Horn Do: A Sonic Flâneur in North Kolkata

Rath, Richard Cullen
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University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies
Since 1994, I have made periodic trips to North Kolkata, and recorded bits and pieces of the soundscape of the neighborhoods and streets: strolling chai wallas, bus conductors, chow mein sizzling on a griddle rhythmically punctuated by the clang of the spatula, weddings and pujas, and the ever present din of horns and bells from every form of locomotion imaginable, all trying to pass. I will present my understanding of this rich soundscape for the purpose of discussion, using it as the grounds for framing the somewhat new and burgeoning fields of sound studies and sensory history to show their pertinence to South Asian studies by opening our understanding of urban space beyond the visual. The ocularcentrism of the academy occludes as much as it reveals about the organization of social relations in this setting, and opening the ears reveals a rich order, perhaps a grammar, to the neighborhood. I approach the subject as an embedded outsider and will use clips from my recordings to present. Perhaps because of a habit of keen listening and a fascination with the sonic in history and everyday life, and perhaps because of my displacement from my linguistic comfort zone, the usual sensory filters are dislocated. I argue that this is not necessarily a problem because the sounds that are normally filtered out and that usually pass unnoticed often resonate with social meaning and a sense of place.
Rath, Richard Cullen, "Horn Do: A Sonic Flâneur in North Kolkata." Paper presented at the Center for South Asian Studies 30th Annual Symposium, "Sensing South Asia," April 17-19, 2013.
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