Some days ago I read a report in one of the vernacular newspapers concerning deafness in Nepal. The percentage of people suffering from partial and full deafness was mind boggling, but not in the least surprising. I remember musing to myself about who the blame would fall on for this affliction: would it be antibiotics, or being slapped by school teachers or parents, would it be a recent fall, would it be a ‘dasa’ of come kind or another? On whom would the axe fall?
I didn’t have to wait too long for an answer because the very next day, in more than one newspaper, came a shower of diatribes about poor health services, paucity of ear specialists compared to eye specialists, and so on and so forth.
Once more all this was/is the government’s fault for not providing the services needed. We were once more engaging in the favourite bureaucratic sport known as ‘personal blamelessness’, practised by our bureaucrats to perfection and handed on to the public free of cost.
There are loopholes in this argument. First of all a government has to be aware there is a problem to address. Secondly it has to have the will and intelligence to address it. On the will and intelligence of the members of our government, I rest my case.
So back to the astrologers and the earache gods, the last resorts of those who believe the fault lies in their stars. About 400 years ago it was pointed out that the ‘fault lies in ourselves not in our stars’ and still a goodly number of us don’t get it!
I wonder how many of our readers, in childhood, ever came across the English version of a French comic book called ‘Asterix the Gaul’?
Asterix was a diminutive Celt who for some reason only known to his creators spent his time between Britannia and Galicia, each time facing huge Roman armies and each time outwitting them with no more help it seemed but his best friend Obelisk who specialised in throwing huge menhirs or blocks of stone at the Roman armies. Occasionally the numbers aligned against them are so enormous that they have to force the village bard to bring out his harp and sing. The village bard’s name is Cacofonix- a derivation of cacophony of course; and cacophony is what brought down the tower of Babel. Cacofonix only had to tune up and sing a ballad to the Romans and it would cause a painful ringing in their ears and they’d drop their weapons and flee.
Now this of course is a kids’ silly comic story, a fanciful view of the years BCE and our equally fanciful ancestors. Nonetheless it has a lesson lurking there on the way to our eardrums. Loud unpleasing noises are just, if not more, damaging than bows and arrows, swords and stone and the odd bullet or two. Add bomb blasts and loud Hindi music (not to mention the Indian TV debates in which the participants interrupt each other ad infinitum) and you have plenty of reasons for the percentage of people in this country who are deaf or partially deaf.
Quietness has become a saleable commodity. Just check the advertisements for ‘weekends away’. They promise quiet, peaceful places as very precious commodities, which they are, at least in Kathmandu.
The daily traffic noises are horrific. Years ago I remember a number of countries passing laws for motor vehicles to have ‘silencers’ and also some other gadget on their engines which limited the poisons exhaust emissions. The latter were introduced here shortly afterwards, but have now disappeared, probably because petrol cost more if a motorist used them—heaven knows, push any pile of compost and you’ll find ‘money’.
So, you see, if the government is at fault about the growing deafness, it is a fault of omission not commission. Who is at fault, you may wonder. Why? No less than we, we who hunger for brand new cars, we who keep turning the TV up, we who love loud songs and undisciplined politics and those who practice them. We are surrounded from dawn to dusk by cacophony; and then wonder why a whole nation of us is becoming deaf.
I think before we all start using eardrops and poking around in our ears we should declare a national week to get everyone’s ears examined. Since we are so short of specialists it doesn’t have to be the same week throughout the country but we need a national campaign of some sort before we all start learning to lip-read.
There are those among us who, through no fault of their own, were born deaf or became deaf following a medical trauma. They have coped with taunts and abuse from many amon us for decades and deserve all the care they can get from us. But we, who have received in full precious gifts of hearing and sight, abuse these gifts with cacophony-mostly self-inflicted. It’s time to look closely at our lifestyles and ensure that silence is not a luxury we have to continue buying.