Making sense of Nitin Gadkari’s plan to replace ‘horn’ sound with pleasanter options – The Economic Times

Clipped from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/et-commentary/making-sense-of-nitin-gadkaris-plan-to-replace-horn-sound-with-pleasanter-options/articleshow/86897692.cmsSynopsis

Gadkari’s maan ki baat is to replace the standard vehicular electric horn developed by Oliver Lucas in Birmingham in 1910 with gentler sounds of ‘Indian musical instruments’. By which I suppose he means ‘Indian-sounding sounds’, considering the instruments, barring the (bamboo) flute and tabla he mentions — the violin, mouth organ and even the desi-coopted Europe-invented harmonium — has videshi origins.

Indrajit Hazra

Indrajit Hazra

ET Editor ViewsBarring for spiritual TEDx talkers, there has been overwhelming consensus that the wheel doesn’t need reinventing. The car horn, however, is another matter. The jury, in its latest form as Nitin Gadkari, is still out there on the road. If Narendra Modi is the visionary that he is, the urban transport minister is the auditory. He has a radical plan that may well make India’s silent national pastime — ‘horning’ — if not a thing of the rearview mirror, then at least bearable.

Gadkari’s maan ki baat is to replace the standard vehicular electric horn developed by Oliver Lucas in Birmingham in 1910 with gentler sounds of ‘Indian musical instruments’. By which I suppose he means ‘Indian-sounding sounds’, considering the instruments, barring the (bamboo) flute and tabla he mentions — the violin, mouth organ and even the desi-coopted Europe-invented harmonium — has videshi origins.

But what is the purpose of a horn? In our vehicular culture, it serves more than just warning the approach of a vehicle, or seeking out attention. I hardly use the horn while driving, preferring to use the tendency of the steering wheel to navigate and the brake pedal to take things easy. I, however, fully feel the risk of being perceived as a namby-pamby in a culture that sees pressing the horn as a sure sign of virility. The fact that my horn currently has, for some wiring reason, been demoted to a ‘beep’, does make me feel somewhat emasculated. But that may be something more Freudian than Fordian.

But horniness apart, the very point in using the horn on our roads is to use it ‘aimlesssly’ and shamelessly, with the singular aim of making not just one’s presence but also one’s mobile mardangi felt. It’s about feeling superior over the pedestrian (sic), the Nehru-era cyclist, the mosquito-buzzing auto, smaller cars as well as posher cars. And somehow, as soon as one passes ‘No Horn’ signs signifying hospital, school, court zones, the desire to ‘do it’ becomes stronger, like a vampire passing a ‘No drinking’ sign in a blood bank.

Gadkari is also considering changing the sound of sirens, Simon and Garfunkel-style. ‘An artist composed a tune of Akashwani and it was played early in the morning. I am thinking of using that tune for ambulances so that people feel pleasant.’ The iconic AIR tune created by the Czech Jewish refugee to India and AIR director of music Walter Kaufmann in 1936 is indeed pleasant. I’m unsure, though, whether you want a vehicle that needs to irritate vehicles on the road to give way having a dreamy tune. But who knows? Gadkari proposes, the driver disposes.

The fog of horns that cover our urban landscape is indeed an unnecessary evil. And who would ever have thought that the old banshee shriek of the pneumatic horn used by buses and lorries — some that even rang out a few notes of Jacques Offenbach’s legs-kicking ‘can-can’ OTT tune, ‘Galop Infernal’ from his 1858 opera Orpheus in the Underworld — would be shoved into silence by law? So, making mellifluous bursts of noise may make roads a less clamorous place.

But while you’re at it, Mr Gadkari, could you also do something about the growing menace of giant boomboxes used in all kinds of processions like weddings, immersions, religious festivals these days? I’m not shy of boom’n’bass myself. Groove Armada’s 2001 house-dub classic ‘Superstylin’’ (bit.ly/3agMG55) gets a regular hearing in da house. But these mobile units with gigantic speakers piled on top of each other making their celebratory way down the roads seem a few decibels short of being weaponised, making windowpanes even on my 11th floor home shake. The growling hum makes the heart grow pounder.

Meanwhile, as I take my car out to establish my authority in this world by trying to up my horniness quotient, I imagine what a world of good sounding a flute or a harmonium horn will do to all those out there. The meek shall then truly inherit the roads.

Views expressed are author’s own

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