It’s been 50 years since the moon landing. So many milestones were achieved on that monumental 1969 day. The planting of the American flag on the moon’s surface, symbolising US victory over the Russians in the space race. The vicarious lightness of being that three astronauts gifted to earthlings for all time to come. Plus, an eternal reservoir of lyrics for angst-ridden rock bands. India’s own Chandrayaan 2, after an aborted first attempt, recently made it into orbit. Driving through Andheri’s Veera Desai road on a rainy day – a perfect replica of the lunar surface – my thoughts fly moonward with every jerk of my intrepid auto.
Zero: A backspace odyssey
For many of my generation, born over a decade after the feat, the quote ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ never really rocketed off the page to mean something magical or inspirational. (Perhaps they need to introduce philosophy as a subject at the school level?) Nor was my imagination captured by conspiracy theories doubting the moon landing. Something about the whole enterprise, for all its grandeur, reeked of inevitability to my ignorant young mind.
Perhaps if I had watched Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), or Apollo 13 (1995), Spielberg’s recreation of the failed moon mission, the sheer scale of Apollo 11’s success would have hit home. Watching George Clooney hurtling through space in Gravity (2013), and Matt Damon stranded on the red planet in The Martian (2015) did succeed in firing aeronautical neurons in my terrestrial brain. The grand culmination of this cinematic journey through space was my recent viewing of SRK’s Zero (2018), a persuasive argument against the evolution of life on earth.
There is no celestial body that lends itself to romance and poetry quite as well as the moon. Allow me to offer a free-associative list. The moon reflecting Waheeda Rehman’s glory in Chaudhvin ka Chand. Pink Floyd singing of an intergalactical, apocalyptic love in The Dark Side of the Moon. A sliver of a moon announcing the end of the fasting season with the meethi Eid. The phases of the moon – its waxing and waning – supplying fitting metaphors for human struggles and successes. Watching the moon step out of the shadow of the earth during a lunar eclipse fills one with hope: if the heavenly bodies can move from darkness to light, so can we. It gets trickier when you leave the literary territory of metaphor and land in the badlands of pseudoscience.
In a country of colourful beliefs, I’ve encountered a common one my entire life – that of one’s moods being governed by the phases of the moon. I must confess that I’ve noticed that the glorious full moon seems to fill me with a strange sense of unease. I haven’t ever made the transition into a werewolf, but often have I stopped myself from howling at the moon, as if under some kind of gothic spell. Please don’t tell my fellow rationalists. They will expel me from their ranks quicker than one can say ‘poetic license’.
In the 2009 graphic novel Moonward, artist Appupen illustrates a dystopian world where even the moon is colonised by humans to further their materialistic ends. A memorable panel presents the moon like a neon advertising sign, an equally absurd and terrifying image. It hasn’t come to that – yet. But I’m afraid if Elon Musk and the space cowboys have their way, we’ll be peddled weekend trips to the satellite, bringing back bits of moon-rock fridge magnets.
These days, I’m trying to make amends for the shocking ignorance of my youth. I have learnt that the orange glow that regularly launches a thousand Instagram posts is actually a shining symbol of poor air quality. I have applauded a supermoon, standing in a house boat on the Dal lake on a chilly night, urging a bewildered group of 15 to do the same. And I am now keen on getting a better view of the moon at an observatory – it’s not enough to wait for a bored cameraman to zoom into the lunar surface during dull day-night cricket matches. One small step at a time.
From HT Brunch, August 4, 2019
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