14th July, 2020
The blissful silence that Mumbai experienced in the early days of lockdown is now a distant memory. The streets are once again full of the clamour of traffic day and night. Dormant construction sites have stirred back to life. The clanking of the flour mill opposite our building has resumed. Every so often a backfiring engine sets all the crows cawing frantically. And the solipsistic dance music junkie on our block has returned, after a brief hiatus, to blasting retro party anthems into the neighbourhood on an almost daily basis.
Yesterday I reached the end of my tether. While D was preparing for a virtual meeting around lunchtime, the opening bars of a reggae fusion song began to throb through the languid air, followed by the familiar chorus: “You’re my angel, you’re my darling angel.”
It’s highly debatable whether there’s ever a time for Shaggy’s music, but lunch-hour on a Tuesday is certainly not it. I closed the window and pulled the curtains shut but the high-decibel beats passed through them as easily as if they’d been gamma rays released by a nuclear explosion.
“Can you go and ask him to turn it down?” D pleaded.
“Yeah, enough is enough,” I said, with a resoluteness I wasn’t sure I could follow through on.
I’ve often wondered why no one on our block seems to object to having the quietest hours of the day completely obliterated time and again by MTV-generation bangers cranked up to migraine-inducing volume. Even for a city that is accustomed to cacophonous street festivals, the music that routinely issues from that ground-floor apartment seems excessively loud.
I’ve only ever seen the culprit from a distance. A few possibilities have crossed my mind. Perhaps he’s some well-connected reprobate or low-level mobster who no one dares to confront about his anti-social behaviour; perhaps he’s a simpleton who simply can’t be instructed on the value of living harmoniously with one’s neighbours; or perhaps he’s hard of hearing and doesn’t realise just how loud his music is.
Typically, there are two types of people in this city who revel in drawing attention to themselves with loud music: well-off youths in souped-up cars who cruise around with bad EDM pumping out of rolled-down windows; and rickshaw drivers who’ve rigged up their sparse luggage space with massive subwoofers in a misguided attempt to lure customers. But the pot-bellied forty-something Shaggy fan on our block doesn’t fit into either of those categories.
As I walked to his place (in the building adjacent to ours), I fixated on the first possibility, that the man is a gunda (hoodlum) or some politically connected megalomaniac who uses obnoxiously loud music as a way of making his presence known and asserting his power.
I felt a knot tightening in my stomach as I struggled to suppress a deep-seated aversion to confrontation (previously documented here). At the same time, I felt a buzz of adrenaline as I thought of all the snarky comments I wanted to make.
The man’s front door was wide open when I reached it but the man himself was nowhere to be seen. I found myself peering into a well-kept but tiny interior. The front door opened directly onto the living room, which was even smaller than the one in our modest apartment. The focal point of the room was the hi-fi system that was at that very moment turning the entire neighbourhood into the world’s worst frat party. On one of the walls an electric candle glowed in front of a Catholic shrine.
I couldn’t find a doorbell so I rapped on the door as loudly as I could. The man emerged from an adjoining tiled space which I took for a kitchenette. Up close, he was quite a formidable-looking character – a tall, heavyset chap who looked like he could land a devastating right hook if provoked. He was shirtless, a prodigious paunch hanging over his beltline, but his nose and mouth were covered with a black facemask. He carried himself with the swagger of a man who is used to getting his way.
“Would you mind turning it down?” I said, with thinly concealed malevolence.
The man looked taken aback, as though he couldn’t comprehend that anybody would possibly object to a bit of old-school reggae fusion in the middle of a working day.
I explained that his music was clearly audible in the next building and that it was impinging on my wife’s online classes and meetings. He immediately became defensive. “Get your building guys to come talk to me,” he said, referring, I assume, to the society that manages the building my wife and I live in. A classic power move in a city where cops, officials and hospitality staff are accustomed to hearing the phrase “kya tum jaante ho main kaun hoon?” (“do you know who I am?”). So, I had been on the right track — the man clearly enjoys a certain level of notoriety in the local community, why else would he want to get local-level authorities involved in such a petty matter?
I indicated that I didn’t think it was necessary to get the society people involved. “I’m just asking you to turn the volume down,” I said.
The man let out a sigh. “I don’t do this all the time,” he said.
I almost felt bad for the guy, as though I was a killjoy parent haranguing a teenager for rocking out in his bedroom.
Eventually the man gave in. “Ok, fine,” he said sulkily, before turning the volume down ever so slightly.
“Thank you,” I said, grudgingly accepting this minor concession. But, as I walked away, the man further lowered the volume until I could no longer hear it.
This was a better outcome than I had anticipated. I walked home feeling buoyant — I had faced off against my nemesis and prevailed. I don’t know what I had expected — a flat-out watchoo-gonna-do-about-it refusal to dial down the volume? A sock on the jaw? Having been terrorised for years by the man’s sociopathic music listening habits, I hadn’t expected to find him amenable to a straightforward reprimand. Perhaps he isn’t such a bad guy after all. Perhaps he genuinely thought he was providing a valuable public service by sharing his music with the entire neighbourhood.
Whatever the case, I’m glad I said my piece. I usually feel pretty rotten after any kind of confrontation — regardless of whether or not I’ve entered into it for the right reasons — but, on this occasion, I mostly felt relief. Relief that I didn’t have to spend the rest of the afternoon spiralling down a vortex of self-destructive rage. And relief that I’d been able to communicate my displeasure to my neighbour without resorting to incivilities, and that I’d come through it without sustaining a dislocated jaw.
I half-expect the man to show up at our doorstep with a posse of thugs any day now. But, in the meantime, I’m relishing the peace and quiet.