Sense and Sensibility

Supriya Newar is a Kolkata-based author, poet, music aficionado and communications consultant

Sense and Sensibility

We’re a horny lot. And we wear it in big font on our rear ends: ‘Horn Please’. In countries such as the USA, honking has been used as a sign of protest. In England, it’s considered rude to honk at someone and in case a driver does honk, it’s generally a bit like an admonishment for not following the correct street manners and such. But Asia is a different story and we seem to be leading the horny pack. We Indians honk habitually and incessantly at everything and at all times.

We honk when the traffic light is red and we’ve run out of patience; when the light goes green and we feel we must doubly inform the cars ahead of it having gone green; when we want to speed ahead, overtake and wiggle through narrow lanes; when we want to announce our arrival or departure or when the road ahead is choc-a-block and even when it is absolutely free.

Our ambulances screech past, their sirens wailing even in the dead of night, as do our trucks and lorries, which somehow manage to fit particularly loud and even banned horns in their vehicles. Some trucks also have the sign ‘Dipper at night’ painted on them, but they are clearly outvoted and outpowered by the more muscular ‘Horn Please’.

Two-wheelers, of course, are another story altogether. With the horn being an easy-to-push button, generally sitting next to the right thumb, the biker or scooterist honks as he steers at every twist and turn, almost using the horn as a means of communicating with vehicles and pedestrians around him. Public buses bully their way through by honking repeatedly and outmaneuvering smaller cars, which perhaps partly explains the explosion of bulkier SUVs on even city roads.

Honking is our birthright and we shall have it! Even if it’s entirely unnecessary and makes absolutely no sense, even if it completely assails our sensibilities and is particularly avoidable in hospital and school zones and even if it must be rendering hundreds of traffic police deaf, aggressive and agitated.

If all this wasn’t enough, our cities are now littered with 10-minute delivery bikers that rush through our streets, making sure they’ve delivered on their promised timeline. The one tool that helps them meet the timeline is none other than their dear horn which they use in merry abundance. Our bustling metropolises and even smaller towns have now moved on from being cities that do not sleep to cities that honk all the time.

Not that we want those days back, but one of the nicer things that we remember about the COVID-19 lockdowns, is the sudden profusion of birdsong in the air and the chirrup of house sparrows even in very congested neighbourhoods.

So, is there a way out at all? Much like public nuisance and spitting, must we go on tolerating and adjusting our sensibilities to ever-increasing noise pollution levels? Or wait for policies and public campaigns to kick in as we fit our cars and homes with noise-proof windows?

Or does it start with us? With us firstly wanting less noise and more sense to prevail? With us understanding that this maddening honking is making us, as a people, senselessly aggressive and leaving us with increased road rage? Does it not begin with us making a concerted effort to cut down on honking whether we drive ourselves or sit in chauffeur-driven cars?

Can the powers that be create no horn zones, no horn hours and even no horn days? Can cars particularly bike manufacturers change the position of the horn or at least make it much harder to press continuously? Can we correct the way driving is taught at schools, introducing a compulsory chapter on honking judiciously?

I have been driving in a very congested city that’s gloriously infamous for its cacophonous streets and cheek-to-jowl traffic for over two decades. I gave up honking many years ago and have successfully passed on the practise to my driver, who initially thought it was an impossible, bewildering question, to not honk and drive. He now sees sense in the idea and manages without it quite well.

As we upgrade our roads and highways and make our toll plazas cashless, can we please also try and honk much, much less? Or we may not be too far from a day when the air quality index flashing on our phones will have an equally vile friend called the NQI - the noise quality index!

Author Supriya Newar may be reached at, Instagram: @supriyanewar, Facebook: supriya.newar and LinkedIn:

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