Life is full of geography. If you have read any of my articles so far, you will understand why I say that. I am in the process of transitioning to a new geography, myself. I thought I would share a few thoughts on this with you today.
I have always been a city person. Rural life has always been only a part of very limited experience … visiting my grandparents’ village in Tiruchchirapalli.
I was a kid then. I loved visiting there because there was so much greenery and the Kaveri river was less than a kilometre away. Several trains used to pass by and I would run to the level crossing gate when I heard the distant whistle of the steam engine.
I use “smell-scape” to mean the landscape that is associated with particular smells.
In the rather small urban areas where I lived in the USA, for example, the kinds of smell-scapes I experienced were of gasoline exhaust in the streets, the slightly musty smells inside buildings with artificial ventilation, and the mild aromas of food being prepared in restaurants.
In India, the urban smell-scape is dominated by the diesel fumes of the many vehicles, tobacco smoke (cigarettes, beedies, etc. each more obnoxious than the other), and the aromas of cooking from neighbors’ houses (uppuma, rasam, fish, a lot of ginger and garlic aromas).
The aromas of the kitchen where my grandmother and aunt used to cook meals in the village, pretty much the whole day, is a strong part of the recollected smell-scape of my childhood. To this day, when I smell a particular kind of smoke, it immediately takes me back to my grandparents’ house and all the other associated smells of the place.
My sound-scapes are no less important to my experience of places.
In the USA, the small towns where I lived were rather quiet. It was extremely rare to hear a horn tooting on the road. People spoke very softly. Well, most did. Only on warm days did I hear loud music blaring from car stereos – people drove with the windows open. Of course, the music was almost exclusively non-classical American music.
Somehow, anyone listening to classical western music was always associated with a certain reticence – they tended to play their music not so loudly.
In my car, I had a six-speaker stereo surround sound system. Hey, don’t judge me!
Whenever I drove, I used to listen to something or other. If it was the radio, it was news and discussion shows on National Public Radio (you can listen to these on the net.
If I wanted music, it was usually either Dr M Balamuralikrishna or Dr M S Subbulakshmi . I used to play these just loudly enough for me to listen to, if the windows of my car were open. However, my car windows were not often open when I drove, due to the climates of the places where I lived. In those instances it was a private Karnataka sangītam concert inside my car at fairly high volume! South Indian classical music, inside a moving car, in the streets of small-town USA. Or on the highways.
In India, you are already familiar with the sound-scapes of urban areas. The non-stop honking, loud engines, people speaking loudly, autorickshaws without silencers, and so on.
How do we cope with this? One very obvious way is to wear ear-phones/ear-buds, plugged to our smart phone, and listen to our favorite music. We find ways to shut out a major part of the sound-scape.
For a few years now, I had felt that I wanted to move away from Bengaluru’s urban environment with all its pluses and minuses, and live somewhere quieter.
So, a few days ago, I moved to a rural area, to a farm house. Here, I have begun the process of acclimating (or acclimatizing) to the sound-scapes, smell-scapes, etc. of a farm.
During the early morning hours, I get a whiff of the cattle shed. During the other parts of the day, various other smells kind of waft past. Very rarely do I hear human voices – loud or otherwise. I hear a lot of birds around – of course, it’s a farm with lots of vegetation for them to move about in.
I have neighbors, but their house is about 50 metres away. I can’t smell what they are cooking. Unless I am in their house.
The nearest shops are about 4 km away!
I cannot entertain any whims in going to town, it is a good 10+ km away. “Oh, I don’t feel like cooking dinner today. Let me just pop over a favorite restaurant and eat idlis.” – this is no longer possible. Trips to town have to be planned and paced out.
My urban non-human acquaintances were dogs (both strays and pets), stray cats, and the rare encounter with a rat.
At this farm, I have a small menagerie of acquaintances.
Snoopy, who doesn’t mind you visiting the home. But he does mind you leaving and he lets you know quite vocally and in very strong terms.
Jello is a fanatical fetcher. She always picks up the nearest roundish object she can find (often it is an unripe fig or a tiny coconut that has prematurely fallen from the tree) and brings it to you. She drops it at your feet and expects you to know what to do next – throw it, so she can bound after it and bring it back only for the process to continue.
Jimmy, the free spirit is a romantic at heart. He is just joyous and bounds around all over.
There are horses, cows, four peacocks with attitude issues, two cats (of course, with attitude issues), several goats of varying ages (and extremely cute kids), a few horses, and poultry with no sense of when to and when not to crow!
I am slowly getting used to this new environment. When you return from your summer holidays, I’ll share more with you.
Things you can do:
In this article, I have included examples of at least the following geography concepts. For each concept, list the examples from the article. Note that an example may fit in more than one category:
- Site features – the natural and cultural content of a place.
- Situation features – how a place is connected to other places.
- Relative location – location of places in relation to other places. (Absolute location is the latitude and longitude of a place.)
- Types of location – here, I have talked about urban and rural locations.
- Evocation of place – the associations with places that come to mind through the various senses (sight, touch, sound, smell, relationships with people and animals, etc.)
- How a place becomes a home (it’s all about relationships that we like).
A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 27 February 2019.