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Designed to hear

Pankaja Srinivasan
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A final year project of Sindhu Thirumalaisamy takesyou on an audio tour of a hospital

Sindhu Thirumalaisamy is 22 years old and has just graduated from the Srishti School of Design in Bangalore where she studied filmmaking. As part of her final year project, she executed an unusual essay, the subject matter of which was hospitals. Sindhu used the techniques of filmmaking to create something that was not quite a film.

“I wanted to record my observations of a hospital through sound. As an observer I began to notice a lot of life movement here, the drama of life being played out,” she says. So what she did was record the sounds of the hospital along with her own comments and observations in Tamil. Sindhu grew up in a medical environment as both her parents are doctors. She spent hours in the hallways of hospitals as she has waited for her parents. It seemed the natural choice for a subject for her project.

Armed with a recorder she toured the public and the not-so-public spaces in the hospital such as the operation theatres, the ICUs, the birthing room, the place where doctors rested between surgeries…She captured the sounds, interspersed them with her own observations and thoughts.

Walk the talk

The finished project lent itself beautifully to an audio tour of the hospital. A pair of headphones and a small book is all that is required to walk the walk. There are photographs in the book of parts of the hospital that are out of bounds for visitors. But with Sindhu’s commentary, you can visualise what those areas must be like.

She tells you a little about the time she spent in this hospital as a kid, waiting for her dad to finish his work and take her out. In the background you hear beeps, squeaks, ringtones, whispers, wheelchairs…She guides you past her dad’s office, up the ramp to the doors of the operation theatre.

From worried voices and whispered conversations on the phone outside the theatre where friends and family of the patient wait anxiously, Sindhu’s voice leads you inside the theatre. Though you are standing outside you can hear the sounds that must be familiar to the doctors and patients inside. There is a beep of machinery, murmur of voices, a drilling sound. She asks you to refer to the book in your hand where there is a photograph of a fracture being fixed. May be, that accounts for the drill. Moving on, one stops outside the birthing room. Excited voices. The newborn baby is being shown off to relatives. Sounds of coochie-cooing and jubilation. Then, her voice becomes sombre, because we are now outside the neo-natal ICU. “Are the mothers are allowed to come and sing to their babies here?” wonders Sindhu.

There are points during the walk where the recorded sounds and the real-time sounds blend. You feel that what you are hearing is actually happening then and there. When Sindhu observes a woman praying and comments, “I hope she gets some good news today,” you turn your head to see that woman. Only then do you realise that you were hearing a recording!

Moving byte

There is a moving sound byte where a family is trying to get through to a young man in a coma. You hear them, coaxing, cajoling and scolding in turns, beseeching him to wake up. You leave those voices behind and, after a pause, you hear the trundling of gurneys.

“A little away in that direction is the morgue,” Sindhu’s voice informs you. You follow her voice past the corridors and into a courtyard that abuts a canteen. “You can have a cup of tea here,” concludes Sindhu.

Sindhu’s audio tour is to be featured in a joint event between Srishthi and Malmo University of Sweden at the Bangalore International Centre called Mediating Modernity in the Twenty First century.

Link to the audio

The hospital we have just toured is the Kovai Medical Center and Hospital.

The hospital plans to incorporate the audio walk in its website, says Sindhu. In the meanwhile for those who are interested, they can listen in at http://www.xindhu.weebly.com/hospital

I wanted to record my observations of a hospital through sound. It is where the drama of life is being played out


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