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Horn ok: welcome the new year with a bang

On New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight, as party whistles, car horns and firecrackers go off, these city noisemakers have another sound experience

entertainment Updated: Dec 31, 2012 16:58 IST
Sumedha Deo

On New Year’s Eve as the clock counts down to midnight, people all over the world get ready with horns, whistles and fireworks to welcome the New Year with a bang — literally. The tradition dates back centuries, when revellers would make loud sounds, and church bells would toll to scare away evil spirits, or so the custom goes, to start the next year with a clean slate. We speak to four Mumbaikars who’ve taken part in this ritual, albeit with a difference, about their experiences.

M Chatterjee, Motorman in the Western Railway

As motormen, we don’t like blowing the train’s whistle as it usually precedes an accident, like someone crossing the tracks. We consider that it brings ill luck, so we avoid doing it as much as possible. But on New Year’s Eve, it’s a completely different matter because we blow the whistle to welcome the new year.

In 2007, I was on duty at midnight and the train had stopped at a red signal. Suddenly, I could hear loud cheers and firecrackers from the surrounding buildings. Even then, it didn’t strike me that it was 12 o’clock. Then my wife called to wish me, and when I saw her name on my cellphone, it clicked. I started blowing the whistle and even yelled ‘happy new year’ and some passengers yelled it back at me from the compartment behind.
(name changed on request)

Captain Anil Sharma, merchant navy officer

On long sails, especially cross-Pacific, sailors tend to get bored and so we organise a big New Year’s party. According to tradition, the youngest crewmember climbs up on to the forecastle (upper deck on the foremast) and rings the bell to welcome the New Year.

Some years ago, we’d even blast off warning flares in celebration — this also served to use up the old ones and teach young sailors how to use them — but that tradition is not followed anymore due to piracy. On a ship, we welcome the next year according to whichever time zone the ship is in, not a standard time like the GMT.

My most memorable experience was during 1999, when the Y2K year was around and I was worried for my ship’s equipment. Some of the tools stopped for a bit at
midnight but then started working again, so my celebrations were magnified.

P Ghadi, fireman with the Mumbai Fire Brigade
As firemen, we deal with a lot of tragedy around the year — from rescuing people from a fire and breaking down doors, to digging out bodies from collapsed buildings. So a celebration has the whole station in a good mood.

The siren at the station was initially installed to signal air raids, and we used to test it at 9 am every morning, but that practice is not followed anymore. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, we sound the siren in celebration of the upcoming year. It is also followed by fireworks at many stations. Some years ago, I was on duty when midnight struck and we simultaneously got a call to douse a fire. I remember rushing to grab my gear and blowing the horn while getting dressed. We left just as the clock struck 12, but I managed to say hello to the New Year.
(name changed on request)

V Raju, Commander in the Indian navy
Ships are ordered to blow their fog horns at midnight, and even those at docks do the same. The first year that I started sailing, I was on watch during New Year’s
Eve and was very irritated that I couldn’t go partying with my friends. So, as a minor revenge, I blew the whistle for a couple of minutes longer than required. My commanding officer was very angry and I got a sounding off the next morning, but it was worth the fun.

A couple of decades ago, we used to have a ball on ships to celebrate the evening and that would be the only time we had girls in gowns on board, so the off icerswould be scrubbed and on their best behaviour. However, for safety reasons, these balls have been discontinued.
(name changed on request)