Recollecting landscapes is a part of our geographical story. Those memories often influence our personal development in both tangible and intangible ways. The effects of ‘geographical nostalgia’ can range from the delightful to the dreadful.

Landscapes

A landscape is a part of the environment that we are particularly interested in for whatever reason. It may be part of an environment in which we may have lived, may live now, or may live in the future. It may contain many visual elements. Some of these may be natural, such as the topography (topos = surface; graphy = description) – the undulations (ups and downs) of the surface … hills, valleys, waterways, etc. Other elements may be cultural (human-made), such as roads, railway lines, buildings, drainage canals, etc.

Where humans settle, we have settlements. Settlements are clearly a part of the cultural elements of a place. They do depend on the local natural features (i.e., natural landscapes) but they also modify the natural landscapes to suit the preferences of that human population.

All this leads to very complex interactions between human beings and their environment.

WhatsApp

This app is an absolute annoyance as well as a great tool of communication. Particularly as a way of sharing what I call landscape nostalgia – sentimental recollection of landscapes.

Recently, I received a forward on WhatsApp nostalgically recalling the landscapes of Basavanagudi area of Bengaluru as it existed in the 1950s–1960s. Quick! Without using a pencil/pen and paper, or calculator, calculate how old you were then. Ha! Got you, didn’t I?

I am all for nostalgia of certain kinds. However, one particular brand of nostalgia irritates me no end. The type that says, “Back in the Good Old Days, it was all so nice! Nowadays, it’s gone to the dogs, I say!”

Is landscape nostalgia good or bad? As with life, there is no one simple answer except to say, “Well, it depends …”

Nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. It’s a kind of aching to return to a place of happiness. (dictionary.com)

Therein lies a problem.

Not all memories of earlier landscapes are nostalgic. Landscapes are complex mixtures of different emotions and experiences.

Even in your own life, you can probably recall places that brought about great joy to you. Perhaps a place where got to play with a little puppy or kitten for the first time. The place where you made a friendship that you cherish even now. Places where you felt safe and cherished. Places that you first explored after you learned to ride your bicycle without any trainer wheels. Or places where you felt excited about something.

These are nostalgic landscapes, if you are able to recollect those ‘positive’ feelings when you remember those places. And times, too. Life is both geography and history!

A collection of those places in your mental map makes up parts of a nostalgic landscape because those places outside of you are now inside of you for various reasons. These landscapes are part of the geographies of your stories.

Non-nostalgia!

But there are other parts of the landscape that bring back painful memories. Some of these might be memories you would rather forget, but can’t! These are not nostalgic landscapes.

I still remember exact locations of where:

  • I fell off my bicycle the first time and hurt myself.
  • I was bullied by a group of older stronger boys.
  • I was threatened by street dogs.
  • I almost stepped on a snake crossing my path (I didn’t step on it, because some passerby shouted at me to stop).
  • The last time I saw one of my brothers riding pillion on a friend’s Jawa motorbike, waving at me as he went by (he died of an accident later that day).

These are all parts of my landscapes of fear, pain, and other ‘negative’ feelings. Even now, when I think of those places, I actually re-live the feelings of those times (history) at those places (geography).

These, too, are geographies of our stories.

Mental maps

Mental maps are a part of our recollected geographies. (Mental maps can also come from our imaginations, mind you; e.g.: from reading fiction.)

Mental maps are within us and give meanings to the elements (e.g.: the natural and cultural elements that I mentioned earlier) in our personal landscapes. Mental maps hold the emotions that we associate with particular landscapes. A printed map or a digital map, outside of us, will never be able to convey what we felt or feel!

You and I may see the same map of an area (in print or on Google maps or whatever), but it may mean different things to you and me.

Emotion map of Vidyagyan School, Sitapur. Courtesy: Kritika, and Ashutosh Rana, students of Vidyagyan School, presented at International Geography Youth Summit – 2016.
Click on the image to see a larger version in a new tab.

Explore:

With one or more friends of your neighborhood, on an A4 sheet, prepare a sketch map (i.e., a map that is not to scale) of a part of your neighborhood that you all agree upon. Each of you draws his/her own map.

For this, you might want to walk around your neighborhood and sketch the details on your sheet: roads, different kinds of buildings, ups and downs, sewage canals, and so on. Before you set out on this, get permission from your parents or care-givers and get an adult to accompany you for your safety. You might get so engrossed in your mapping that you may not pay attention to traffic and other hazards!

After you are done with the mapping, identify the different emotions that different elements on your map evoke in you. You can choose any list of feelings: nothing, happiness, fear, disgust, etc. You can use our own cultural framework to identify and map your feelings:

  1. Shrngaaram: Romance, Love, attractiveness.
  2. Haasyam: Laughter, mirth, comedy.
  3. Raudram: Fury.
  4. Kaarunyam: Compassion, mercy.
  5. Beebhatsam: Disgust, aversion.
  6. Bhayaanakam: Horror, terror.
  7. Veeram: Heroism.
  8. Adbhutam: Wonder, amazement.
  9. Shaantam. Peacefulness, tranquility.  [Source]

Join us for the 6th International Geography Youth Summit, IGYS-2020,
24-26 July 2020, Bengaluru

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 11 December 2019

Featured image: Kathakali – adbhutam. [Source; accessed 11 Dec. 2019.]

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