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The night whispers a lullaby

November 16, 2011

A short, meandering account of (a) night.

I stand quiet in the silence of the night. I look around for a dark corner from where I can spot a few twinkles in the sky. The brightest one is Jupiter. It’s been raining and they are all very playful. We are playing hide and seek, them and me. Every now and then they surreptitiously peep out of the clouds that wrap up the night sky in a grey embrace. And I spot them! Midnight it is.

The bus is stuck with a puncture that needs repair. And sleepyheads are yawning away to glory. After a brief sojourn in the Nilgiris, we are on our way back to Chennai, and the sea. I’m tired but not quite sleepy. So I stand in my little corner looking at bright little spots ‘up above the sky so high’. Voila! I see a ‘shooting star’! Or so they call the meteors — lumps of extraterrestrial rocks that enter our atmosphere. That I hadn’t seen one before this is a tragedy. I want to see meteor showers some day!

We spin with our planet, every day, endlessly. Every morning we wake up to a sunrise. And every evening we see the sun set, as that usurper of the light — that thing we call the night — descends upon us, bringing in its wake (among other things) a vision of space unmatched, even obscured, by the day’s light. There’s much that we would miss if it wasn’t for the night. It’s chilly out here, and I soak in the spirit of the night, wondering what is true and beautiful about it. The quietude, the stillness, the shimmering lights in the distance, around and above, place it in sharp contrast with the day. A very ingrained cultural cliche — perhaps across many cultures — is an association of the night, and its darkness, with all things negative and depressing. And an association of light with truth. I’m not sure where this comes from but there is truth and there is beauty in the night. The night is more than mere darkness. It’s a very blinkered kind of imagination that equates the night with darkness.

The night brings many things to you, to me. It is only the lack of a thing that lets us truly appreciate its meaning, and it’s when we miss it that we know what we miss. The things we take for granted are ones that are too easily accessible and we have little, if any, fear of losing them. Imagine, therefore, days without the darkness of the night, days full of sunlight, unyielding to what we know to be the night. What would we miss?

The sun would never set, and we would miss those beautiful sunsets, the twilight, and that transition from the day to the night. If you’ve ever woken up to witness the time of daybreak, the break of dawn, you would know what I mean. To watch the sky change from pitch black to violet, and then to blue, and orange, even red, in the morning is an experience I would not exchange for anything. Space, as we know it, would not be accessible to humanity. We wouldn’t know the joy of star-gazing! In fact, humanity would probably have never even known the existence of outer space, wrapped up as it would be under a blue sky, with no hint of stars or outer space anywhere. We would not have ventured into space at all, if it were not for the night. The night showed us visions that the day never could. It introduced us to stars and other planets. It made us want to reach out for them. It inspires us to dream of worlds beyond ours! The earliest calenders we made depended on the stars. Civilization, as we know it, would not exist if the night was never there. A world without night would be a confused world. The balance of things would be upset, deeply and irrevocably. The quietude and the stillness of the night will not be there any more.

It seems the puncture has been fixed, folks are boarding the bus again. I follow them. On my seat, by the window side, I sit and stare out of the window, contemplating the lights rushing past me. I’m tired. Yet I can’t sleep. I wonder if my words say any more than they do. I ask the night: Sing me a lullaby, will you?

Postscript: Cross-posted from my article in this month’s ToS
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