Maybe it’s the silence in the night that makes it easier to hear the sirens. They are meant to inspire both comfort and caution. I will never get used to the sound of a siren. I grew up thinking sirens would sound only when something was wrong or if something bad is happening. It meant danger.
My reflex to the sound of a siren is to look over my shoulder or be wary of my surroundings. In India, we have security guards who go around the neighbourhood either yelling or just sounding the whistle at night to let people know they can sleep safely because they are keeping watch. That was comforting.
But the sirens here are loud, jarring, meant to catch your attention. You can feel the urgency in the high-pitched loop of sound waves that hit your eardrums with impact. It doesn’t make me feel safe. We live in a time where there is a need for sirens, for caution and for vigilance but this makes us more suspicious.
When I came to London for the first time and heard the sirens day in and day out, I was taken aback. It took me some time to get used to it. I don’t think sirens make crime go away. Sirens are important, but when you hear them every ten or twenty minutes you realise that sirens are being sound because there is a need for them and if there is a need for them then are you ever safe?
I don’t want to belittle safety, but I’ve seen people in India put sirens on when there is no need, just to make it through traffic. It’s a gross misuse of power but I used to accept that for what it was. Here it’s different. I’ve learnt to fall asleep to the tune of the sirens, I have conditioned myself into ignoring it and treating it like the sound of an engine or a bird’s call. I never thought I’d sleep to the sound of a siren or wake up to the sound of one.
My parents taught me growing up to pray every time I hear a siren, that everything should be okay and nobody is in danger. That was because you never heard the siren unless something was awry. This is strange. We’ve become so comfortable in our own lack of safety having accepted danger as just a daily thing. We’re all scared but we don’t know what to do about it.
When my worldview was untouched by reality I believed that over time we’d never hear a siren sound or an alarm go off. I was wrong I heard them more often, and now I hear them once every hour at least. I thought in developing countries sirens would be heard more often but I was wrong about that as well.
There’s a part of me that still hopes that one day I can listen to more birds than sirens, there’s a part of me that still hopes that my ears never get used to the sound of a siren because if I get used to it, then my fears will be confirmed that this world will never get safer.
I remember mornings when birds would sing outside the windows and you could hear the leaves on the trees rustle in the wind. That was a world in which doors were kept unlocked in the mornings and the sunlight would find its way past the buildings into bedroom windows to wake us up. I remember the nights too when the wind would put us to sleep, the moon would wish us a good night and the stars wouldn’t be shy.
Is it truly impossible to go back to that? To have that once more, why must they be a memory? Wouldn’t we have failed ourselves if the world only got more dangerous until everything is silent and the only sound that would reach us would be sirens?