Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Celestial Marvel !

It’s not often that you find me wide awake in the early hours of the morning. It only happens if I have to catch some early-morning train. Or for an all important match on the telly. Maybe even during exam days. But otherwise, catching me in the best of form when the sun is just about up is as nearly rare, if not equally, compared to a solar eclipse. And that was exactly what got me up and about today morning. I’m just back after witnessing another one of the numerous celestial events that I’m so crazy about. This time it was a total solar eclipse yet again.

After all the hype and drama on the countless news channels that we are now almost used to, the day finally arrived. I was actually waiting for it for some days now. And so, I made it a point to set an alarm to go off at five in the morning (which is usually comparable to midnight according to my biological clock).

I instantly tuned into a couple of news channels for the updates on my laptop. The countdown on NDTV showed 14:35 minutes. So, I just moved out onto the terrace to check if the sun was out yet. And more importantly, if there were any clouds around which would greatly upset my plans.
Thankfully, there wasn’t even a single cloud in sight (which wouldn’t have been a welcome sight on any other day in these times of badly needed rains) but neither was the sun. So, that gave me time to get my cameras ready.

Well, I am as much an admirer of simplicity as of advanced technology. So, I had both a pin-hole camera along with a digital camera ready for the event. I don’t know if you have ever experienced it, but the old and simplest of gadgets which are based on basic scientific principles provide the best results. And a pin-hole camera is a great example.

The countdown had reached to four minutes or so when I suddenly heard something in the form of a commotion outside. It appeared as if all the crows from the neighborhood accompanied by all their visiting relatives had all of a sudden decided that their vocal sacs (birds lack vocal cords) needed some urgent exercise. My first reaction was the thought that the horde of the hooligan monkeys was back to cause nuisance. But as I looked out to check, there were none.

And then I observed that the birds, which had woken up on time and were out on work as efficiently as ever, had realized that something was unusual. They couldn’t actually decide if really it was once again the time to get back home so soon. Maybe they were so panicky, they were shouting at each other to decide on to what action needed to be taken.

The sun by this time was up enough to be seen above the houses around ours. Here’s how it looked like as it emerged from behind the buildings.

The sun appearing from behind the buildings !As I checked the news again, it was already eclipsed to about a quarter in Guwahati. And so I positioned the pin-hole camera and observed the image. It was already cut to almost half. To my amazement, I could see some people in the neighborhood. Two people on their respective terraces (one of whom was sort of busy in the daily routine of exercises), the newspaperwalla throwing those rolled newspapers onto balconies and over gates, and a man walking (maybe on his morning walk) on the road. This was very much in contrast to the last time we had a total solar eclipse way back in 1995 (or was it 1996 ??) when I was the only one on my terrace around a neighborhood that looked as if put under curfew.

But I couldn’t see any of the stray dogs which are otherwise always around our street and more so around our house (as I often give them something to bite). Almost all of the birds had vanished. Except for the three brown fakhtas (country doves) sitting on the power cables which were still so confused to decide whether to return or not.

The sunlight was feeble by now. Just as it is at the time of sunset, but it felt very different. The pin-hole camera was showing the sun in almost a crescent.

Image from the pin-hole cameraI tried taking pictures of the sun with the digital camera. But it was still bright enough to glare, refusing to be caught being eclipsed by the moon on cam. Luckily, a few of the snaps caught an added reflection of the eclipsed sun besides the bright glare.

Too much glare even from the crescent !
Wide angle shotAlmost totally eclipsed ! In almost within a minute or two, the sun was a mere crescent. Just as the moon appears on Eid.

The acute crescent in the pin-hole camera
Getting out of the eclipse ! I checked the news again. The channels were showing pictures of the total eclipse as seen in parts of China and many cities in India. But what was so irritating was the emphasis on the astrological aspect of it (if there really is one). There were those big fat jyotishis sitting almost on each news channel and blabbering about the things not to do on the day of the eclipse. Also adding about the ways one can escape the ‘wrath’ of the eclipse.

More than showing the actual visuals of the eclipse, they were happy to provide those where people had gathered to take a dip in the holy waters, to pray, to donate food, clothes, even cows…. !!! Even for once, they didn’t talk about what new studies the scientists were planning to carry out during this eclipse. So I shifted my attention to NASA’s official eclipse website.

By then, the light had started to get normal once again, and some of the birds had started to appear too. The crow which now sat on the edge of my terrace was giving a look to his partner as if saying, “I told you so….”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

God's gift to the world !

I was just wondering about the things about which we feel ourselves being extremely lucky to have been able to experience during our lifetimes. Things which we consider as God’s gift to us. Well, such things would surely differ from person to person. Although there are things which may be common to some people. Also, there may be some those are common to a whole country. But is there something that’s common to all of the human race, (well,…. almost) across borders and continents.

A simple answer would be music. Of course, music is not limited to certain parts or people. But, it connects people across the world.

And no one did that better than a certain Michael Jackson.

I wonder if there has been someone more popular than him around the world ever. Ok, at times for the wrong reasons rather than the right ones. But yes, he was ‘well known’. And so was his music. (well, you surely can’t have unbelievably huge crowds all around the world for concerts just for nothing !)

Wikipedia describes him as a recording artist, entertainer and businessman. (not as a singer/musician/dancer strangely) And an entertainer he was. In the truest sense. I wouldn’t consider him as a successful businessman though, having been in no less than about 500 million dollars in debt (if you would consider money as the basis for his business)

I first came to know about his existence sometime back in 1986-87. It was an audio cassette titled ‘Thriller’ that was presented to me by my friend Akshay on my birthday. I was rather fascinated by the image of the slim young man holding a cub that was on the cover of that ‘Billboard’ cassette.

And strangely, that gift coincided with my getting my first ‘walkman’. It was as if, destiny had planned well to introduce me to something that would be with me for ever. And for the next few months, I would listen to the cassette at least twice daily (the ‘Thriller’ track more than five times every day).

In the next summer, after a hard day’s cricket (we were in the middle of our summer holidays, of course) Akki suggested we watch the ‘Making of Thriller’ on tv (those were the days of the video cassettes) as he had rented the same from a library.

And I was mesmerized…. To put it lightly.

There was something…. something special in the way he presented the dance (if it was really a sort of dance) that I was hooked. And I hadn’t even seen any of his other videos. So, when he came out with ‘Black or white’, I would never lose a chance to catch it on tv.

Once again in 1995, I was presented his ‘Dangerous’ on an audio cassette (on my birthday as usual) and as expected, I couldn’t stop listening to it.

And then began all those controversies about him which would be obvious for any celebrity even of a level much less than his stature. But I didn’t get to hear or know much about all those except from the newspapers mainly because I had myself busy in rather important decisions of my life but also because I didn’t care.

As I found on the internet, “Jackson donated and raised more than 300 million dollars for beneficial causes through his Heal the World Foundation, charity singles, and support of 39 charities.” Making a sort of record in itself too. But even in his music, he had messages for everyone. ‘Black or white’, ‘Heal the world’ and the ‘Earth song’ were a few to mention. In fact, the ‘Earth song’ is considered to be an anthem rather than just a song. No wonder people were after his life.

He changed a lot in appearance. In fact, he had completely changed from those times of ‘Thriller’ and ‘Billie Jean’, but still, was special.

And suddenly, we heard of his passing away. I didn’t know how to react to it. So, I decided not to. But I was tempted to type in his name on ‘Youtube’ to check what I get. I had barely typed M, and I when it showed up results related to MJ. Maybe because of the increased traffic searching for videos about him since his death. There were some of his music videos, his interviews, personal compilations and some from his concerts around the world.

As I started watching one video after another, I realized why he was so special. Here is one such excerpt from his 30th Anniversary concert in New York in 2001.

And I watched on. From Munich, to Bucharest, to Kuala Lumpur, to Mumbai, to London, to the magnificent ‘Superbowl’….

Yesterday, I was showing my friend some of MJ’s music videos that have been in my collection since the time I had started downloading from the internet. And as expected, he reacted in just the way someone who hadn’t seen MJ perform before would. So, before long, he was wishing if he could see more. And so, I shared some of the amazing videos I had ‘favourited’ on ‘Youtube’.

As far as I gather from whatever I have seen and known of him, he was humble. Not full of that typical arrogance those so called famous artists carry. Tell me, which performer would allow his fans to come on stage and hug him right in the middle of the show. I doubt if any of them would risk it. But MJ did. And was always graceful.

We were soon onto a discussion about whether he was really special after watching seas of fanatical fans in each of his concerts (my friend hadn’t seen people crying and getting unconscious, being taken away on stretchers right in the middle of the songs too). So, we decided to check on the concerts of some of the other famous artists for the sake of comparison.

I wouldn’t name the other artists on whom we checked as people might have different preferences. But our instant reaction after watching those was…. Its not the same. 'Dry' was the word we both used in comparison to those by MJ. I can’t and wont say that he was a better singer, or dancer than other famous artists, or that his music was better, but surely he was the best entertainer. The best ever.

But still, there was a sense of loneliness about him. You could feel it if you ever followed him and his life. But he always smiled (at least that’s how I always saw him). I don’t know what people may think about him. Maybe I don’t even care. But for me, he provided the magic which would take me into some other world (even if for those few minutes) away from all the thoughts troubling my mind. And maybe that’s what he did for people around the world.

As for now, I’m obsessed with ‘Blood on the dance floor’ and ‘You rock my world’ which I have been watching regularly at least five times daily for the past week or so. And I will remain so till some other of his videos/songs catch me. They keep changing time after time. But, for me, Michael Jackson was and will always be God’s gift to the world…. always !


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