Govindpuri Sound

Presenter and Producer: Tom Rice

A sonic journey into a Delhi slum. What can we learn by listening to the slum soundscape?

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Tx: 1st February 2015 BBC World Service. Chosen for Radio 4’s Pick of the Week, a selection of the best radio from across the BBC. You can listen to the whole programme by clicking here

Slum settlements have a strong visual identity. We are used to seeing TV footage of densely packed, ramshackle homes squeezed onto strips of land in inner cities. But what does a slum sound like and how do sounds embody and reflect the local culture?

Dr Tom Rice, a sound anthropologist, meets up with Dr Tripta Chandola, an urban researcher who for ten years has studied the slums of Govindpuri in India’s capital, Delhi. Tripta introduces us to the settlement and some of its residents. We listen to the slum through their ears as they explain how music, sound and noise are part of the fabric of their daily social and emotional lives. Residents describe the sonic features of the slums, such as the early morning rush for water, a limited and precious resource in the settlement. Sounds travel easily through the narrow, built up lanes and the density of the population means both sounds and listening ears are everywhere. The lanes of Govindpuri often come alive with greetings, gossip, songs, children playing and sonic fragments from radios and TVs: together they underline the strongly communal nature of the settlement and lend it a distinctive sonic identity.

The rich and varied soundscape can create an exciting buzz of activity and warm sociability, but we learn how certain sounds can also be a source of friction, emphasizing sharp social divisions along the lines of religion, class and gender. Govindpuri doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the programme explores links between the sounds of the slums and the wider soundscape of Delhi. It also examines a growing threat to the slums that means its vibrant sonic culture may soon be silenced forever.