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Chasing the shadows

There are only two ways to describe a man who plans a summer vacation 13 years in advance.

delhi Updated: Jul 18, 2009 23:12 IST
Paramita Ghosh

There are only two ways to describe a man who plans a summer vacation 13 years in advance.

Very simplistically, you could say he is calculating. Or simply mad. But then 44 year-old Ajay Talwar, president of the Eclipse Chasers Athenaeum (ECA) is not planning a summer vacation.

The walls of his room at the SPACE office in Janakpuri is papered with charts of places in the world which will witness eclipses — solar, lunar, partial, total — and Talwar and his tribe of eclipse chasers will place themselves there. At the exact time, the exact place.

On July 11, 2010, when the sun disappears, he will be seen in Hikuern Atoll, Tahiti “at the rim of a dormant volcano which juts out of the Pacific Ocean”. In 2020, try spotting him in Rajasthan. This year, on July 22, it will be Taregna in Bihar.

In Taregna, the SPACE members (ECA is one of its wings) will supervise Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar’s ‘eclipse show’ as well.

Begun in 2001 by 35 year-old Sachin Bahmba, the cadets of SPACE,
range from baby-faced 24-year-old Prashant Jagannathan to 45-year-old ponytailed C.B. Devgun, its

“Twenty-seven of us are going to catch part of the eclipse in China,” said Devgun, a veteran of five eclipses and whose first eclipse was managed “by running away from home to Orissa”.

Sunita Mukherjee, the media consultant of the association will also earn her stripes, so to speak, this time by watching it from Patna.

Who are these people? Science nerds? Star Wars junkies? Sons of Galileo?

“Good,” says Mukherjee approvingly. “2009 is the International Year of Astronomy and the 400th anniversary of the first recorded astronomical observations with the telescope used by the Italian physicist.”

The observation of course side-tracks us from turning the instrument to watch the tribe. Very, very closely.

“We want to popularise science and break the myths,” says Bahmba the boss. Eclipses do have quite a few myths.

27-year-old Dipti Sharma, who edits the group’s newsletter, reveals that her mother (not an eclipse chaser) once told her sister-in-law “not to put on lights during a lunar eclipse”.

“An eclipse watcher can be a physicist. He can be a photographer, a student of chemistry, a student of biology….
Nature is a wonderful lab. It is available to all free of cost, we should learn to use it. For all of us it basically started with a question,” added Bahmba. And a pair of good goggles.