We all know the magnamity of humans. We saw the sanctity of people invested with importance doing what they do best over the last week of the year both in and outside the Indian Parliament. But there is, it turns out, other things, which in comparison may not be as great as, say, politics and other human shenanigans, but comes very, very close to amaze us.
On Thursday, December 22, the shortest day of the year — and that of any other year, for that matter — I boarded a plane with the intention of returning. The flight was on time and 10 minutes into my journey out of Delhi, I noticed it.
I was sitting in 15F, a window seat, 15F, one of the four lucky ones on board who got to sit next to the emergency exits where you get that extra leg room for the same economy price. Which is from where, at around 5.48 in the evening, I saw a sea of orange suddenly erupt outside my window to my right. The plane must have swerved before locking into its trajectory with the result of bringing this shimmering vision suddenly into view. Defenceless, I smiled like a jackass to the outside.
By the time I saw what I saw, I was travelling well above the clodpile that were the clouds and the dust and the habitation and the habits I was running away from. It was a gigantic orange band with no firm edges that smudged its way as it mixed into the dark sky above it. This orange also deepened and turned burnished red along the timeline. All at the same time, it was glorious, as well as furious, the sort of a mix of colours that would have told you what ‘inflammable’ means even if you hadn’t ever heard the word before.
But as ominous as the bright bleeding portion of the sky near my eye level was, there was the more ominous slab of darkness below. This started from immediately south of the clean, straight, black border line that separated the orange-red bathed light from the massive basement below.
With the plane turning eastwards like a small ship swerving in placid waters, making the mind doubly aware of the two craft it is travelling in — that is, the plane as well as the body the plane is in — the light outside the window takes on the force of a human. This is, of course, a mental illusion; a psychological leap of comfort that can ultimately lead to the wrong but powerful thesis that humans are not part of the bigger scheme of things.
There is, of course, no real bigger scheme of things, except in our heads. But like the temporary weightlessness one feels in a plane travelling fast enough in tight parabolas, the scattershot of light and the sea of darknesses (there was more than one kind of darkness outside) made me forget humankind, making me feel that I was a metal knob on the plane-wing.
Or, at least, that I was starting from scratch.
The quietest of visual explosions was now slightly behind me. The right wing of the plane was no longer precisely bisecting this unnameable panorama. Looking up, I caught a cold, jet ink sky, changing from the colour of a gas flame to that of black — but never the black that is the absence of all colours. You look too long into this view, and you will lose all interest in the world and its machinations.
I had earlier managed to switch off my brain on the plane. But staring out of a window seat — next to the right hand-side window bang in the middle of an aircraft on winter solstice flying from west to east just after sunset (the year’s earliest sunset) — what only mattered was the massive beauty hanging there like a lost memory.
Lest anyone think that I experienced a ‘religious moment’ or — as it’s more fashionable to say these days — a ‘spiritual moment’, I swear to god that there was no thought of any divine power that came to my head (the song ‘Lake of Fire’, however, did).
Instead, I formed a mental picture of the raw coldness of the air outside and the accompanying wild colour-burst made by the setting sun, its light refracted from the usual white, diffused and split by a billion dust particles over and over again, bending into yellow, then orange, then blood red and finally out of the visual spectrum altogether. What I was witnessing was a play of natural things that I had never been privy to.
I was sitting there watching something that would have carried on even if no one had existed, ever. It was like crashing a great party.
In this new year, perhaps you’ll also be lucky enough to experience such a moment where fellow humans — politicians or otherwise — become totally redundant and inconsequential in your scheme of things. At least for a while.
I, on my part, haven’t returned from flight and don’t intend to either.