cases involves a child. The possibility of a rapist being convicted is less likely in India.
“The worst is to rape a child. This is happening in Chhattisgarh regularly. Just in 2013, a girl of seven on the Howrah-Kurla Express was raped. The rapist dropped her at Blaspur station, while she bled profusely. He gave her ten rupees—in other words, a few cents. Another case involves a teen that was gang-raped. Four youths raped her at Deendayal Upadhyay Nagar, while she was returning from school on July 17 in 2013. Another case is of eleven Adivasi girls who were also gang-raped. There was a major breakthrough in Jashpur about the trafficking and rapes of Adivasi girls. It was reported in the media when police refused to register a rape near Rajnandgaon. A four- year- old girl was raped in Manpur. A woman constable was also gang-raped. When eleven minor Adivasi girls were raped by teachers and a care taker in a government hostel, the home minister of Chhattisgarh blamed the stars, or planets. This manifests the extent of the hollowness of the lawmakers. These incidents are drops in the bucket of not even full one year. There is no end to these horrific tales in the democracy of the elite.”
“Shiv paused and added, “In Indian culture women are the forms of goddess Lakshmi, even the goddess Durga.”
Diver Manoj would say “All noise.”
“Awful”. Shiv said chuckling, “People in India are hospitable.”
Manoj will say, “Simply another noise.” Reghu wanted to be silent, but he said in any case.
“Awful. Sir, you should come often to see your mother country.” He was sober.
“I will keep coming, but people in India do not have time to listen and to relax. They keep their cell phones off and answer in yes or no and close their conversation without giving any indication. In North America we say ‘bye’ that means we are putting the phone down. People in India do not have time even for that.” Reghu concluded.

About the author:
Multiple award winning Stephen Gill has authored more than twenty books, including novels, literary criticism, and collections of poems. He is the subject of doctoral dissertations, and research papers. Ten books have been released by scholars and more are to be released on his works. Websites: www.stephengill.ca ; www.stephengillcriticism.info; Managing Ed. www.writerslifeline.ca

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