Monday, 4 January 2016

Two days in Delhi

My sixth and final conference speaking engagement was The Smart Green Summit in Delhi. I have to say I was more than a tad apprehensive about speaking on acoustics in India. What could I possibly tell Indians about overcoming noise (pollution)? Delhi was reported by India Today (2012) to have a noise level some 16 times higher than the prescribed limit set by the WHO. So I made few comparisons to outdoor noise levels in London and then moved swiftly on to indoor acoustics.

Surprisingly, the Leesman Index survey showed that satisfaction with indoor noise is on average lower for their Indian respondents than those in the rest of the 100,000 people database. I was expecting cultural differences such that the locals would acclimatise to the higher outdoor noise levels and therefore indoor acoustics would be less of an issue for them. But anecdotally (based on talking to a few conference delegates) I found that whilst there is a high tolerance of outdoor noise levels, due to the hustle and bustle of the overcrowded streets and the constant honking of car horns, the expectation for indoor acoustics is, if anything, much higher. The Indians I met are highly ambitious and their expectation is for their companies to be world leaders in business and their country to be the next economic superpower. As a consequence they expect their office to not just meet but b better than “Western” best practice standards.
The new offices are high-tech; the Indians have leapfrogged redundant technologies that we now cling on to, creating an ambitious, bright and technologically advanced workforce. The conference was also hi-tech and very media savvy. I counted 13 cameramen and all speakers were lined up for several interviews with the local press. The conference set-up and stage was also very professional and very impressive. We plain old speakers were joined on stage by local celebrities, dignitaries and ministers.
The conference organisers were pushing the green agenda with rounds of thought-provoking debates aimed at shifting the zeitgeist to focussing on a sustainable future. But, thanks to human nature, the debate soon returned to local matters such questioning why the government over-charging for parking on the streets of Delhi. When it came to my presentation, I found the delegates very accommodating and genuinely interested. But I did find that questions are usually a ruse for taking the floor and making a mini-speech on a topic of their interest (like overcharging for parking!). I genuinely didn’t expect “questions” to be almost as long as my presentation.
This was my first visit to India, and despite it being just 48 hours I was determined to see outside the airport and conference hotel. The hotel arranged a car for me – a tinted-screen SUV driven by an ancient chauffer in a peaked cap. He asked if I wanted to see “Elderly” or was it “Old Jelly” and it took me a while to realise he meant Old Delhi.  Now that was an assault on the ears and I now know what 16 times the WHO limits actually sound like. Whilst I struggled with the accent I am apparently fluent in understanding the menu. I loved the local cuisine but my fellow delegates complained about how bland it was and prepared for the tourists.
I hope to return one day and for a lot longer. They recorded and posted my whole speech on psychoacoustics – so watch it here. It’s now time to reflect and prepare for this year’s conferences.

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