Unplugged: Earphones and train conversations

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Fri 15 Apr 2022, 2:05 PM

Whenever I take the Metro, I usually look forward to a quiet ride. I’ve noticed most people (myself included) don’t talk on their phones, because mobile connectivity tends to be erratic as the train plunges in and out of stations. So, everyone is unwaveringly on their phones — listening to music or watching videos or scrolling through social media posts. The above statement doesn’t hold true when there are small children/infants in the compartment… on occasion, enthusiastic adolescent boys discuss football… or girls. And, of course, there is that odd exchange when someone is articulately gracious enough to offer a lady or an elder a seat, or if someone indulges in a brief conversation with their travelling companion before going back to their phone.

Whatever noise that does get generated in individual silos — music, audiobooks, videos etc. — is ear-plugged, and for your ears only.

I was reminded of chatter in train compartments when I read a colleague’s piece in which someone was reminiscing a rail ride of yore when co-passengers became friends by the end of a journey. Everyone talked. A lot. With each other. People would strike up conversations without even an invitation to engage.

These days, we wear earplugs in the form of earphones. To shut out the chatter. Maybe it’s a good thing, everyone minds their own business. Or maybe it’s not such a good thing, maybe we are becoming sociopaths… who’s to know?

Whenever I am on a train, I’m neither ear-phoned (I don’t even own a pair, not even to listen to music since I believe the sound of music should emerge from regular speakers and resonate to acoustics — not get trundled into your ears only) nor on my phone (unless I am expecting an urgent WhatsApp message). I generally watch people, observe how everyone is so wrapped in their world of earphones/headphones and smartphones.

The other day, on my way back from work, a group of adults (not to be confused with adolescent boys), suddenly started chatting animatedly. They were (clearly) fresh off a shopping spree at the Mall of the Emirates. They did a post-mortem of their purchases in their lovable Cockney accents, and then went on to discuss an upcoming wedding and how much fun they’d be having.

As their voices amped up and their laughter got more infectious and their hand movements more expressive, a lot of other passengers, I noticed, started looking up from their phones and towards them. Some others who were staring upfront, at nothing in particular, earphones firmly in place, listening to a podcast or a parade of Billboard’s Top 10, got their gaze to train on this group. Who knows, maybe they silenced their ear-bound Bluetooth speakers at the touch of a button…

Was I imagining that a few of them looked slightly fraught with longing, feeling left out from the volubility that had pierced the hush?


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