When I search for sounds, I get traffic, the scouring rivers of desire that pour through the wide boulevards, always seeming on the verge of overflowing onto the footpaths. All driven by the longing to be somewhere else.
So queried for sound, I think first of this oceanic force. White noise, I suppose you'd call it, but abundantly decorated with honking -- an orange sound, I'd say, on the dirty white background.
"Oceanic?" Surely you, too, have stood with a friend on a beach, watching the waves, and had your friend say: "You know if you close your eyes, and listen really closely, it sounds almost like traffic."
"Dirty white"? Is this really the smog -- a sight-smell but not a sound -- invading my sound picture? Probably. I'm tempted to say that India is a place where the senses run together, invade each other beyond all hope of sorting out. But no: in the Buddhist scriptures I can watch ancient Indians isolate the five senses from each other as precisely as we claim to do. Was it just quieter then? What sensations were so overwhelming as to collapse the senses together? War, I suppose, and sex, and perhaps the monsoon. But nothing that ran 24/7, like Delhi traffic does now.
Even when off the main streets, out of sight of the traffic, the dirty white noise is still there in the background, and much else vanishes into it. A conversation a few meters away is no louder than the traffic two hundred meters away. Many vivid experiences are utterly soundless: the beggars, even the children, often make no noise as they come up to you, making their hand-to-mouth gesture.
What shards of sound remain in all this aural blankness? Hawkers, I suppose -- "Sir, good sir, handmade textiles, a shawl for your wife maybe!" -- but also the locally-oriented hawkers selling in Hindi, repeated calls into space suffused with boredom. (Bored calls or bored space? Both, I think.)
Perhaps I'm losing my hearing. Or perhaps that's part of how one copes with Delhi.