When we last saw our friend, he was aboard another “jumbo jet” (a Boeing 747 aircraft), a marvel of a machine at the time. Destination: John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, New York. (A city they loved so much that they named it twice, according to a popular song.)
New Year’s Day, 1982
The queue to board the aircraft was understandably short. It was New Year’s Day and people were probably still recovering from whichever New Year’s Eve party they might have attended.
By now, our friend was a ‘seasoned traveler’, having experienced several take-offs and landings; soared under, in, and above the clouds; having figured out different foods served aboard the aircraft … But one item he was yet to figure out: that red disc he tried to chew but couldn’t quite get it to where he could swallow it. It still struck him as gross.
This is the nature of a first-time migration. The migrant confronts many unfamiliar elements on their journey. It was especially true of the times, when India was a ‘socialist’ country and the average Indian rarely consumed anything ‘imported.’
Images and information
Images of life in other countries were rare to find. Television was only just beginning to be available. It was only Doordarshan, and only for a few hours a day. The picture had a bluish tinge, it was not ‘black and white’ TV. Very few people had a TV at home. So, even when foreign scenes were shown, not many people got to watch it.
Therefore, the spatial interaction between India and other countries was not visible to us, although it did happen.
India was a ‘socialist’ country … the government controlled much of the economy. This meant that access to imports of any kind was highly restricted. Our friend’s impressions of foreign countries, chiefly the USA, were from movies he saw. These were also highly censored to keep out ‘inappropriate’ content. Nevertheless, he had vague ideas of what might await him when he arrived in the USA.
Apart from films, his impressions of the USA were formed from comic books, especially the Archie series, and from novels by authors such as Erle Stanley Gardner.
So, there were enormous gaps in his knowledge of the world he was flying into. In retrospect, he looks at these recollected landscapes with a different eye. Now, the view of these landscapes is full of wonder, amusement, and potential pitfalls. However, invariably, they are full of learning.
Now, however, the economic, political, and cultural geography of the world is very different. Places are not static, unchanging. They are dynamic and change over time. This is because places are not just locations. The humans who live them change the way they interact with the places. Nature also influences places. Spatial interaction is much greater. Goods, images, and information from practically anywhere in the world are readily available to us.
We are able to get live images on TV of events in far-off places even as they unfold. The internet has made a large world of information (and mis-information) available to us. We can buy imported goods in the open market now (if we can afford the money).
Many people sport the latest fashions from abroad, are ardent fans of the films and writings from overseas, they can find out information about any place with a few clicks of the mouse – all these constitute cultural consumption.
Thus, a first-time migrant today faces a very different kind of journey when they take-off for distant places.
Back to our friend now aboard the gigantic bird carrying very few passengers.
He has been traversing many longitudes and the jet lag is making him very sleepy. When we leave a place where we have gotten accustomed to the local time and move rapidly through longitudes going east or west, our bodies continue to function on the daily rhythm of the place we left. That is the clock the body has become attuned to.
When it is night at the place of origin, the body wants to sleep and let the brain and muscles rest, let damaged cells repair themselves, etc. The body feels hungry when it is mealtime in the place of origin. All this happens because the body does not get a chance to acclimate to the longitudes it is passing through.
So, our friend was very tired through much of the flight. He piled up three pillows, got himself two blankets, put up the arm-rests of the four seats in the middle of the cabin, and slept. From time to time, the flight attendants woke him to feed him. He had only a dim idea of what he was consuming. He tried to spend some time looking out the window. Not very entertaining.
Eventually, at about 4 pm or so, on 1 January 1982, our friend arrived in JFK, the airport code for the John F Kennedy International Airport, in New York city.
Every airport in the world has a set of letters by which it is known. These ‘airport codes’ are a short-hand that aviation officials use to identify airports.
Interactive map with location of John F Kennedy International Airport
- Spatial interaction is a geography term used to describe how places interact. How are some of the ways in which places interact?
- “He tried to spend some time looking out the window. Not very entertaining.” What geographic reasons can you give for our friend’s experience?
- How is the internet shaping our view of places? Is it all accurate and useful or is there any distortion and misinformation? How do you know which is which?
- Find out the airport codes for any 15 places. But choose the places such that they are a mix of large and small places. Arrange the list in a hierarchy of places … from large to small or from small to large.
An earlier version of this essay appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition.
Featured image: JFK International airport, Queens, NY, USA. [Source: Wikimedia]