Kolkata Soundscapes

Night sounds

Unlike other sounds that are created and heard throughout the day, night sounds in Kolkata have certain very interesting characteristics. While sounds ranging from early morning to late evenings are often marked by a certain kind of uniformity in appearance and frequency, night sounds in the city can be really drastic and varied. Till a long time night, sounds could be differentiated roughly between two segments: quietness (silence?) and sounds based on certain emergency requirements. The quieter part had to do with offices, schools, parks and other institutions shutting down after a day’s work, etc. Presumably then, one could imagine a very quiet officepara late in the nights. However, there was also an intense hustle and bustle day in and day out that found a place in areas which are often seen as emergency venues; viz. major terminal railway stations, hospitals, airports and other emergency units.

What has changed over the years, particularly post the 2000s, is the binary existence of quietness and cacophony of sounds in the nights. Currently, night sounds in Kolkata cannot be divided into any such convincing pair. With the advent of late night movie multiplexes, nightclubs, bars, super speciality clinics and hospitals, night sound in Kolkata seems to have gathered more importance than ever before. Another major change that has altered our reality of sounds during the night hours is the activity of IT, BPO, KPO sectors round the clock. While most of the companies in these domains work in shifts, a large crowd, therefore, becomes a part of the process of sounds created at night. In our latest understanding, one cannot say that the new office parks (read sector 5) are quiet during the nights and noisily active during the day.

Certain specific sounds created during the nights earlier is perhaps soon losing its relevance to contemporary living. The sound “Jaagte Raho” and similar cries of night-watchers are losing importance with round the clock security services offered individually to apartment complexes. Emails and SMS services have altered the reality of postmen (ranar) wearing tinklers while running through the night to deliver letters to the people. Culturally then it means that poems and songs on such men can never be re-written like those in the past. Can we call it a double loss of a particular night sound? The loss of the sound itself and the loss of the songs based on such sounds?

Air conditioners and room heaters necessitate closed rooms with shut doors and windows. Perhaps that creates a loss of urban domestic sounds which were earlier available to the public at greater ease. Stereotyped quarrels between couples, mothers and daughters in law, sudden cries of children have mostly now covered themselves under amenities and created an urban notion of privacy.

However, there are and will be sounds that never change. New lovers will continue to talk to their love interests in a hushed tone late in the nights. Increasing offers by the telecom industry to gift free “night call” minutes on packages keep showing that talks, and the most romantic ones, keep happening in those wee hours when the parents are asleep and the stray dogs keep barking each night around the year.

Of course the poor and the homeless will keep lighting fires on winter nights to warm themselves up and protect their children from chilly winter bites. The fire will burn in flickers with a mild, comforting sound, till one day yet another slum will catch fire and burn down lives and property. Men, women and children will cry their hearts out for some saviour who will never arrive. The burnt crowd will wonder why flames go violent mostly in the night.

Recording (0654): Howrah Station Subway at 11.00pm. 

Date of Recording: 14 June 2014; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16-bit audio)

Recording (0655): Park Street at 10.00pm. 

Date of Recording: 14 June 2014; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16-bit audio)

Recording (0656): Drunk man singing at 11.30pm. 

 Date of Recording: 14 June 2014; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16-bit audio)