As a child, I was always fascinated by the night sky. Some great memories of sky watching from my childhood are from visits to my grandparent’s place during summer vacations. They stayed in a small village where there was hardly any electricity during those days. In the evenings, dinner would be over before sunset and we would go to the terrace of the house as soon as darkness came over. Since there was nothing to do till we went off to sleep, most of the time was spent watching the night sky. Without any pollution and reflections from city lights, the night sky was brilliantly lit up with millions of tiny stars. My dad first introduced me to the constellations of stars like the great bear, the hunter and many more. Even after so many years, I have vivid memories of those days and I have yet to see a sky so lit up with stars as it was there. Occasionally we would also spot a shooting star moving across the sky. Being summers, we would sleep on the terrace under the open sky and it was a wonderful feeling to lie down under the stars and wonder how far they are and how tiny we are in this huge universe. It was here that I had my first and probably only sight of the Milky Way. I still remember being woken up in the middle of the night by my dad to see the Milky Way. And my!! What a sight it was! It was like a bright river full of stars in the sky. No wonder it is called the Akashganga.
As I grew up, my fascination continued. I remember that the night sky for every month was published in the newspaper and I, armed with a cutting of the same would be on the lookout to spot various planets and constellations though the sky in the city was never the same. I remember having a sprained neck from my experiment of continuously watching a star as morning approached to see how stars disappeared as dawn came 🙂 I remember waking up in the middle of the night and sitting in my balcony trying to see meteorite showers 🙂 In short, I was crazy 🙂 My dad encouraged my interest by getting me books on the subject and taking me to the planetarium. I dreamed of being a space scientist or an astronaut some day 🙂 But life had other plans. I am not complaining, I like my current work too. But then for the last many years I lost touch with this hobby or fascination…. until recently 🙂
Some days back, I read about the Geminids shower on the morning of 14th Dec. I was skeptical that we would be able to see anything in Mumbai skies, but decided to take a chance. The directions given in the news articles were very clear… the shower would be visible in the eastern part of the sky and would peak at around 5 am. I told Cheebu about it and she was quite excited and seeing her excitement, hubby agreed to accompany us. So a plan was made… We were to wake up at around 4:30 am and go to the top floor of our building which has a gallery facing towards the East (The terrace unfortunately is not open) and look out for any “shooting stars” 🙂 I wasn’t sure if Cheebu would wake up though, as I have a tough time waking her for school every morning. But on the D day, as soon as I called out her name and told her that it was time to go and see the “shooting stars”, she was up and awake in a flash 🙂 Dressed up in our night suits and gowns and covered with caps, shawl and jackets we went up. There was not a soul around and I wondered if it had been the right thing to do …waking up Cheebu so early on a school day to see some shooting stars which in all probability we might not see at all. But the moment we reached there, our eyes fixed to the sky, we saw a “shooting star”(as Cheebu calls them) and the excitement in Cheebu’s eyes… it was priceless… certainly worth the effort we put in sacrificing our cosy sleep on a cold winter night 🙂 And to me, it brought back my own childhood. In the next 20 minutes that we were there we saw about 8-10 shooting stars … not a shower but well, much more than we had expected. While we were there, Cheebu spotted the Great Bear and told me that those group of stars appear to make a P. I was overjoyed at her observation and told her that it was called the “Great Bear” or “Saptrishi”. Later, during one of our evening walks after dinner, I showed her the “Hunter” constellation which she can identify now. Parts of our evening walks are now spent in skywatching 🙂 and seeing her interest I thought it was now the right time to introduce her to one of my books from childhood which I had safely kept for her 🙂
A book that my dad had got for me, a book that I had enjoyed immensely as a child. Incidentally, the book is about 2 children Alex and Sveta whose father introduces them to astronomy in a fun way. I hope Cheebu will enjoy it as much as I did and it will give her as much joy as it gave me 🙂