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You Can't Escape The Noise

You Can't Escape The Noise

May 29, 2012

Where the Indian labourer sweats, the Kiwi labourer draws on the power grid. Both are noisy.

We were all sitting at our computers, headphones on as usual, listening carefully to the audio and converting it into text on the screen. This is what I do for a living in an office with about 40 other people. It's an oddly solitary profession, given that there are so many of us in a large room for hours on end. We sit together, silent and alone. 

At first, the construction sounds were amusing. A scaffold travelled past the window with two men on it in hard hats, and a couple of minutes later, a deafening grinding began. Glances were exchanged from under our headphones, and grins spread across our faces. The noise was incredibly loud, and we were at work, and our work depended upon being able to listen carefully to clips of audio. It seemed totally absurd. We laughed with each other at the ridiculousness of it all, partly because we all secretly assumed it would be over quickly.

More sounds were added to the mix. A hammer, a drill, a different grinder, a bigger hammer. Each morning at around eight o'clock, that scaffold would hum past and signal another day of loud noises ahead. Not funny any more. Some vented their frustrations in the lunch room, others complained to the management. There's not much we can do, they said. The work is to improve the window glazing so that we are warmer in winter, and it's going to take years to do the whole building. Yes, YEARS.

Despite involving outsourced work, the unwanted aural imposition on daily life and the lengthy timeframe involved, this story is not from India. It's from my daily life in New Zealand, now, and has been the case for several months now. We turn up to work and hope there won't be any grinding today. Sometimes there isn't. Usually there is.

Naturally, Facebook is my outlet, and when I posted yet another complaint about yet more new and unusual construction noises this week, it caught the eye of my friend Sharell. She lives in India and has written numerous times about noise pollution near her Mumbai home. She joked that I should inform India so they can also add these construction sounds to their repertoire – before swiftly retracting herself.

India doesn't need any new construction sounds
– at least, the long-suffering residents of fast-developing areas like Sharell's don't, or the folks in my old home of Varkala in Kerala. Varkala is continuing to benefit from a tremendous tourism and land prices boom in the past twenty years or so, and people have money to spend – so they're building. I've written previously about the impact this had on the first two houses I rented; one was torn down in relatively short order after I left it, while in the other, I spent a good couple of months being woken by thuds shaking the entire house.

That's the key difference. In India, construction implements are mostly hand-driven, from the cement-mixing barrel to the hammers. Without the use of electrics the completed job is often slapdash, though usually effective. At my office in New Zealand, however, workers grasp drills and grinders that motor relentlessly through the job. Where the Indian labourer sweats, the Kiwi labourer draws on the power grid.

Noise is noise, though, and construction is a necessarily loud process. However the work is done, and whether you are in New Zealand or India, it's hard to sit and write while your building is being transformed. A look at the twisted spaghetti above most Indian settlements would suggest that widespread efficient use of electricity-driven tools is some way off, but Sharell, those days are creeping in. Just as with most other developments in India, the power tool revolution will lurch along awkwardly and with plenty of teething problems. It'll come, though, so you might want to start meditating with a Black and Decker symphony on the stereo speakers rather than a soothing mantra.

Photo credit
: Sundar Raman 

1 Comment

  • stuartnz
    30.05.12 02:17 AM
    I can't imagine trying to do a hearing-dependent job in such an environment - bravo to you and your colleagues for overcoming such an impediment!

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