Monday, July 20, 2015

The Night Sky Manual





Every weekend I returned from college, the four of us - mother, my two sisters and I, we had a little ritual. We had dinner under the open skies on the terrace of our home in Kerala. The typical city dweller might awe at this experience, but this was a regular for us. The beauty of most homes in Kerala is that there is space left around the home for plants, coconut trees, mango trees, teak & then quite a bit of strolling space. After dinner, we sat up a little later into the night, after keeping only the necessary lights on about the house, and lay down on the terrace together to star gaze and marvel at the night sky.

Mom was the child in our family of 5, she still is. It was Mom, who like a fascinated child would ask a naive question like - ‘What lies beyond these stars?’. My sisters had & still have an aversion to the philosophical and were always the last to engage. It was then left to Mom & I to argue out our versions. Quite predictably, I approached the question scientifically, and Mom would direct the discussion towards to God and say "It is God that lies beyond all this. He made us and send us here!". Easy said, but who could not be swayed by the beauty of the splendidly clear night sky and find themselves in a haste to simplify the answer to God’s paint brush? It allowed so much more time to absorb the enormity of all this bling. How do I be more like mom & less analytical about existence?

When I look at the sky, the first thought that pops in my head is ‘The Big Bang theory’ – to explain the dispersed nature of everything in the sky, by extension somehow then to the show ‘The Big Bang theory’ &  Sheldon Cooper. Then it raced into ‘the Doppler’s effect’ – to explain the shifting of wavelengths of components of the lights spectrum, trying to understand what I could be seeing was really Red or Green. While at it now, I even went further to the most obvious extensions: time travel & parallel dimensions, and wondered if I could time travel & erase some blunders of old times or what myself in a parallel dimension would be doing now. As you see the journey was not as easy as I imagined. But finally, the poet in me wakes up!

A bright and dimpled moon, almost Ujala *safedi*, shines intently through a clear bluish black carpet strewn with the brightest & most eagerly twinkling stars. When I look at the moon, of all the stories of a Rabbit in the moon et al, I always think of a dignified aristocrat posing for a portrait that goes up the walls of a duke’s home. There is also this beauty in the idea of the moon, a singular highly committed object that revolves around another in a symbiotic relationship, one that keeps each other in check. Although I could cheese this up by saying, the moon reminded me of my girlfriend, at that point, and her beauty, I feel that’s the most lackadaisical & uninspiring  metaphor for describing either’s beauty. Who does that? {rhetoric, don’t answer that}

Orion, Ursa Major, Pisces & others that stand out and not requiring any optical instruments to observe & identify. The milky way unambiguously splitting the bluish black sky in half, as if a sword had slit a door to another world. To get a good view of the milky way without time lapse lenses, you would have to lay down for a while & get your eyes adjusted. Then a question arises in me, is there not glory in this creation, and if there is then why does the creator not rise to claim this magnificence? I would have just stood at Times Square with a placard with a billboard running at the back, saying ‘I did this!’. Someone chooses to be extremely humble towards their creation or considers us irrelevant to his presence. Who gives a damn, I then think!

They came, they were wished upon and they just faded away. Do wishes really come true? I am too
much of a cynic now to understand the nature of this naivety, but I do my share of wishes even now - habits. I feel they are really calming. Whenever these little meteors or shooting stars spark, for the bare milliseconds they were visible, there is this rush of a childlike animation inside of me, a quick rush of hope. Hopeful as they sound, these little morsels, remnants of the creators refinement of the world, are a deceptive bunch. You would expect them on a tough day and they never turn up. But that’s the beauty of the night sky, the window to a world infinitely more beautiful than the speck of dust that we ignorantly reside upon.

I thank my mother & her naivety to show me that there could be humility in ignorance to be able to just observe, humility in giving up to learn more, humility in acceptance of a larger force that drives our existence. The night sky is my measure of sanity, my totem[1]. And thanks to my Dad, who toiled to ensure a beautiful home & thus our basic naked-eye observatory, our terrace is a humble but immeasurably valuable boon and one of my lives most treasured belongings.


This piece has been 6 years in the writing and what it took to complete was a simple vacation.

[1] totem: a natural object or animal that is believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and that is adopted by it as an emblem.

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