there are many beliefs about solar eclipses in india… superstitions. i had heard all these growing up!
bad time. deformations. don’t go out. don’t look at the sun. stay indoors. don’t go out!
in 2010, when the annular solar eclipse was passing and would be visible in india, i decided to go and watch. the inspiration came from a friend who was planning to come down from pune for this, but cancelled her trip. i am no star-gazer, or astronomer. i have studied about eclipses in school, but forgotten most about it. i went because i was curious – to watch a total solar eclipse, to visit rameswaram again.
the tip of rameswaram – danushkodi – fell on the central line of the eclipse – deigned a good place to watch from. the last time i had been to rameswaram was in the summer months, when the sea levels are lower. from oct to march the sea levels are higher, and i wanted to see the blue indian ocean.
i decided not to stay back, but make it a day trip. post an overnight train journey and some haggling with an auto guy i made my way to the city. i decided to pay the temple a visit, catch a quick breakfast at a tiny restaurant and then kill some time! at around 12, i made my way to danushkodi.
it was a short distance away, but as i got closer from a deserted town the atmosphere changed! there were autos, cars piled up on this tiny two lane road. bikes zipped in and out… a traffic jam in a tiny coastal village! it was having its moment of glory. there were people all over the beach. danushkodi is on this narrow strip of land that juts out into the sea like a tongue of a frog darting out to catch the fly. on both sides is blue (blue, blue) water, and then clean sand and a narrow road. i was on this narrow road… the auto guy said people had been pouring into town since yesterday. i let go of the auto guy, bought him a pair of glasses and walked towards the crowds!
it was a mini mela. someone had set up different shamianas. boards in different languages welcomed everyone. mikes blared out information about solar eclipses. a woman got up and spoke about how she had come from a small town in maharashtra to watch the eclipse. scientists and astronomers discussed solar eclipses, how they happened and myths about it. how the tide would not rise, and we would all be safe.
the moms sat on chairs under the shamianas, the kids ran amok on the sands and the dads looked into the distance with serious expressions. amateur photographers looked cool fumbling with their new lens, trying to make their tripods stand still on the soft sand. the professionals gracefully went about clicking with lens that would have given telescopes a run for money. the youth in the astronomers’ club were furiously writing down every word their seniors let out from their lips.
there were little shops selling food, water, large conch shells and viewing glasses! i walked towards the sea… to pause… to get some quiet in this loud tamasha.. a little peeved that all these noisy people had made even a peaceful getaway a noisy fish market!
as i walked away, i realised i felt proud of my country! at times so ridden with superstitions, unable to rise above age-old practises, modern lives dictated by time and tide. but today, the local janta was here to watch a solar eclipse. they had come in full force – mother, father, grandparents and children… they didn’t see this as a waste of hard-earned money, they were interested. there were people from all walks of life. and the way even this became a celebration, a party! i had gone alone. but i had so much company…
then the wait began. i have never seen a solar eclipse, or at least a total one. if i had in the past, i had forgotten. so, i expected something to happen! i expected it to get totally dark. i zipped up my bags, kept my wallet in the deepest pocket of my bag. kept it all safe…and waited.
the moon slowly covered the sun, and bit by bit the sun started to disappear. this took a long time, and i was impatient for the diamond ring! completely covered, the moon became the lord of the skies. those blaring mikes reminded us to watch for the diamond forming. and my camera clicked away.
it didn’t get all dark. the sun was hidden, but a dull light remained. it was almost surreal. a bunch of strangers, watching the sun and moon do its thing in the skies. it was awe-inspiring to watch something so magnificent as the sun get eclipsed by something so tiny as the moon!
as the sun regained its rightful place in the heavens, the party had come to an end. people dispersed, autos starting phat-phatting away. the road-side stalls became active again, people shouting out their wares.
time had moved slowly, but yet it seemed like it was s jiffy.
leh 2034, here i come!