Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Solstice and the Moon

Do you ever wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it.

                                                                                       The Great Gatsby

I didn't miss the longest day of the year this time. I very nearly would have after waiting two months for it, but the beautiful Google doodle reminded me just in time that the summer solstice had already begun. Earlier this month, when I was reading the first book of Parade's End (Some Do Not . . .), I had vowed that I would wake up at the crack of dawn to witness the beginning of the longest day of the year and attempt to gauge a quarter of Valentine's thrill at the rising sun. Of course she had spent a whole night with that Tory ox Christopher Tietjens, getting lost in the fog in the country lanes of Sussex, and seeing the fog lift magically with the rising sun as the longest day of the year unfolded. That would definitely seem blissful. As it appeared, I would have to wait for another year to be privy to that magic in the sky (without Tietjens of course). I spent an unremarkable 20th June -- unremarkable enough to forget all about it now -- and woke up when the boring humid morning had peered through all the crevices between my curtains, and yet another day had unfolded; but for the doodle, and the sudden remembering.

"The sun!" she said pointing. Above the silver horizon was the sun; not the red sun: shining, burnished.
"I don't see . . ." Tietjens said.
"What there is to laugh at?" she asked. "It's the day! . . . The longest day's begun! . . . And tomorrow's as long . . . The summer solstice, you know . . . And tomorrow the days shorten towards winter. But tomorrow's as long . . . I'm so glad . . ."
"That we've got through the night? . . ." Tietjens asked.

Once I made the discovery and had completed all my literary associations with the solstice, I spent a dizzy morning. I was dizzy with happiness to be aware of the change of seasons in nature, to be aware of how the universe moves on without our realising it. I was rather surprised at not having any one else notice or comment upon the significance of the day, the significance of having daylight for a very long time. While I was teaching, I looked at my students, and their absolute apathy to the higher working of the world surprised me. At least they were learning geography. When we were in school and learning geography, we would often realise with a bolt during the morning assembly that this would be the longest day of the year -- the one which the textbooks mentioned (the catholic school was obviously closed during the winter solstice). It thrilled me to find myself alive when beautiful creative changes went on in the greater world, in the realms of physics, without the interference of man. None of my students seemed to think along those lines.

On the way home I visited a relative in the nursing home, and my heart sang all the way back. It was past 6 pm and there was still bright light. I would keep a track how long it'd stay tonight. The Europeans are blessed with long summer evenings, with daylight lasting until 10 or 11 pm. I remember walking down the Champs Elysee at 8 and calling up my parents to say that it seemed as if it was still afternoon. Our tropics are not so abundantly blessed. By the time I reached home, the sky was welling up with clouds. I didn't know what this would eventually mean, and set about brewing the tea. By the time I carried my cup to my room, it had begun to drizzle, and I realised that I had been tricked. It was just after 6.30, and it was dark outside. As dark as any other ordinary monsoon evening.



I learnt from Facebook that the night following the summer solstice would be the night of the 'Super Moon' -- a banal term for some thing as grand as what I saw peeping from my gate before locking up that night. From posts the following night, I learnt that the 'Super Moon' would be visible the following night too, in some parts of the world. If I was lucky, I'd get a second chance to see how large the moon looked as it came closest to the Earth in many years. I was tricked again, of course -- it was a dark and stormy night. I lamented over it for twenty four hours, until tonight. After watching The Naked Civil Servant and letting myself be moved to the point of clapping, laughter, tears, and constricted neck muscles at several points, and feeling how pointless life was turning out to be, I called up a friend and indulged in existential angst. Having spelled out that our meagre lives was not turning out to be as we had hoped, and nothing could possibly be worse than being poor, I decided that I definitely needed some air. As I lit the lights of the porch, the grass outside my gate looked an unearthly green. This is what steady rains do to unwanted weeds -- they grow overnight and acquire an unearthly colour. I put the earphones into my ear and started walking. My entire neighbourhood had already turned in by 9.30 pm, or they were making a very good show of it: there wasn't the slightest sound to suggest human life. After bearing with second grade radio, I played Ali Akbar Khan's Darbari Kanra, stood in the middle of the lane, and turned to look at the moon.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan plays a long lingering alaap to the raag, and each of his renditions differs slightly. I was listening to my favourite and watching the moon go in and come out of clouds. It seemed as if the moon was moving. I started walking and it followed me, gallivanting between the patch of sky between the Bhattacharjee terrace and the ugly new construction. It reminded me of our road trips from Siliguri to Calcutta in the 90s, when we would start before dawn, and I would watch the moon from the car window follow us along ugly highways as dawn broke in and sleep rolled into my eyes. With considerable amusement I noticed that the surface of the moon looked like an irritated man's face, blowing air. The Doctor would have said that the moon people have a special festival today; or it could be my imagination, weighed down by my subconscious, thinking of the 280 new craters discovered on the moon. Bengali folklore talks about an old lady sitting on the moon and spinning yards of cloth. I remember another folklore from my kindergarten about the man on the moon with his dog. Then came of course the numerous western myths surrounding the moon and its captivating lights. All these seemed amusing to me tonight, though not without a hint of regret and self-reproach at not having read more about Demonologie and the infernal powers of the moon when I had the opportunity. Time goes by. Darbari Kanra came to an end, and I tore my gaze from the moon and turned back to my empty house. Back once again to the closed walls, pointless lives, lots of contrition, and the firm conviction that days blend into one another especially during the solstice.

1 comment:

  1. solitary walks at 9.30 ... wait till our beloved didi hears about it ...:D

    lovely post. a whole night spent lost in the roads of Sussex with Tietjens WOULD be something indeed!

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