“Potpourri” is usually used in the context of fragrances, specifically a mixture of fragrances. The origin and meanings of the word are interesting. This week, I share a collection of geographical items with you. Check them out; they’re more interesting than anything you will see in your textbook! Guaranteed! Or your money back! (Terms and conditions apply!)

Also, find out the meanings and origins of the italicized words in this article.

Light pollution

Of the many kinds of pollution, your textbook very likely lists water, air, and soil pollution. There are two other kinds of pollution that your textbook probably does not discuss: (a) visual pollution – examples include the large hoardings on our city streets offering birthday greetings, election candidates begging (for votes), “sad demise” of people (usually local heavyweights), advertisements, etc. that dominate the landscape instead of trees bearing beautiful flowers, leaves, and canopies, hosting diverse urban wildlife (birds and squirrels, for example).

And (b) light pollution. It is not pollution of light, but pollution by light. This is a particularly huge problem for urbanites. It is a bit of a conundrum – we need bright lighting of streets at night so people can move around safely; and to be able to see where they are going! On the other hand, the bright lights upset a lot of the urban wildlife – their circadian rhythm gets messed up because the difference between night and day has become very difficult for them. This is why you have perhaps heard the koel singing at all sorts of odd hours at night in your neighborhood.

Apart from these, light pollution also makes it nearly impossible for us to look at the night sky, gaze upon the stars and planets, and wonder about the physical universe. Why is this important? We must understand how small we are in the scheme of the universe – this should make us humble. We must understand that this “blue dot” in the universe (as the late cosmologist Dr Carl Sagan described Earth many years ago) is tiny and very fragile. This should make us change our lives to make our presence here more benign for the environment and for each other.

Apart from these, light pollution has health impacts on us. How? You can find out by reading this article in Science Advances and this overview article in Scroll.in. You will be amazed at what we are putting ourselves through!

  • How do we solve that conundrum I described earlier? Apply your thought to this question.

Human despair

Human beings are perhaps the only species that wantonly hurt and kill others of their own species. Now consider another human artifice (creation; “artifice” gives us “artificial”) national boundaries. We have, for millennia of our evolution, been very territorial – especially as we became more and more sedentary with the advent of agriculture. So, everyone within “our” boundaries are “us” and “we”; everyone outside are “they” and “them.” We will protect “us” against “them” – the source of many forms of violence against each other. Even within “our” area, we discriminate against each other and inflict violence on each other.

Alas! This violence is ever more inventive! When faced with brutality and inability to change the situation, many people have no choice but to flee to safer places. Unfortunately, these safer places may be in “other countries” – the people of those countries will decide whether to allow those who are fleeing violence (“them”) into their own country. In recent years, there have been vast numbers of migrants seeking safety in other countries.

The countries to which migrants wish to go have many concerns about letting people in. Notice again how the boundary of the country gives us the “in” and “out” concept! These concerns are based on (a) the origin countries of the migrants, and (b) the conditions in the destination country. Not easy issues to deal with.

Here is an interesting infograph that gives you some idea of the refugee crises (“crisis” is singular and pronounced CRY-sis; “crises” is plural and pronounced cry-SEES) in the world. You can see many other such infographs at Statistica and the UNHCR, the agency that deals with worldwide refugee crises.

Now you may understand how complicated this noble ideal is in real life:

He is one of us, he is some other
This division is of mean-minded people
But for those who are generous
The world itself is a family.

इयं मे परो वेति गणना लघुचेतसां |
उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् ||

Based on the links I have given you, try to answer these questions:

  • What are the causes that push people out of their home countries? (These are called “push factors.”)
  • What factors attract them to the countries that they wish to migrate to? (These are called “pull factors.”)
  • How does where you were born, where you live and such geographies shape your identity? For example: Syrian, Egyptian, Afghani, Indian.

Share your answers to the questions I have raised in today’s article by email with me (use the comment box below or the contact us link).

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition, 21 July 2016

Featured image, courtesy UNHCR.

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