Saturday, July 28, 2007

On seasons and landscapes

The weather is the first thing and often the only thing we find to start routine conversation and smalltalk. The climate at Los Angeles is the one thing both family and friends keep talking about (and finding some degree of relief in!) whenever the subject of my graduate studies in the University of Southern California comes up.

The cycle of the seasons is not just a conversational staple, but has also been a perennially favourite literary setting for Sanskrit poets, most famously in Kalidasa's Ritu Samhara. Six seasons are masterfully used to lend vivid colours of life and nuanced hues of human nature into the poems. Haiku, the well-known Japanese poetic form has a reference to the prevailing season as a distinguishing feature. Even in modern-day language, idioms related to the seasons are in common usage. We speak of cloudy skies and clear skies; speak of our life's spring and our autumn years; and counsel ourselves to savour the sunshine as well as save for the rainy day.

Tamil Sangam literature uses the setting of five landscapes instead: the woodlands, the highlands, farmlands, the coastlands and wastelands. It is not just the flora and fauna of these sceneries that are used to supply imagery and set the stage, but the landscape is seen as a living reality shaping and being shaped by human activity; and representing the human condition in its variegated forms. Again in modern day usage, landscape-related idioms abound. We may plough lonely furrows, face uphill climbs or be lost in the woods, be totally at sea or chase mirages.

Along with the weather and the surrounding sceneries, the modern day air-traveller must also suit himself to the time of the day in a distant land which overrides his bodily rhythms. Submission to nature's cycles is involuntary, for in the words of the Taoist masters ' Human beings adapt themselves to the Earth and Earth adapts itself to the Heaven above.' Jet-lag is nature's way of asserting its own reality over individual custom. Speaking of my first real flight across space and time (well, continents and timezones), the title I have picked up for reading on board is 'The Best of Ruskin Bond'. Incidentally, the themes this acclaimed author is best known for, are sceneries and seasons.

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