Watching an eclipse – a celestial experience

Even as the evening melted into the night of January 31, hundreds were standing torturously on tiptoe at the Lal Bagh hillside. Mobiles and cameras were flagged out like click-baits as everyone wanted to shoot a special moon that was going to strike the peaty sky after 150 years.

In fact, it was going to be a Pink Moon due to the filtering of red light through the earth’s atmosphere, even as that body passed through the umbra of the earth to eclipse the sun. It was also going to be a Blue Moon that was not Blue, but was named so. And that was because it was a Full Moon that was doing an encore of its performance in the same month. It was also going to be a Super Moon as it edged into its closest brush with the earth.

That was a big preview for the miracle show, but where exactly was the miracle moon? Nowhere – yet. There were some disappointed rubbles and murmurs around, as it had already turned out to be a Flop Moon to some of the masses attached to binoculars and beautifully illustrated knowledge sheets from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), with previews of the spectacle. The celestial show that didn’t turn out to be such a great showstopper was beginning to disappoint.

“There’s too much pollution,” was the cheerful announcement of a volunteer from the IIA. “You cannot watch the total lunar eclipse so clearly, when the earth’s atmosphere is so dusky and polluted that it does not let you see it.”

Ah, right! Great news! You can’t see the lunar eclipse due to pollution. You guiltily remember bursting a cracker on new year and smoking a cigarette the next day. Next time the lunar eclipse graces the stage on July 27, you need to be more careful then. In order to see the next pink moon, will you remember to avoid polluting? Will you segregate your wet and dry waste? Will you be careful to not litter the lake? Will you boycott two-stroke auto-rickshaws? Stop buying leather bags and slippers?  

You will. Still, with the other namma ooru-ians you aren’t going to be deprived of some oohing and raahing. So you go full throttle with the crowd. “Look, look, that’s the moon…Oh no, that was only someone’s video light…Hey, what about climbing a tree?…Let’s take a helicopter…How about learning to fly? … Good idea…”

Any finally, there is a faint trace, an outline of the pink face. It is a VIP, so it will take time to arrive. But you begin to swell with the moon, whose gentle, shiny, face begins to warm your heart. You look around, watching the curious crowds watching patiently, as that face becomes brighter and healthier, waxing and getting rounder in the black sky. You are happy to see so much curiosity, enthusiasm and love for science in the crowd, you say, to console yourself.

And actually, you really are happy to see it all. It is a shared excitement that you had not foreseen.

So now the show is longer than a Bollywood movie, for three hours, 23 minutes. It is a box-office hit with the excited masses gathered around the hill, who love the big, pink, beautifully happy moon.

The IIA too gives you a comforting line or two. Announces one member: “There are many superstitions around this spectacle, but you can see that it isn’t dangerous to be out at this time. Don’t forget to take a selfie here and show it around. Eat and drink whatever you want under this moon. Go home and tell everyone that you are fine.”

Those were great, memorable lines too, that thrills like another Tryst with Destiny, decades ago. It does help you to feel good about yourself.

And you know what? He was actually right, in case you are wondering. You are still Alive.

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