One of the good things about living in Santiniketan is that this small town has managed to keep “visual pollution” under control. Sure, we’ve seen a few urban eyesores with gleaming synthetic paint sprout up of late. But the town has, by and large, maintained its old-world aesthetic.
Noise pollution, on the other hand, is a completely different story. The “occasional” pujas – Saraswati, Durga, Kali and so on – now increasingly feature huge boom boxes that blast out the latest in “devotional” music. Not to mention the daylong kirtan sessions at the local mandir. While I am all for some trance music for the soul, I can’t fathom how these sessions can go on for days on end without the kirtan singers getting tired of hearing their own voices.
These days, when the temperature is at a lethal 45 degrees, all you really need is silence so you can fall asleep to escape the blazing inferno, even if temporarily. But blaring kirtan from nearby kirtan camps will not even allow you that little solace. And if you think calling the police station to complain would help, it won’t. You can indulge in as many lengthy discussions on permissible decibel levels as you wish, but the pro-kirtan, god-fearing constable will brush your protest aside with a sermon on the virtue of patience. All this was so frustrating that things reached a level where I finally called the State Pollution Control Board to stop one neighbourhood mandir from having its kirtan orgies. Of course, that didn’t work either.
All I wanted was to somehow escape these devoted singers till I ended up chasing them. My uncle passed away last month and I was called on to help my cousin organise a good kirtan singer for the shraadh ceremony. So, I immediately put aside my personal disenchantment with kirtan singers and begun enquiring about where I could get one. I made a few phone calls to some friends in the music world and others who I know attend religious cultural programmes. And soon I was armed with a list of potentially high-quality singers to call for the ceremony. I thought it would be easy to get one of them to come to the shraadh, but, as it turned out, I was wrong.
I called one singer after another on my list and all I got was a serial “no”. They were all booked and busy! Apparently, they are in demand.
My colleagues who work with me on my textile and craft enterprise in Santiniketan heard my predicament and tried their best to help. As they heard of my phone calls drawing a blank, they offered to get in touch with kirtan singers in their villages and figure out whether they would be inclined to travel to Kolkata. Anyway, after a lot of hunting and with the help of our extended family, finally a singer was found and the shraadh ceremony went off without a hitch, with the strains of kirtan in the background.
With the thirteenth-day feast over, I boarded the train to get back to Santiniketan. As I approached home, my ears picked up sounds of a percussion instrument on loudspeakers and I knew it had to be another kirtan camp. When you actively seek them out you can’t find one, but when you want some peace and quiet, you can count on them to disturb it.