The average human being faces decent amounts of exposure to these sounds. However the worst affected are our poor construction workers. The concrete mixers, carpenters, the ceramic tile cutters, the welders, the girls at the garment factory with the noisy sewing machines, stitching all day, the autorickshaw guys, facing 97 dB from their own vehicles and that of others, etc. There are masonry workers who have to demolish first, who sometimes have to hammer away at tiles and concrete till something gives way becomes rubble. There are also the street hawkers and vendors, for whom acoustics is justifiably less of a concern than earning their daily bread.
In the Indian context, these guys don’t even have a voice. No norms exist to mandate the use of earmuffs. No OSHA, no NIOSH to treat them as human beings. We move to another room when there’s work going on in our house. Where can they go?
The Great Indian Middle Class is psychologically isolated from the lot of people mentioned above. So coming back to the problems ‘we’ face, one might debate that none of these are really continuous. There is a time in the day when all these noises stop and silence reigns. People get their shut-eye then and all is well in the morning. It’s just that the physical effects of noise exposure will not wait till night time to show their effect on you. The changes happen in real time. Not in an obvious fashion.
And what have we to lose?
It’s a question of attributing effects to the right cause. The constant whirring of the office printer might be irritating us, but we attribute irritation to seemingly more ‘obvious’ causes. The regular rattle outside our houses seems noisy, but nothing our concentration cannot surmount. Children are under immense pressure to have the kind of concentration yogis had thousands of years ago. A child is considered incompetent if he/she merely complains about the noise. This is what separates the toppers from the averagers. Now, the social implications are many, so we will not go into those. The masses in India now face flyovers that just came up near their window on the 2nd floor. After a certain age, most people assume that some amount of hearing loss is inevitable, and is really a sign of old age, that’s all.
Also, old age is a very commonplace thing in India. The current working class clearly rules out the impact noise might have on their later years. Hasn’t nearly every household got at least one person above the age of 80, with all faculties intact? Yes, they do. But by the time the present working class grows that old, they’d have faced continuous noise for 60 years. The present crop of grandparents past 80 never had to face that much noise.
It is a question of how many more years of quality hearing you ‘might have had’. I use the past tense because this question is usually asked in retrospect. Time to change that now.