As a child of a merchant navy captain, I have spent most of my childhood on a ship, sailing across endless stretches of blue with occasional land in sight. These long journeys meant that alongside a very limited collection of pre-recorded cartoons, few storybooks, and my mother, I only had the company of the serene sound of the ocean, the clear blue sky during the day, and a sky full of stars during the night. Perhaps that is why I derive so much comfort from them, even today. While the ocean had its own charm and effect on me, the stars have played a very distinct role in my life. The above and what lies beyond the above has never ceased to fascinate me, even as a 10-year-old and I doubt there will be a time when I would look up at the sky and won’t be ‘starstruck’ by how unreal it all feels. While every brush with a stargazing experience has been nothing short of magical, two particularly unforgettable experiences made me the person I am today, fascinated and appreciative of the little things that have huge impacts.
When I was a kid, right from when I started school in 2004 till 2011, the start of summer vacations meant that mom and I would get to sail with Dad, I’d look forward to these summer breaks, not only because I loved the ship and missed my Dad but also because I was almost always the only child on the premises, which meant I got pampered by everyone. The earliest memory I have of watching the stars is from when my dad and I used to stand on the deck, long after he was done charting and briefing people for the night. Ships usually have an inbuilt telescope on the bridge, I am not so sure what it is used for though I am guessing it was for judging the correct direction of the ship. Every week, my Dad would gather a few officers and teach them how to use the telescope and identify stars, constellations, etc. I’d always wonder what they were doing looking through the odd-looking machine, finally not being able to contain my curiosity I asked my Dad about it. Later, that night, after he was done with the officers, he picked me up to the level of the telescope and told me where to look and what I was looking at. I don’t remember a lot from my pre-teen days, but the day I used a telescope for the first time with my dad’s voice in the background telling me what I was supposed to be looking out for, was magical. Every day since then, after my Dad was done briefing the others for the night, we’d go to the deck and watch the stars and he’d teach me their names. It continued summer after summer until I had to stop going on ships because of school. It’s one of the happiest experiences I have had from my childhood, one that I remember at least.
In the summer of 2019, when I had given up the thought that I would ever write again, I happened to visit the Jim Corbett National Park. It was an after-exam trip with my friends and after a long day of travelling and exploring, we decided to stay in and cool off in the resort but life clearly had other plans for us. Some of our luggage had still not reached the room, so a case of misplaced luggage somehow led us to take an impulsive long drive in an open safari jeep, a story I’ll save for later. We were driving around the dark roads with forests on both sides when we happened to stop because we thought we had seen a deer. It was then that I saw the sky. It was a full moon night and the sky was laden with stars. We stayed at the spot for an hour or so and the entire time I couldn’t tear my eyes off from the sky, after all, I was seeing a sky like that after almost 10 years. I had tears in my eyes because of the immensity of what I was feeling. There was the feeling of having missed out, happiness, nostalgia, but most importantly inspiration because the fact that dead balls of gas, millions of light-years away, could still shine changed something in me. It’s not that I did not know what stars are or what they were made of, however that day, looking at the sky covered with tiny dots of sparkling white, it hit me that if something so far and probably dead could look so beautiful, I can certainly overcome whatever was causing my longest block ever. I hadn’t felt that kind of inspiration in a long time. We got back to the resort at around 4 in the morning and while my friends slept, I sat on the balcony and for the first time in a long time, I wrote something.
It is sad that I’ve never lived in cities that had clear enough skies for me to just look up and see them but these dead balls of gas, millions of light-years away, still manage to keep me inspired and instill life in me and reinstate my faith in things being bigger than just me.
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