The Sense of Hearing

Some time ago I read this beautiful book, by Stephen Kuusisto. He is blind, and writes about “learning to savour the world by ear.” This brings to mind the moments that enrapture me every morning. My day starts early in the morning at five o’clock. It is still dark then and I like it that way. The quietness is soothing to the mind. As I do my yoga exercises, the dark turns to light. This transforming moment is called ‘Arunodaya’ in our country. The silence is filled with the chirping of the early birds. They call out to each other and I can hear them from different directions. I wonder what they are speaking about. It is a good way to begin the day.

Coming back to Eavesdropping, the author writes about his childhood, and how he learnt to hear everything around him. This book is about the art of listening. These days I see so many people walking about with their ears plugged, listening to music on their gadgets. I wonder if they ever pause to listen to the sounds of nature. I remember that some time ago a fellow-blogger wrote about hearing a bird-call. It is significant that everybody thought this was the ring tone of mobile phones!

I am now reading a fascinating book called ‘A Sense of the World’ by Jason Roberts. It is the biography of James Holman, an Englishman who was one of the greatest travellers of his times. He was blind. Roberts writes, “Holman began to use his ears not only to read people but to read the landscape. In this he was unusual, for while sound is crucial to the orientation of all blind, it rarely becomes the primary compensatory sense. Conventionally trained blind were (and still are) taught to rely most heavily on the sense of touch.” Holman was indeed an exceptional person, and his sense of hearing helped him to realize his dreams.

It is afternoon. As I am writing this I can hear some birds calling to each other in the distance. There is a lot of twittering going on (please don’t mistake this for social media chatter). Some are talking non-stop, while others are letting out only a single chirp. Near at hand the bulbuls have come eat the chapati pieces that we offer them. We put the food there in the morning for the birds and squirrels. Sometimes the birds do not come, and the pieces of chapati become crisp in the sun. Now I can hear the sharp crunching sound as the birds eat them.

Holman writes thus about the blind person’s sense of hearing: “Others hear, but not as do the blind. He concentrates his very soul while he listens, and can detect the slightest variations, the finest fractional point of tone … they tell minutely all the alteration of welcome, of regard, of coldness, pleasure, pain, joy, reproof, and all that fill the measure of his misery or his mirth.”

A Sense of the World | Jason Roberts [.net]

These pages are devoted to the extraordinary James Holman, and to the bestselling biography of this nearly-forgotten man: A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler, by Jason Roberts.

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9 Replies to “The Sense of Hearing”

  1. You are right that we don’t listen to the world enough. I get up first in our house and I watch the birds on the bird table. So often they appear to talk to each other, using the same sounds again and again. One day I’ll learn to talk with them!

  2. As always, your writing strikes a chord with me; this piece especially, for obvious reasons. On the days when I have traveled my neighborhood with eyes closed to rest them, the city has come to life in ways that seeing cannot capture. It is astounding and beautiful.

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