NASA’s rover Perseverance successfully landed on Mars’s surface in what was a historic landing on the red planet last Friday. The six-year-old within me again wondered: when would we colonise other planets; planets like Mars? Such questions have always consumed my schemas since childhood: what belongings should I take for the space invasion? Who would be the best companion on the mission?
I’ve often wondered if astronomy is still a hobby for me or if it has evolved into something much more tenacious. Have I become obsessed? Am I an astrophile? Astrophilia is a love or obsession with outer space, the sun, moon, the planets. The passion was always there. Looking at the sky was my favourite pastime at the age of six: connecting the sparkling infinite dotted stars in the open sky filled with moonlight was the first stepping stone towards the yūgen world in my mind. Discerning a giant question-mark constellation was a landmark moment for me.
My mother, who raised a space-obsessed kid, tells me, “Shine like a star, girl.” My brother joked about my well-being, asking “All good? Shall we book your appointment?” while I would gaze at the wide, blue sky. With dwindling stars and increasing pollution, I had to shift my hobby from gazing at the numb sky to the picture books on space — another world with the potential to bring out the child within me. My father told me, “I will get you a National Geographic edition on space if you get a distinction in Class 1.”
I remember how my happiness manifested in the form of rolling tears. It is hard for anyone under 25 to appreciate just how much optimism I had in my generation about exploring space and encountering tentacle-equipped strangers with misshapen bodies. I threw myself into looking up all things outer space in books, from Mars to black holes to galaxies to constellations. The gaseous rings of Jupiter made me feel pity for the planet: “God! Please make Jupiter lose fat so he does not have to wear a belt (ring) every day.” The wish was a source of laughter for everyone.
As I became older, I started experimenting with my hobby in different formats. I’d watch sci-fi movies, series, documentaries, draw space invasions, change my surname to Chawla or NASA depending upon my mood. Today, my TV watch list is made up of shows such as Salvation, Lost in Space, Passengers, Dark, Interstellar, Gravity and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
At the age of 11, I was awestruck when I filmed a shooting star on my mobile. My friend Antara suggested, “Let’s mail NASA about your discovery.”
But we didn’t have access to the internet, nor did we have a Gmail account. As NASA ventured more and more into space exploration, the idea of space travel started to seem plausible to me. My cousin Falak said, “Let’s crowd-fund your space tour.” After touring our locality, the crowdfunding closed at a collection of Rs 10, just enough to buy a bar of chocolate. Now I believe many kids go through the astronomy phase compulsorily of not becoming an astronaut but to the serene beauty of stargazing and planet watching which I feel is the most romantic way to fall in love with the universe. My heartstring remains as constant as the North Star.
Space is never far from my thoughts, and neither is the corresponding possibility of the existence of alien life and goofy creatures. Seeing my weird obsession, Aditi, a friend, told me, “Change your name to Twinkle.”
The fluorescent star-shaped sticker on my ceiling is evidence of the prevailing bond.
I remember my royal-blue binoculars with the black strap, which my Dad gave me to explore my passion. Then someone stole them. Looking through the binoculars, I realised that the moon is not a perfect sphere. The only opportunity I had to look through my binoculars was looking at the crescent moon one Eid. For me, the binoculars were like the Hubble Telescope and a way to communicate with outer space. One of the great things about becoming a stargazer is that you become a faithful and lifelong friend of the sky.
Sumaila Zaman is a student Journalist at Asian College of Journalism.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty