The morning sky

A couple of months ago, my wife and I took the kids to the Nehru Planetarium. They have an astronomical (both literally and metaphorically) one-hour digitally immersive show, which gives us an insight into our solar system. I don’t know what my children aged 3 and 5 learned, but at age 38, it dawned (pun intended) on me that the sun wasn’t the biggest star in our galaxy.

“Although the sun appears larger to us than any other star, there are many stars which are much larger. The sun appears so large compared to the other stars because it is so much closer to us than any other star. The sun is just an average sized star!” exclaimed Prof. S. Natarajan, an honorary lecturer at the planetarium, whom I happened to bump into and chat with as we exited the venue.

 

In an unassuming manner, he went on to talk about how his vocation in life was to teach astronomy, and that he has voluntarily gone to people’s terraces and gardens over the past few decades to show them the sun, moon, and stars. He dressed simply but he wore a passion and zeal about the wonder of the universe. “l’ll bring my telescope and come to your home one morning, and you can collect a few friends and their children, and we can look out at the morning sky.” Not wanting to miss out on this ethereal opportunity, I instantly agreed for the coming weekend and said, “Sure, what time?”

 

“From 3 to 5 AM.” My eyes rolled 360 degrees back into my brain and returned to a normal position after a few oscillations. “It’s okay,” he said, “we can do it on Saturday night, so you can sleep on Sunday morning”. The earth seemed to rotate much faster around its own axis as I couldn’t tell if he was trying to tease the brain of a neurosurgeon. “Saturn and Jupiter rise at this time of the night during this time of the year and that’s why I suggest we do it then.” A large cloud loomed over my head, but I reluctantly nodded in agreement. We shook hands and like true gentlemen, sealed the deal.

 

The next Sunday, Mr. Natarajan arrived at the stroke of 3 AM, armed with his reflective telescope. I gathered a bunch of 10–15 family and friends ranging in age from 6 months to 60 years. Many more who I’d invited didn’t show up, as they thought I was trying to pull a fast one. The chattais were laid out on the terrace and Parsi fudina tea with bun maska kept everyone awake. All of Dadar Parsi Colony was fast asleep except for our building. The birds hadn’t started their morning chatter. The only sound was that of the serene rustling of the rain trees to the gentle morning breeze in the garden in front.

 

The sky was crystal clear. The stars were shining bright on us as if to honour Mr. Natarajan’s personal invitation, as he adjusted his 5-foot telescope. He then comfortably planted himself on the chair, beginning an introduction into the cosmos in poetic verses he had coined himself. We then saw Saturn with its rings and Jupiter with its various moons, as each of us took turns to peek into the lens with one eye, precariously balancing ourselves to ensure that we did not disturb the telescope in its position. It is also at age 38 that I found out that some of these planets are visible to the naked eye.

 

“Is there any correlation between astronomy and astrology?” one of us asked in the fond hope of obtaining a scientific explanation. “I got operated for varicose veins on the lunar eclipse to dispel that myth,” Mr. Natarajan said. “I don’t believe the stars, sun, moons, constellations, and galaxies have any effect on us. These are just superstitions.” A lot of Parsi aunties and uncles will be unhappy with Mr. Natarajan, I said to myself. As long as I can remember, my mother never allowed me to do anything fun on the day of amavas.

 

“The oxygen that we breathe, the gold that we keep locked up in our cupboards, the iron in our blood, and the calcium in our bones were all cooked up in the heart of a star once upon a time. And from that came we, and into it we shall perish. So, it is really ridiculous on the part of mankind to fight or discriminate in the name of caste, creed, religion, or sex,” he concluded. “So just be happy and nice to one another,” he said with a smile that proceeded into a gentle yawn as he alighted from his chair.

 

As we wound up the morning at 5 AM, I nudged a friend asking him if he knew what makes me really happy. “What?” he replied, raising his eyebrows, seeming not particularly interested in the question. Hoping to make a truly prophetic statement, I announced, “I have reconciled to the fact that I am the least important person in my house and in my hospital where I work.” “Dude,” he responded, completely unimpressed by my sacrificial revelation. “If you want to be truly joyful, you need to accept the fact that you are the least important person in the universe.”

 

I looked up at the vast expanse of the morning sky and hung my head low.

 

Prof. S. Natarajan is an honorary lecturer at the Nehru Planetarium and gives free astronomy lessons for the starry-eyed. You can contact him on 9372417149/9869264477.

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