When you go through a book like Bombay Then Mumbai Now, with its lovingly researched and well-informed writing and beautifully curated images that offer a visual history of the city, its landmarks and the changing cityscape, you can’t help wondering what Bombay must have sounded like in yesteryear. What were the sounds you heard on the streets of Bombay decades ago and what do you hear now? Or, for that matter, what did other cities and towns and villages sound like decades ago? What kind of birds did you hear in the city earlier? And is it possible to hear birds even now in cities where never-ending streams of traffic rush past, whooshing away terribly? Did the street vendors sound any different then? And why don’t we hear street vendors any more? How will we tell our kids about the chanaa jor garam walas or the kulfi vendor who sang out kulfi malai keeeeeeeeeeeee in a wheezy tenor during my childhood in Allahabad? They seem to have vanished into the gaping maws of the earth as construction work to erect flyovers and malls leaves cities scarred and pockmarked before they are supposedly given makeovers.
Check for the song. Download it, learn it, sing it, share it, archive it or just leave it be if it doesn’t interest you.
That’s exactly why NaaD Media and its website www.naadmedia.org/naad-media-collective.html seem such a great idea. The website describes itself as a “media portal for natural audio archiving and dissemination”. A browse through the site seems to suggest that people can register with the NaaD Media community and upload and share the natural sounds they have recorded in different situations and contexts. The minimal but elegant design, and clean, easy-to-use interface is quite encouraging and made me click on the segment titled “Collection”, where you have audio samples with accompanying text descriptions. The first on the page is the sound of the dheki, “a leg-driven mechanical device used for making raw rice from paddy”. Another entry titled “Woods” features the crackling sound of bamboo branches rubbing against each other in the wind.
Pitch in: NaaD records the sounds of vendors.
The Blog section in the same segment features miscellaneous recordings uploaded by members of the NaaD Media collective. One member has uploaded a recording of a medicine seller urging people on a train to buy his home-made remedy for headaches. Other entries are titled “pig smelling” and “snake breathing”, but don’t giggle, because this is probably one of the only places where you can hear a pig grunting and a snake hissing at the mere click of a mouse!
With technology empowering users to record and share media, it has become relatively easy for all of us to turn into audio archivists. So bring out those mobile phones and record those sounds you hear around you and join the NaaD Media community or make your own audio archive. Record that crow that makes a nuisance of itself by cawing away just as you dozed off on a lazy Sunday afternoon—you might not hear him in another few years if cities continue to grow more and more polluted. Record the koyal while you can, even if the bird call is accompanied by the ear-shattering theme of the soap Bandiniiiiiiiii blaring away on your neighbour’s TV set. As for me, I’m going to put down part of a UP wedding song I learnt from my mother, who had been taught it by my father’s aunts during a family wedding that probably took place in Varanasi some 40 years ago! These songs too are becoming extinct.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org