Monday, August 3, 2009

What the solar eclipse taught us

The solar eclipse of 22 July 2009 was the longest total solar eclipse during the 21st century, not to be surpassed until June 2132. It lasted a maximum of 6 minutes and 39 seconds off the coast of Southeast Asia, causing tourist interest in eastern China, Japan, India and Nepal.

- From the Wikipedia

All of us were very excited about the eclipse and we wanted to catch it 'live' as it happened. (We have no TV so no 'action replay' option) So we went to Nehru Planetarium and bought the special 'glasses' that would let us watch the eclipse without becoming the first fully blind homeschooling family in the world. The glasses were actually some sort of very dark plastic set in cardboard frames and cost 25 Rupees each. We bought one for each of us because none of us wanted to share the glasses and miss any of the action.

The time for the eclipse in Delhi was between 5:30 and 7:30 in the morning and the children (even 7 year old Dinkar who usually sleeps till 8:30) were all up and ready by 5 in the morning. Where we live, the roofs are connected together without any walls in between so we were thinking that the whole place would be swarming with children and their parents in a Holi or Diwali kind of festival atmosphere. It was cloudy at 5:30 and when we reached the terrace all ready for the crowd and the great experience with our special cardboard glasses we found... Yes you are right, no other children there. The only other people we could see on our terrace and on the vast sea of terraces in our neighborhood were ONE middle aged couple looking at the sky through a big Xray film.

We waited on top till almost 7:00 braving the heat and the flies and watched through the glasses as the sun played hide and seek with us through the clouds. But at around 6:30, the time for the maximum eclipse in Delhi, for about 30 seconds or so, we saw with our naked eyes, and shared amongst ourselves, the miracle of the crescent sun. And Aditi took this picture as a keepsake.

Yes, I know, YOU went with your children and saw the eclipse but why were all the rest of the children in Delhi not on the roofs? Why didn't every school in Delhi buy the 25 Rupee glasses and make it compulsory for each student to buy it at 50 Rupees from the class teacher? Why didn't they make it compulsory for each student to be on the roof or on the road and for each student/parent to write a 250 word essay on 'The longest eclipse that I will ever see in my life'?

I think the partial answer may lie in a conversation I am almost sure I overheard:

Mother 1: Did you see the eclipse?
Mother 2: Yes. Wasn't it spectacular?
Mother 1: Which channel did you see it on? I saw it on NDTV. I think they are great.
Mother 2: Oh! I saw it on BBC. I don't trust the Indian channels. They are capable of showing us the previous eclipse and saying that it is this one you know.
Mother 2: (sympathetically) Yes, I know. You can't trust the media at all. By the way, you know 'X' is learning about it in school, so he wanted to go on the roof. Finally I had to tell him that his hair will all fall out if it gets exposed to the cosmic rays of the eclipse. That stopped him! He is very attached to his hair.
Mother 1: (Smiles) Good. I didn't let 'Y' and 'Z' go up either. It says in the newspaper that many people have gone fully blind by looking at the sun during the last eclipse.

X, Y and Z, as you may have been taught in school, are unknown variables in Algebra. In fact they are so much unknown that their mothers 1 and 2 are nearly at their wits ends about their unknownness.

Mothers 1 and 2 are post graduates, have lived abroad, dress fashionably, live on the top floors of their apartment blocks and between them have 3 children below the age of 10. Walking up to the roof with their children wouldn't have been very much more effort than pressing the remote buttons on their TVs...

...But then post graduate degrees by themselves do not necessarily make you less superstitious and high levels of intelligence do not necessarily lead to wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. Hats off to you and your family! Aditi can have her photo exhibition very soon! I could not go up to the terrace to watch the eclipse since I was busy preparing lunch to be packed for college! I did catch the live telecast of the eclipse off and on (shuffling between kitchen and my room. Thanks to CNN IBN I could catch the amazing sights of the eclipse at 4 places simultaneously..The experience you and your family had cannot be measured or compared for sure. I must admit 'Lucky you!'