Thursday, Jan 26, 2023

The lament of a train traveller: If you can afford a smartphone, you can afford a pair of earphones

Why should co-passengers be subjected to the noises from action films and bad songs while travelling?

"At airports or bus stops, on a flight or on buses, while waiting at public offices, at railway stations, on trains — at every possible place that people think of as their own property, one’s patience is put to the test by this mobile-video mania," writes Yamini Nair

On board the Bangalore-Chennai double-decker train a couple of months ago — a journey I was excited for, having not had the opportunity for over two years — I was all eyes as I occupied the window seat in the AC chair car.

I waited for the noise and movement of people inside the coach to settle to immerse myself in the innumerable sights and lives that run past like a movie reel.

That was when an old Tamil film song came interrupting. On inspection, I noticed the source of the noise was a mobile phone belonging to an elderly gentleman on the aisle seat of the same row as mine. Initially, I thought it was his caller tune. As the song went on, I looked at the person on the second seat to my left. He was also watching videos of old Tamil hits on his phone, enjoying himself thoroughly, nodding his head, waving his right hand like a music maestro leading a choir.

I looked at the respectable gentleman again and felt it would be rude to tell him to use earphones. I waited as three or four more songs played on. He was clearly in no mood to stop.

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Swallowing my annoyance, I asked him politely, “Excuse me, sir. Could you use earphones, please?”

He looked at me, bewildered and said, “I don’t have any”, with a “what-nonsense-are-you-talking-about” look. Holding back, I requested he lower the volume and he obliged.

Even more recently, on a flight from Srinagar to Delhi, a woman playing a video loudly for her son — around two to three years old — was seated next to me. When I requested she lower the volume, she said, “Bacche hain, nahin manenge” (“Kids won’t listen”). This was apart from allowing the child to jump on the seats with his shoes on, pull out things from the seat pocket and throw them around along with napkins and food crumbs, as she sat taking selfies.


These are not rare incidents while travelling these days. And not everyone is as obliging as the elderly gentleman. As if the presence of co-passengers snoring loud as their heads shuttled between their shoulders wasn’t enough!

At airports or bus stops, on a flight or on buses, while waiting at public offices, at railway stations, on trains — at every possible place that people think of as their own property, one’s patience is put to the test by this mobile-video mania.

Gen X, Y and Z, often eager to make their grandparents and toddlers e-literate, should also teach them mobile etiquette. You may have the world on your mobile phones but it’s important to remember that the world is not just yours. Others need their space, too! I speak for everyone who is tortured in public places by the noise from other people’s mobile phones.


I may not be in the mood to listen to blaring bhajans when I am exhausted, returning from a hectic trip, or battling a sleeplessness-induced headache. When inside a train after chasing another and missing it, I don’t want to listen to the dialogue and sound effects of an action movie. On board an early morning flight, without a wink of sleep in my system, after a long work day, I could sue a person playing cartoon videos to silence their fussy child, while they themselves enjoy loud conversations with co-passengers.

I wouldn’t play my favourite video out loud even on a private jet with just my staff. I do not see any reason to insist that others should listen to what I like! It is like telling your co-passengers, “you can’t sleep now”, “you can’t read now” or “you can’t think now”; “just listen to what I’m watching”. People who can afford a smartphone can well afford a pair of earphones.

Authorities should bring in laws and ensure their implementation strictly to penalise those who encroach upon others’ mind space with a mobile phone. We should make earphones mandatory while using mobile phones in public spaces. Booster shots for Covid-19 can wait; treat the mobile-video mania as a national nuisance and end the cacophony.

First published on: 27-11-2022 at 12:00 IST
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