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Raffique Shah


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Mobile Menace

By Raffique Shah
September 21, 2008

It was a desperate cry from an exasperated woman, and it tugged at my heart when we finally spoke on the phone. She made me feel ashamed of myself, since, like so many others, I, too, am a victim of the jarring, amplified noise that passes for music in too many private motor vehicles. As a columnist who is often the voice of victims who have few options to vent their suffering, I failed to write about this growing menace of noise pollution.

She lives at Clarke Road, Penal, and her story is one that can be that of more than three-quarters of our population. Clarke Road, when I knew it well, was a relatively peaceful village (several villages, actually), the exception being loud cussing from drunken villagers who patronised its many bars, mainly on weekend-nights.

Like all such communities, it has grown bigger: more houses, more businesses, more people, less agriculture and livestock rearing. It has become a kind of main road, much the way Cedar Hill Road in Claxton Bay, where I live, has burgeoned from a back-road to a busy freeway, or Beaucarro, where I grew up as a boy, has grown into a thoroughfare. You would think that residents, who once lived with their nearest neighbour being hundreds-of-metres away, would welcome development. But the price of progress, as "Joker" Devine wrote, is high, most times too high.

Indeed, what holds good (or bad) for Beaucarro or Clarke Road, applies to all districts in the country-even far-flung places like Matelot or Icacos, I feel certain. Over the past ten years or so, with the economy faring better and more people having the means to acquire motor cars, pollution has grown exponentially. And I'm not referring to just emissions from exhausts. More deadly is noise pollution of the most intolerable kind. Jamming that can wake up the dead in any cemetery. They parade day and night, driving slowly through commercial and residential districts, torturing residents.

The boors care nothing about people who do not want to listen to the gibberish they dub music-no pun intended.You can hear them approach from the proverbial mile away. There's the pounding bass: boom! boom! boom! As they get closer, incoherent lyrics, at times laced with cuss-words, assault your ears amidst tweeters that sound like someone scraping rusted iron. And since one-in-four vehicles, on average, is equipped with these powerful sound systems, one can imagine the adverse effects this pollution has on so many people.

When maxi-taxis started the trend many moons ago, long before amplification got to the levels we now have, there was a public outcry-and the Government, Transport Division and the police acted on it. In a short time maxis were stripped of systems. Who will act now to stop the menace of these mobile-Carnival-like "big trucks" crammed into the back seats of small cars or pickups or SUVs? Not the police, as the lady who complained to me said. They told her to get the numbers of the offending vehicles. Now, you are inside your house, late night, fast asleep, and this booming noise startles you, wrecking your nerves. You are supposed to quickly run outside and "take de number"!

What madness! Cars "pounding" music pass, sometimes park, in front of police stations, and it's as if the cops are deafer than the drivers. She made numerous complaints to the EMA. That body remains deaf-mute, unable to act on noise pollution, or any other infringement of environment laws. I don't know that an appeal to government would yield any better results. Although he is mostly sequestered in a noise-proof limousine when he's on the road, Prime Minister Manning cannot claim he is unaware of these insensitive noise polluters. His ministers, too, must be victims of these pigs-behind-wheels.

The problem has now reached epidemic proportions. People no longer enjoy peace in their homes, to which they are entitled. I pity the infirm, older people like my mother who have to endure this daily, nightly assault. I pity babies who require rest in their early lives, but who, instead, are potential victims of deafness because of these insensitive, mostly ignorant and illiterate noise-makers. Of course, if we have a caring government, its members would act with dispatch, realising seemingly small infractions like this are harbingers of worse to come in this already lawless society.

If the authorities fail to act, people will. Noise can send some people mad, quite literally. It won't be long before we hear of victims attacking the perpetrators with full fury. I mean man running amok, mashing up cars-and-noise-systems, killing pigs-behind-wheels. Those in authority-the police, licensing officers, politicians-will tell us they have more important issues to address.

But deliberately disturbing the peace of others, subjecting people to torture-by-dub-or-chutney, often lead to the serious incidents. Sadly, in such instances the victims suffer for taking action the authorities ought to have done well before blood flows. Crack down on these mobile DJs now. Impound their cars, strip their systems, jail them, beat them...anything to relieve citizens of these mobile menaces.

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