Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 18, January 1-15, 2019

A Happy New Ear

by N.S. Parthasarathy

Entering a new world of sounds and noises, it is difficult to resist sharing the experience with fellow senior citizens who are about to seek a hearing aid or have recently adopted one. The first thing I did, upon wearing this device, was to warn my friends of my enlarged faculty with the slogan: Speak carefully! I can now hear everything. It is only fair that they are warned of their being overheard.

Indeed, I could hear everything. I could hear birds chirping on tree branches; in recent years I had not seen many birds in the City, leave alone hearing them chirping on tree branches. Leaves rustled with cinematic sound effect as simulated in movies. We had known that the neighbouring couple were not on good terms, but now I knew every detail of their differences. The ceiling fan seemed to swish at high rpm as if it were part of a turbojet plane about to take off. Kitchen mixies and washing machines in the neighbourhood seemed to be tangoing in harmony. The young thing upstairs is practising Bharata Natyam pounding her feet on the floor with martial gusto to misra chapu thala in dhuritha kaala and I could keep the thala and spot the missing beats.

The hearing instrument I wear, can provide relief to those trying to convey their disagreement to me by non-verbal means – the force with which the coffee tumbler is placed on the table or the son or daughter expressing the right to dissent by shutting the room door with more than normal energy to produce the desired sound effect. Gentler effort for such expressions would now be enough to deliver the same or greater impact. Mumbling under one’s breath is another age-old innovation in domestic communication. This method allows free vent to disgust, at the same time, transmitting it to the target audience as polite Dissent, the civil cousin of Disgust. Alas, this ingenious type of communication is now in the category of “endangered species” because every mumble is now delivered to the hearing aid user in its raw form – robbing it of its original value.

Prospective entrants to this exclusive club must know that it is not that easy to master the hearing technology. At one time, before I needed the hearing device, I could hear everything but could listen only to what I wanted. Once I wore the instrument, I lost the right to select for listening, from out of what I hear. I am now forced to hear, magnified to high decibels, everything in the vicinity with no concern for relevance. The range of reach being astonishingly long, a bewildering multitude of sounds are all on offer, all at the same time. I do not know what the Fundamental Right to Privacy, so zealously protected from Aadhar, can do to safeguard it from hearing aid wearers.

The right to select what we wish to listen to, leads to piquant situations. I must stop the fan if I want to hear the wife speak to me on an important issue. Such important issues do arise frequently. I cannot have the fan and anyone wanting to speak to me making noises at the same time. Also, I cannot eat and hear at the same time. The mastication process is magnified as the rumbling sounds of a massive earthmover. I must stop chewing if I wish to receive the sounds of what I want to listen to.

The hearing device magnifies our voices to our own hearing – reverberating with stereophonic effect. I always loved hearing my own voice, but continuously magnified to the point of drowning all incoming sounds was the limit. The device cured me, once for all, of the love for my own voice. To keep the voice down, therefore, the hearing aid user speaks in a very low tone, such that it is bearable for him. People, including those endowed with good natural hearing (briefly referred to as the “haves”), tell the hearing aid user (briefly referred to as the “have not”) that they cannot hear him and ask if he would speak louder. The have-not, was asking the same of the haves till a few days ago before taking to the hearing aid. It is indeed sweet revenge that the positions are reversed. Demographic experts predict that aged people are gradually increasing in number among the total population, thanks to better health and extended longevity. If so, as more aged people wear hearing aids and speak softly, won’t more younger people need hearing aids to converse with the old?

Only when the world of sounds is opened to us so tellingly that we realise what a noisy environment it is that we live in. I am now aware that mine has been no small contribution to this noise. Experts say that high noise levels contribute to cardiovascular effects in humans and, in animals, it increases risk of death by altering predator detection and avoidance instincts. According to the World Health Organisation, noise may negatively interfere with a child’s learning and behaviour. Let us hope for an environment of lesser noise pollution in the Happy New Year that has just dawned.


  1. Lawrence says:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *