I think I am going deaf, and if I am not sure, I am reminded of it on a daily basis. ‘Deaf as a doorpost,’ is my wife’s pet phrase when giving me an earful. I’ll take her word for it that doorposts are hard of hearing. My better half is given to histrionic hyperbole, and I suspect there is more than a smidgen of exaggeration to her exasperated expostulation. As you can see, I might be deaf, ‘might’ being the operative word, but I can hold my own with anyone who wishes to engage with me in an alliterative combat. Just this morning, I was in the shower and the water, after a slow start came out in a noisy, powerful jet stream. It is the way with showers – strong and hot one minute, limp and cold the next. While I was wallowing in the pretend waterfall, singing a particularly catchy snatch from West Side Story, I faintly heard my wife shout to me from the en suite bedroom (actually it is the bathroom that is en suite, but you know what I mean). ‘Your bugger is falling, shall I bake it?’ That caught my attention. Well I mean, how do you respond to that? I knew only one way. I had to stop singing Maria in mid-verse, turn off the shower and shout, ‘WHAT?’ After further admonitions pertaining to the efficacy of my auditory canals, I finally understood that what the good lady wife was communicating through my own Niagara Falls was, ‘Your brother is calling, shall I take it?’ By now, the brother had rung off. After further recriminations, I told her not to worry, he is probably calling just to tell me that Nadal lost in the finals at Indian Wells. He is a tennis freak and his hearing is also somewhat impaired. Perhaps the malady is genetic.
Nevertheless, I thought it best to visit an ENT specialist in my neck of the woods, now that the pandemic is in recession, and have him check out if everything was in ship-shape condition as far as my tympanic membrane and the good old ossicles were concerned. Naturally, as is the habit with ear doctors, he fiddled around the innards of my ears with some instruments I couldn’t see, tut-tutted at the amount of accumulated earwax. ‘Gaunt you spleen your peers properly?’ he grunted. I am not sure I liked his tone, but I had to be polite. Also, I could not follow a word he was saying. I was strapped in one of those swivel chairs so favoured by doctors at their clinics. And that set of instruments which I did not get a proper sighter at, sounded ominous. I was helpless. ‘Didn’t quite catch that, Doc. What exactly do you mean by spleen my peers?’
‘Oh dear, this could prove to be more serious than I thought,’ moaned the doctor, looking concerned. Not that I heard it, of course. He then moved close to my left ear and said in a loud voice, ‘I asked if you, as a general rule, clean your ears properly. Nothing to do with spleen or peers.’
‘Why are you shouting, Doc?’, I shouted back. ‘I can hear you perfectly well. I have just returned from an invigorating trip to the Coorg hills (elevation 4000+ feet at its highest point), and the popping in my ears is yet to fully subside, which accounts for the slight hearing deficiency.’
That’s another thing about incipient or advanced deafness. You think the person to whom you are speaking is deaf, so scream at the top of your lungs. Let me hasten to add that all this does not, on my part, admit to any actual problem with my hearing faculties. I speak academically. I was then asked to listen to some bell-like sounds at varying volume levels, with the aid of a pair of ear phones, while a young lady, with a monitor screen in front of her, kept asking me to make a gesture when I could hear the sound no more. I cheated once or twice, pretending to hear sounds when all was silent. At which point she said archly, ‘Sir, the sound has stopped. If you are still hearing things, we may have to deal with some other problem.’ I bashfully admitted to my trying to pull a fast one and was forgiven. ‘Everyone does it,’ she smilingly said, the good sport. Anyhow, the upshot of it all was that while I was not quite in the deaf adder or doorpost category, my hearing capacity was a touch below par, but nothing to worry about at this stage, taking into consideration the ear-popping issue. We paid the extortionate bill and as we were getting into the car, my wife said, ‘It’s betting grate for crunch. Let’s lick up a granbitch on the way.’ I agreed right away. A granbitch for crunch was just what the doctor ordered. Preferably leg and fleece, laced with a dash of custard. If you couldn’t pick that gobbledeygook up, I could recommend a good ENT chap.
That said, if you do have a hearing problem, it is as well to have it taken care of the moment you hear ‘clean’ as ‘spleen.’ That is the warning sign. I am also aware that we are not supposed to address victims of these handicaps as being deaf or blind. Aurally or visually challenged is the accepted, polite terminology. Why something should be addressed employing two words when one is readily available is beyond my understanding. Imagine pulling up a distracted person with an ‘I am shouting at the top of my voice. Are you aurally challenged or what?’ See what I mean? Lacks punch.
I once had the misfortune to be sitting next to a person who was stone deaf and tone deaf at a Carnatic music concert. He was conspicuously sporting a hearing aid, a bilious pink earpiece, but appeared not to have turned it on. Else, it was malfunctioning. Either way, every time the musician essayed a song my aurally challenged neighbour vaguely knew, he would expand his lungs and burst forth to sing along in joyous disharmony. Eyes tightly closed in fervent ecstasy, he was blissfully unaware of hostile rubbernecks and craned heads attempting to shut him up. The collective shush, shush, was to no avail. When I shook his arm and woke him up from his heightened state of nirvana to make him aware of the disturbance he was causing, he turned to me, smiled beatifically and said, in a very loud voice, ‘He is essaying the raga Amritavarshini. Can’t you hear the thunder and lightning? Legend has it that this raga will bring copious rain. Don’t disturb me again, we are trying to listen to the music.’ I wondered how this handicapped music lover could hear thunder when nobody else in the audience heard it. Also, how on earth could a deaf man, or anyone for that matter, ‘hear’ lightning? It was futile to speculate on matters beyond my ken. At which point, I got up and found another seat. Why members of the audience seated nearby were throwing dirty looks at me was a mystery.
It is a matter of puzzlement to me why some ailments or handicaps are viewed with considerable pity and sadness, and rightly so, while others appear to be a matter for risibility. While the terrible affliction of blindness is generally dealt with in a sombre, grave manner, deafness which is the main thrust of my thoughts, provides much scope for a jolly good laugh. To a deaf person, it cannot be funny that he or she is oblivious to most conversations and other normal sounds we experience on a daily basis. It does help that there are professional deaf interpreters who use sign language to allow deaf people to follow what the news reader is saying. Then again, it would be a blessing not to be able to hear all the tripe that is dished out on our news channels. On a relative or comparative scale, one can take the position that, given a choice, deafness would be greatly preferable to blindness. Incidentally, how did the expression ‘blind as a bat’ come about? Bats are perfectly capable of seeing and are preternaturally gifted with sharp night vision. That said, the world continues to treat those hard of hearing as objects of good-natured comedy and the objectionable thing about that is that so many people do not find it objectionable. It has been that way for eons and will likely remain so.
Thus, I continue to wonder if my own issues with hearing are the result of a genuine medical condition, or if it is just that my powers of concentration have tended to wane. What that means is that I can clearly hear what my wife is telling me when she asks me if this month’s electricity bill has been paid. However, the sound of the words emanating from her has not been processed by my grey cells into intelligible meaning. The hearing part is fine, the listening part is dodgy. That is a function of focus and concentration. I am probably deeply ruminating on the likely result of a Test match and missing the finer aspects of the settlement of the electricity bill, resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth and needless references to doorposts and deaf adders. And that is good news. Why? Because it means I am not going deaf. Probably just mildly batty and senile. And given to repeating myself. Phew! What a relief.