21 June 2007

Sounds outside my window

I have no need for an alarm clock – the birds wake me up. They like to congregate in the tree outside my window and at 5am they start with what seems like a call and response type of game. A bird calls out something that sounds like: “a whoo whoo whoo WHOO!” And then, further away, another one responds. (Listen to the clip ‘birdsong at dawn’ under the menu ‘Listen to the sounds of India’ in the right sidebar.) This is a pleasant way to wake up. I hear the cooing of the birds in my dreams and drift back to sleep. Then a crow interjects with a loud and annoying: “caw caw caw!” and ruins the magic of birdsong at dawn. I wake up again. Chipmunks are also very active first thing in the morning. These are chipmunks with long tails, or squirrels with stripes down their backs. I can’t decide if they’re chipmunks or squirrels, maybe a bit of both. Whatever they are, they sound like birds because they make a squeaky chirping sound. By now I can’t get back to sleep.

Above: The tree outside my window.

The first ‘human’ sound of the morning is the sweeping noise of women sweeping the street with handle-less brooms made of long straw bristles. Some cars drive by. Then the sound of blaring music becoming increasingly louder and a mumble of words coming from a loudspeaker. This is the corporation garbage truck coming to take away the garbage. They stop just outside the house and a recording repeats something over and over again in Kannada, Tamil, Hindi and English. I try to concentrate when the English recording starts up but all I can make out is: “Please do not throw garbage on the roads or pavement.” Yawn. Moan. Time to get up. I understand why India goes to bed early. It’s because India wakes up early.

While I drink my tea, the first pushcart vendors are making their rounds. I don’t understand what they’re calling out but I recognise each of their calls. The milkman on a bicycle with a plastic crate attached to the bike rack behind him filled with half-litres of milk in plastic bags. The boy who collects used newspaper. The potato and onion man. The vegetable man. The woman with a bag balanced on her head – I don’t know what she sells.

There will be more traffic noise coming from the main road by now. The sound of honking car horns as people rush to the office. The ‘put-put’ of auto-rickshaws and the ‘vroom’ of motorcycles. The voices and laughs of schoolchildren going to school. Bells ringing at the temple.

As morning fades into afternoon there’s the sounds of small children playing and women beating laundry. Noises come from the new house being built down the road: drills, hammers, electric saws. By late afternoon, the vendors are back again. The ice cream man ringing the bell of his bicycle. Walking vendors with pushcarts loaded down with carpets, or colourful plastic receptacles and containers of all shapes and sizes. The mango man. The vegetable man again. In the distance comes the call to prayer from the mosque. At dusk the birds recommence their call and response game.

In the evening, neighbours come home from the office and put their cars into reverse to park them, setting off musical tunes. This seems to be standard in Indian cars: I hear the same annoying tunes over and over again. Someone told me these are musical versions of songs from Bollywood hits. My neighbour’s car plays “twinkle, twinkle little star” when reversing.

Once night falls the cricket symphony begins. At 10pm, the neighbourhood watchman starts his shift, announcing his presence by blowing a whistle and banging a long stick on the ground as he makes his rounds. After midnight there’s the sound of planes taking off from the airport. A gecko makes a strange loud clicking sound on the terrace. Street dogs bark in the distance. The leaves in the big tree rustle in the wind. Sleep…


Tracy said...

those are just some of the things I miss about India!

W0lf said...

What a vivid description of the sounds of India! I don't know where you are in India, but this could be any Indian city.
Reminds me of home :-(.