Tag Archives: mumbra

Stars: Candles of our Childhood

Stars. Hot balls of illuminated gas millions of miles away, results of narrow cosmic chances.

The same stars, due to these enormous distances, appear as pinpoints of twinkling light. And so distant these stars are, that the light that left them eons ago, reach us now. And in that way, looking at them is like peering into the past. But that is not the only way stars make us look back in the past. Some of us travel time in our own ways.

When I first wondered why stars existed, I was perhaps six or seven, enjoying my summer vacations at my grandma’s house. These were times of the mid-90s, and there was less pollution than there is now. Moreover, there were frequent power failures in Mumbra. As irritated as we were due to the extreme May heat, we were helpless. This was the time when color televisions were still not that popular, but I was still happy that there was a black and white one at my grandmother’s house. In my house, however, the only electrical appliance of note was a cassette tape. But these were useless boxes during power failures. My cousin and I were little, and not too comfortable playing in the dark, so we would often sit surrounding a lit candle after sundown, and this would really annoy the adults, because our shadows were proper hindrances to their chores. Consequently, the candle would be placed atop a small wooden cupboard. This was still manageable for us, as the light wouldn’t hurt our eyes now. We would sit in the candle-lit room till power resumed, or till the only source of light flickered away and extinguished, after which we’d run to the kitchen. It had the only emergency lamp in the entire house, but we avoided it out of fear of being scolded.

Just before one of these unpredictable power failures, our mothers decided to take us to the building terrace. They told us we would enjoy the cold evening breeze, though I knew the enjoyment was more theirs than ours. Part of the terrace has a sloping roof, with one half of the slope descending toward the rest of the terrace. We liked it immediately! Due to its smooth tarring, we could slide and roll on it. We enjoyed so much that we didn’t realize that the lights had went out. About half an hour later, tired of climbing a slope rather steep for our age, my cousin and I sat at its base, reclining and looking up at the sky. It was a beautiful sight! The waning moon hardly disturbed the darkness of the rest of the sky. I knew my cousin looked up, too, because we both were quiet. Being the younger one and looking up to me for knowledge, he asked, “How does the sky have so many stars?” I was as clueless as he was, and regarding his question carefully, I looked up again. Indeed, there were a huge number of them, so many that I had never seen so much starlight in one go.

“I think these are candles”, I replied.

“Candles? Why would someone light candles so high up?” he enquired.

“Simple. When there is a power failure in grandma’s house, we light candles so we don’t get scared. In the sky, when there is a power failure, God lights candles so that those living there don’t get scared”, I said.
“What is moon then?”

“It is the largest of the candles.”
I looked at the moon to escape the discomforting ambiguity of my answer.

“A candle?”

“Of course, or why would it become smaller every day?”

“But it becomes larger too, sometimes. And look at its shape. I don’t think it is a candle.”

“It appears to be a different type of candle.”

“Why don’t we have a candle like the moon?”

I was growing irritated, not because of my cousin’s questions, but because of my own inability to answer them. I remained quiet. At the same time, I was curious, too. Were these really distant candles? How did they last all night? They would flicker, but why wouldn’t they get extinguished? And why would someone light so many small but only one large candle? I continued to wonder, while reclining at my new favorite place in Mumbra. We drew imaginary lines between stars, forming patterns, mostly letters in our names. We wrote in different styles, inventing many of our own constellations in the process. For reasons I was not yet familiar with, I felt at peace looking up. The sky had a quiet way about it. The soft breeze had put my cousin to sleep, but I wasn’t really sleepy. We remained till power resumed, and our mothers took us away.

At times, when I look up now, I find myself remembering that night. I smile at the how stupid my answers were, at my lost innocence. I try to recall the patterns we created, but I am largely unsuccessful, perhaps because I cannot find many of the stars that completed our patterns. It saddens me, but it is not difficult to not think about it for long. We live busy lives now, and we have other things to worry about. Not that our childhoods were not busy, but somehow it was far more enriching and gratifying. It was easy to be curious about something as commonplace as a night sky filled with stars.

Stars. Hot balls of illuminated gas millions of miles away, results of cosmic narrow cosmic chances.

And it is because of one of these chances that we exist, and are capable of wondering.

(Image Credits: Marc Van Norden. Click here to be redirected to the  original image)

A View Back In Time

I have always believed that our brain has been hardwired to compare. Be it objects, emotions or scenarios, our mind constantly compares. We are able to distinguish good from bad, black from white, shiny from rusty; and I feel this is where lies the basis of our intelligence. In short, I think that the human race is this intelligent because it can compare things better than any other group of organisms we know.

Since I am a part of this human race, and I am what can be safely called ‘normal’, I also have this quality to compare, especially to distinguish between things I saw during my childhood and those that exist now. And I dare say, I am really good at it!  Now there are some places that really don’t seem different with respect to time, until the difference is no longer possible to overlook. Mumbra, where I have spent a decent part of my childhood, is one such place… The streets are still as dirty as they were, 15 years ago; the people still quarrel like they did, back then; and the roads there still resemble the moon’s surface. The one remarkable change that one would easily notice now is the presence of a huge number buildings now. In a short while, many  residential structures have sprung up. It is jarring for the eyes, really. I mean, would you not be startled to discover a building that didn’t exist on your last visit, about three and a half month ago? To many, this is ‘rapid development.’

Mumbra is not that bad, as far as scenic beauty is concerned. Beautiful hills adorn one side of the town, a creek and mangroves on another. As a child, I enjoyed watching these hills while sitting on the windowsill of my Grandmother’s house on the first floor of Bhoora Mahal, though it is not really the best place to allow the creek’s view. The hills had something that had me gazing at them for apparently no reason. I enjoyed the way they turned green after a few rains, sometimes enveloped by clouds. And when it was summer, their hue would turn more and more earthern, till they were almost barren. My cousins and I would watch people (who looked no larger than ants from such a distance) climb up a long flight of stairs that reached all the way till the Mumbradevi temple, situated at the side of a steep cliff. It was a great time-killer, especially during summer vacations, when time-killing had to be ‘great’ by compulsion.

The View in 1999
The View in 1999

Soon, a ‘rapid development’, like those mentioned before, happened right beside my grandmother’s building. Not only did it block the view of the beautiful hills entirely, it also barred most of the natural light from entering grandmom’s house. It was a shocking change. No more sitting on the sill, no more watching the hills covered in clouds. It could well be the most shocking change I experienced till that age (I was around 12 years old, I guess).

After that, lights in Bhoora Mahal had to be kept on 16-hours-a-day (considering 8 hours of sleep). Meanwhile, more buildings got constructed, engulfing little huts and trees in the locality. The air lost some of its freshness each day. As time passed, some of my brain cells, that remembered the view from that window, died every moment. Only a picture clicked by my elder sister, from a borrowed film camera, back in 1999, kept the memory alive somehow. I had somehow stopped missing that view because I gave in to the fact that it could no longer be a possibility. True, I could view it from other places (such as building terraces), but it certainly never felt like how it felt from the sill. And one day, the ‘rapid development’ that stood beside a much-older Bhoora Mahal, crumbled and gave away.

Three people died, from what I heard, and many people lost everything they had. Too busy with my own life (no time left to be killed, anymore), I only went to meet my grandmom after a few weeks i.e. after Bhoora Mahal was declared safe. It was a sunny afternoon,  the characteristic of the day I remember because I realized it was too bright the moment I reached the first floor. My steps hurried, taking me faster in the direction of my destination. They hurried because I started to realize what awaited me. The moment, when I stepped into the house, was special. It felt as if I was re-entering my childhood. The moment was bright, like the fresh sunlight that embellished the room I was in. My joy was at a constant ascent. And each single spec of time that had settled on my life’s own window, began to disappear, allowing me to view those moments of my past vividly. Some memory triggers are nature’s own time machines. I relived my moment, standing on the window sill and gazing at my beloved hills in the same way as I did as a child. I did so one eyeful at a time, because it was choking me with emotions. My oscillating mind began to compare two images of the same scene, images separated by a period of about eight years. As tears began forming in my myopic eyes, I looked away uneagerly. I came back to the sill many times during the few hours I spent there. In the little amount of time I spent there, I understood the true meaning of nostalgia. It is good that some things don’t change.

What I saw in 2013
What I saw in 2013