Monday, 28 September 2009

Over the Moon!

The festive season is finally here! Bengalis all over the world have started celebrating. I find it very interesting to see the happy faces of people going crazy to receive blessings of goddess Durga whom they very affectionately refer to as Maa (Mother). You'll find another kind of people who find a lot of reasons to be happy, apart from, of course, the divine blessings. But that's another story altogether. Some people become happy to meet distant relatives and childhood friends. To them the Puja is a trip down memory lane, an opportunity to meet the older, younger self they have long forgotten. Then there's another kind of people whose lives are trapped in a bubble of perpetual sadness and gloom. Yet they try to force a smile on the face, hoping against hope to be happy.

My relationship with the goddess-mother (or mother-goddess, whatever you prefer) has always been very poor. As a matter of fact, there has never been any relationship between us at all. It was early in my childhood when I abandoned the idea of a Higher Power from Above controlling every aspect of the Universe from the eyelids of a child to a drop of rain. Yet I enjoyed myself during the Puja, but not by celebrating it. I have been worshipping pasta over the past few years, but still I try to be happy this season. I fail to derive joy from visiting the Puja pandals which are, apparently, the pinnacle of artistic brilliance. I don't find "hanging out" a great option either.  But everyone around me is very happy, so why should I not give myself a chance to be happy? But my source of joy is a bit (OK, a lot!) different. I decided to watch a movie this time. It should have been a very entertaining, action-packed, emotionally affecting movie with a great story to tell, but it wasn't.

It was a movie I saw a long time ago and on the Şaşţhĩ (September 24, the day the Puja officially began) morning, I decided to revisit that very boring film, one of my all-time favourites: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This film gets better with each viewing and this time was no exception. Some scenes were even more effective this time. Some images had such a lasting impact on me in my childhood that they can't be any better. It'll be a pointless attempt to list them all, but if I have to pick a few, here they are (SPOILER ALERT):
  • 1) The apes discovering the monolith and learning to use weapons 
  • 2) HAL killing the hibernating astronauts
  • 3) Every shot of the red eye of HAL
  • 4) The final image
The phrase "emotional vacuum" is often used to describe this film but very few films have moved me in a way this one did. It also works on a subconscious level (I'm saying this because the Star Gate sequence keeps coming back to me). I assume no one could have put it better than Roger Ebert does:

[2001: A Space Odyssey] is the work of an artist so sublimely confident that he doesn't include a single shot simply to keep our attention. He reduces each scene to its essence, and leaves it on screen long enough for us to contemplate it, to inhabit it in our imaginations. Alone among science-fiction movies, “2001" is not concerned with thrilling us, but with inspiring our awe.


Only a few films are transcendent, and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape.

I have a lot more to say about this film, but not now. Just when the descendants of the ape find another monolith on the Moon, the news reporter on the television says something about the Moon. My attention was immediately diverted (which doesn't happen usually). I clicked "pause" and saw that the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan I had conclusively confirmed the presence of water on the Moon (I hadn't read any newspaper yet). We are taught from our childhood that the Moon is one of the driest places in the solar system. Thanks to ISRO and NASA, the textbooks will be corrected all over again. (Update: But considering the amount of water found in the soil of the Moon, it still is one of the driest places in the solar system.) Congratulations to both ISRO and NASA! Now I am all excited for the LCROSS impact on the Moon on October 9.

And this announcement comes weeks after the news of the death of Chandrayaan I. One of my friends was quite sad about this and almost lost all hope he had in India's space programme. I told him that there was nothing to be sad about and not all spacecrafts are wholly successful. I pointed out that there was a time when most missions to Mars were "jinxed". Still I could not make him feel any better. This discovery will undoubtedly relieve him and it's also an answer to the detractors of the Chandrayaan mission.

After the viewing  that classic for the nth time and receiving that news, I thought I was the happiest person this season. But the day's surprises were not yet over. Suddenly the doorbell rang. I had received a parcel. Knowing what it was, I signed on some dotted lines and called all the members of my family to attend the "opening ceremony". I opened it. Here's what I received after quite a complicated process which I won't discuss here. I dedicated it to my grandfather:
My Tribute
It was my 100 Hours of Astronomy prize, a Celestron SkyScout! It's the finest gift one could receive for the Puja.

I am over the Moon. I really am. Am I a lunatic? Dunno. You tell me!

[I started writing this post on Şaşţhĩ but didn't manage to finish it until today when the Puja is over, thanks to my ISP.]

1 comment:

Space Lover said...

Was there any label I missed?