It’s a running joke among my friends and it’s difficult to stop them laughing mercilessly about it, especially when life loads the dice in their favour. The thing is, there is this idea — not at all outlandish — that a writer needs quiet in order to write. Wherefore, in the West, we have the image of retreats deep into countryside; the cottage on the remote coastal cliff; the dacha away from the main mansion where the landowner/scribe can forge his or her deathless prose to the rhythm of the soft fall of snow; the shed at the end of the garden, the garden itself being in some far rural place; the perch on top of a very high building somewhere, where the sound falls away, its fingernails ripping as it tries to climb up; or, closer to home, the houseboat on the silent river, or the hut in a village without electricity, where the hurricane lantern provides light and hiss to accompany the buzz of night insects and the scratch of the immortal kalam on rough paper, and so on. All this is fine, a bit exaggerated perhaps, perhaps a cliché riding on a cliché, like those photos you see of dolphins of diminishing size piggybacking on each other. What I do know is that writer friends of mine somehow manage to do the necessary jugaad, somehow find the necessary bubble of reduced noise in which their own voices can speak or sing onto the page or screen without interference. This is true of my friends but, sadly, not of me. The noise begins at home In Calcutta, where I do most of my writing, I live surrounded by ugly cliffs and canyons of concrete. I have a nice chair and desk, my laptop, Anglepoise lamp, headphones and air conditioner. However, none of this really stops the noise. I live right by one of the city’s big road crossings, a nodal point where the loudest traffic in the world is amplified by the presence of a flyover that traps and then blasts the horn and engine noise. If that is not enough, I am surrounded by the aural reports of constant construction, or rather, constant redecoration. The far wealthier people who live around me like their marble; they don’t like the marble chosen by the wealthy people who previously owned the four-bedroom flat they’ve just bought. Therefore, first there is the sound of the old marble being ripped out, and the perfectly good Rajasthani slabs being carried away, before the new Italian marble arrives and needs to be installed and polished. In the meantime, someone in the next building is getting their bathroom redone — again leading to a fortnight-long argument between marble and polishing machine. When there is a hot weather hiatus in all this, and I start to feel the silent throb of hope in my battered being, the martinet secretary of the building next door obtains money at gun point from all the flat-owners and begins his grand project of creating a stone driveway with inlay work just below my window.