By Roli S
“A few years ago, the Moon was an inspiration to poets and an opportunity for lovers. A few years from now, it will be just another airport.” This declaration about the Moon literally sums up its identity and significance. What will happen in the future, I do not know but, for now, once again the Moon is in the news!
It is in the news because on Monday, 22 July, 2019, the ‘Chandrayaan 2’ moon mission was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. The ‘Chandrayaan 2’ launch aims to place a rover on the Moon. This ambitious ‘Chandrayaan 2’ mission is India’s second effort to send a probe to study the Moon. Unlike ‘Chandrayaan 1’, however, ‘Chandrayaan 2’ will have a rover that will move around on the lunar surface for around 14 Earth days; ‘Chandrayaan 1’ just had an orbiter that revolved around the Moon and an impactor that landed on the lunar surface and came to rest. Chandrayaan-2, launched by the GSLV Mk-III rocket, will land on the Moon less than two months after being launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
The aforesaid ‘Moon Mission’ is very special for India. Why? Because it will be the first space mission to conduct a soft landing on the Moon’s south polar region. Also, because it is the first Indian expedition to attempt a soft landing on the lunar surface with home-grown technology. It is the first Indian mission to explore the lunar terrain with such technology and it will be the fourth country ever in the world to soft land on the lunar surface. All these are top-notch and valuable achievements of the Indian scientists and technologists, there is no doubt about it, but I do not want, at any cost, the moon to become theirs! As a romantic soul and a lover of mysticism and poetry I would not want the moon to become like any other airport!
According to Hindu mythology, the Moon emerged when the gods churned the sea of milk at creation and was seized by Shiva to be worn on his forehead as a jewel. At the same time, it resides within us. In the Aitareya Upanishad, written between the sixth and fourth centuries CE, the Sun, Moon, Fire and Wind were brought into being and asked Atman, the creator, where they could live. They rejected the offer to reside in the bodies of a horse or a cow, but accepted tenancy within the human frame. “Fire became speech and entered the mouth. Wind became breath and entered the nose. The sun became sight and entered the eyes… The moon became mind and entered the heart”. No wonder the moon has been considered a powerful controller of the human psyche and human heart!
Sylvia Plath’s poem “The Moon and the Yew Tree”, describes the moon and its effect on the human psyche in a very definite way: This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary. The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
Goethe who was keen and interested in all the latest scientific developments of his day, an eminent geologist and at the forefront of understanding about human perception, was also a great lover of moonlit walks, as we read in his travel journal ‘Italian Journey’. When he first saw the moon through a telescope from his back garden, his words were not, however, those of a scientist: “At last,” he said, “closer acquaintance with this beloved and admired neighbour.”
Moon is one celestial object that has kept artists busy all over the world. With endless literature surrounding the Moon, it is impossible to do justice to this magical subject in any number of pages. But I can think of Rabindranath Tagore’s’ ‘Crescent Moon’, where he brings alive the world of a child—in some poems he describes the simple joys of children at play, while in others, he feels the bonds of affection between mother and child, and in yet others, he expresses wonder at the earthly beauty all around us.
Percy Bysshe Shelley in ‘To the Moon’ sees the moon’s pallor as the possible result of its sorrow at having to climb the sky alone and look down on the Earth – one of the best-known moon poems.
In the ‘Moonrise’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins, the association between the moon and a fingernail is surprising and memorable!
The multifarious Moon has been played and dealt with, in innumerable ways by poets and artists the world over, and that moon is my moon.
For me, the Moon is just not any other celestial object in the sky, standing out because of its light and beauty. The moon is much more to me. So like Gulzar, the poet, even I want to claim that the ‘Moon’ belongs to me and only me. Nobody else has any claim over my moon! I have laughed, cried, talked, fought, made up, danced, loved and argued with the moon since the time I remember! I am convinced it is the relentless effort of artists surrounding the moon and its mysteries in the form of literature, movies, fiction, video games, theatre, etc., that has kept the scientists and technologists motivated in the relentless pursuit of understanding more about the Moon.
With the mission of ‘Chadrayan 2’, I am happy for the scientists and explorers of my country, but at the same time I am anxious about the failing intrigue and mysticism of my moon! I am confused whether my poem, “Suno Chanda, ek sidhi banaoon kya? Main tum tak pahunch jaoon kya?”…will still hold any meaning for the future generations? I hope that while exploring the topography and climate of the natural satellite moon, like Goethe, scientists will keep their poetic spirits and the ‘Chanda Mama’ magic will live forever!
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai)