Stargazing in the times of Corona

By Soham Mukherjee

My mother and I consider ourselves to be amateur stargazers. Whenever mum sees something weird or unexpected in the night sky, she always reports it to me. I try to explain to her what it is with my extremely limited astro-knowledge. Neither of us actually claim to know or understand much of it. I read, so I’m aware. I would never dare claim erudition.

However, we are both fascinated with what happens in the great beyond. The mysteries of the cosmos that surround us have over time become a sort of bonding experience with my mother. With work, studies, research and a (thankfully continuing) long-term relationship, it would be fair to say that my relationship with my mother had become a distant one. As an Indian man, my relationship with the familial patriarch can be defined by a variety of adjectives, ‘close’ is not one of them. Therefore, it is important to me that my relationship with my mother does not become of a similar nature.

This brings me to the nub of this article – stargazing. Over the last couple of weeks, the Earth sky had been lit up by two back to back meteor showers – the Lyrids and the Eta Aquarids. Stargazers around the world were extremely excited for this period of the year. On the days these meteor showers were expected – the Lyrids a week ago and the Eta Aquarids only yesterday, both mum and I went to the terrace at regular intervals trying to spot them. We managed to see a couple of streaks last week but missed much of it because of what turned out to be an imminent thunderstorm. Last night, my mum excitedly reported to me a streak of white she had seen while having gone to the terrace on some errand. This made me run upstairs and stare heavenwards until my neck hurt. Thankfully, I spotted another streak and immediately ran down to tell mum. This should give you an idea of the excitement that two complete non-entities in the stargazing world feel when they see something amazing.

The sad thing is stargazing isn’t much of a thing in India and is very much declining in popularity in the rest of the world as well. With so much for us to do in the safety and comfort of our bedrooms, we don’t really need, nor want, to venture outside. And now that we are imprisoned inside our rooms on pain of death, and now that the Earth is healing and resetting, we still don’t feel excited by the mysterious goings on in the sky. We will never understand them. These things will always go over our heads – literally. But, I feel there are few things more exciting than seeing the light from the past beam down on us in twinkle dust. And the occasional shooting star… I am not sure I can explain to you how much joy it brings to me – I am desperately trying to.

The lockdown has certainly made it easier to see these phenomena with the naked eye. The skies are clearer. The stars are brighter. Everything seems to be alight in the darkness above us even as we drown in the gloom of earthly existence. It’s important to try to keep it this way and not relapse into the smoggy brown skies of pre-lockdown. For then, even if we are going through terrible times, we can always look up and find hope, inspiration – joy.

I’m not suggesting an infinite lockdown. Some extensive measures to curb pollution will be enough to satisfy me. I don’t ask much: fewer cars on the road, better public transport, greener production processes – I’m sure there are people better qualified than me who could suggest more changes.

These are probably selfish demands. But if we can make this happen, maybe Mother Nature will take pity on us. I have no desire to live longer than I’m supposed to. So it’s not really a health thing that makes me say all this. I just hope that when my children come along they will also experience the joy and the wonder of struggling to understand what goes on in the vacuum of space. And that I’ll be able to share it with them, like my mum does with me.

Soham Mukherjee is an amateur writer who loves football more than most things. His first book, a collection of short stories, was published last year. 

We welcome your articles, stories and poems (in বাংলা and English) at letters@timesofcorona.com and timesofcorona@gmail.com

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