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Kolkata Soundscapes
 

Conversation with Rahul

 

 For Rahul, the world of sound has a different meaning altogether. Rahul, which sounds help you to identify your city, Kolkata?

Rahul: Let me first talk about my village before speaking about Kolkata. I got admitted to Narendrapur Ramkrishna mission in 1995.I was quite small then. At that time, the surroundings were completely new to me and I did not have any idea about how to walk on the streets and the kind of atmosphere that prevailed in unknown places. For us, it is a process of relating the sound to the smell and the smell to the atmosphere in order to observe a place. For example we can distinguish between different places like Jadavpur, Gariahat, Sealdah, Bardhaman, Howrah or my village Nababnagar by basing our perception on these three things; sound, smell and atmosphere. When I first got admitted to Narendrapur, they taught us that every time our parents or brothers would not be there to hold our hand and help us walk, so we had to be base our senses on these three things in order to distinguish one place from another. We would have classes for this exercise. We would be left in a garden and asked what all sounds we could hear, identify which birds were chirruping. After listening for a long time we could identify the sounds of sparrow, bulbul and parrot and even the fragrance of Rajanigandha or Dalia. We would also be taken to a farm or poultry farm and asked to identify the various types of smell. We would say that a foul smell was prevailing in that place. I stayed there for eleven years (gave my Madhyamik exams from there) and this is how we were taught to examine and identify the myriad of different places. We would even be taken to a factory or outside the gate and asked to recognize the sounds. At that time, I was not able to understand what value those exercises held for me. After passing my higher secondary exams when I got admitted to Jadavpur University in first year it was then when I gradually understood the importance of this. When I arrived at Bardhaman station after my realization for the first time, I remembered my Sir. Sir had told me to keep in mind the sounds and weather of different places. At first, when I arrived at the bus depot, I could smell a strong smell of petrol and felt an air of congestion and a thickly populated place.

 How could you feel this air of congestion?

Rahul: I understood the congestion through the medium of sounds itself.

 And which sounds made you feel the congestion?

Rahul: Buses and cars were coming and going ceaselessly. Inside the buses, people were shouting, “ come have rice, do this, do that”. All this combined created a pandemonium. There were various kinds of smells; the smell of stale rice, smell of petrol and diesel and altogether it created a disgusting ambience. I experienced such an atmosphere for the first time at Bardhaman bus stand. It was a different thing when I arrived at the station. In the station, people were moving around, announcements were being made constantly on the microphone. The sound of trains is quite different from that of buses. Even the hawkers had a different cry over there; they did not call out “come have rice” but were selling ‘jhalmuri’, ‘mihidana’, ‘sitabhog.’ Like this I gradually started recognizing the places: which place had which kinds of sounds. After this when I arrived at Howrah Station, it again a totally different feeling. As long as people were boarding off the trains, the cacophony of sounds persisted. After getting down, within five-ten minutes that place would be left empty. When I came gradually walking towards the subway there was a change in sound. Over there, the racket of human sounds increased, few baskets etc were kept which were being pushed to and fro. There were several cars and coolies. When I came out of the subway and walked towards the ‘E1’ line, that place had a silent and calm atmosphere with the sound of distant vehicles plying. However, the foul smell was still the same that of diesel, stale water, stale rice. Few kids were selling lemon water. After this when I arrived in Jadavpur, there was a different sounds…

 Before that, tell us know about your experience of the journey in E1 bus from Howrah to Jadavpur. When you were traveling though the heart of Kolkata in a bus how did you feel/ hear/ experience the city?

Rahul: In the morning, the sounds of Kolkata cannot be experienced that clearly as…

 They say that the sounds differ from one bus stop to the other…

 

Rahul: Yes, like I said there is a marked difference between the Howrah E1 depot and the Dharmatala depot. Usually at Dharmatala, one cannot stand for a long time. However, the human crowd, the sound of the vehicles or the signal is quite different from that of Gariahat or Jadavpur Thana. At Dharmatala, when the E1 bus is waiting at the signal, the hue and cry of not many a hawker can be heard selling ‘amloki’ or toffees.  After crossing Dharmatala…

 as we are moving towards Jadavpur…

Rahul: As I progress towards Jadavpur, the sounds start to differ. For example, around the Gariahat and Dhakuria area, a new kind of sound can be heard, that of the auto. The sound of the auto cannot be heard in areas like Dharmatala and Park Street. Or the sounds coming from the folk living on the footpaths are not as common in Dharmatala, Park Street as in Gariahat-Golpark region. Thus we see a difference creeping in. It might occur to you that what difference of sound can be found between Sealdah and Gariahat? The persistence of sounds created by the vehicles in Sealdah is much greater than that of Gariahat. As the vehicles roll over Sealdah, the time for which I would be able to hear the sounds of people in Sealdah is much more than that in Gariahat area. Now, as I cross Gariahat and reach the signal of Jadavpur Thana, it is usually common to chance upon a bookseller or ‘amloki’ seller. As the vehicles stop at the Jadavpur signal, a difference can be noted between that signal and the Gariahat signal. While stopping at the signal, it feels like many cars are standing at the same time. This feeling in turn is dependent upon the weather. Let me state another thing, especially for those without vision, is that they can never walk with their ears closed. If theirs ears are shut, they will not be able to walk to any place. As I cross Gariahat and Thana and reach Bengal Lamp, a different kind of smell of various foods is in the air. As now I have become familiar with this, it is easy for me to say that on reaching Bengal Lamp, the sounds of Abhijit Da’s shop running can be heard. The human crowd over there is different.

 How?

Rahul: I need to get down from the bus, as much cannot be experienced from within the bus. As I get down, many boys and girls can be heard who are chatting on the sides of the street. There is a little congestion on the footpaths, not at close quarters but a gap prevails from one point to the other. Like in front of gate 5, there is a bit of congestion, crowded by few girls and boys who sit there and a few small shops. After crossing Gate 5, at Gate 4 there are two shops one after the other and a little further ahead there another shop. Through these symbols we can identify that this place is Bengal Lamp or Gate 4 of our Jadavpur University. Another thing to note is that, there is a bumper in front of Gate 4  which helps us to identify

 that a car bumps suddenly…

Rahul: Yes, exactly. When I enter inside the gate, the atmosphere changes. The outside has an uncomfortable weather, a hot wind blowing always, along with the noise of people and the hubbub of the city always on the run. Whereas inside the university it is much more pleasant and calm..

 There is no hurry…

Rahul: yes, there is no hurry. When you brought me from there to this place, you must have noticed that there was much more noise in the previous place than here. Over here, we can hear a sound like “khot khot dumdam” and nothing more than that. But in the previous place, on top of this “khot khot dumdam” another clamour of voices could be heard like the distant sound of people chatting, the fan moving in an office, the soft/mellow sounds of an exam being held in a classroom, which you can even understand if you try to experience it.