Wednesday, December 16, 2009

All eclipsed (July 22nd, 2009)

Today was the longest solar eclipse of the century, lasting 6 minutes and 39 seconds, visible all along a 250 km corridor across Asia, witnessed by billions, as it cut through the two most populous nations of the world - India and China. In Delhi though, visibility was said to be poor, hampered on account of the monsoon clouds (‘What’s that?!’, you said? Yes, I said monsoon. MON. SOON. Ok? Mon NOT soon at all in this case, but anyhow…)

Anyway to get back to the subject, thousands gathered all across the holy city of Benaras (Varanasi), especially at the Burning Ghats, to watch the brilliantly glowing ‘Eye of God’, better known as the Corona (the sun’s atmosphere), which is visible only during a total eclipse like this one was. Thousands all over India also took part in purification rituals by bathing in the river Ganga (the Ganges) to ward off any evil that might strike during the 6 minutes that the sun god took his eye off the planet.

Unfortunately, I missed the event of the century since I had not being paying enough attention to the news. But that is not to say I was unaffected by these celestial happenings. So that day, I went down from lab to the canteen for lunch as usual, and asked for my regular 20 rupee fare – roti (leavened dry bread), sabzi (the vegetable of the day), and daal (lentil soup).

“Aaj khatam ho gaya, madam” I was informed. (It’s all over today, madam)

“Kyun?” (why?)

“Voh aaj grahan thha na, is liye koi ghar se khana nahi bana ke layen. Sab ne yaheen se khaya”
(Well, because of the solar eclipse no one has cooked food today at home. Everyone ate at the canteen)

One of the (many) ways in which North India differs from the South is that superstition (mostly connected with religious ritual) is rife among well educated people here. Not to say it is absent in the south, but it certainly much much less prevalent. The solar eclipse (‘grahan’) is considered to be an extremely inauspicious time especially to cook food or engage in household activities.

So, for lunch I mulled eating a few samosas (deep fried pastry stuffed with spicy mashed potato), a tea time snack and also the only food item available on this particular day for consumption. It is yummy, although good neither for the waistline, the heat, nor the appetite. (In my head, I could hear my mother say – “Yes Nayan, eat all that potato. You will look like one very soon!”)

“Chalo thik hai bhaiyya, do samose hi de do” I succumbed to hunger (Fine, just give me two samosas)

“Er actually madam..., voh bhi abhi just khatam ho gaya” he answered sheepishly, as he handed the last two pieces of the only consumable item at the National Institute of Malaria Research to a lanky boy ahead of me.

“Huh?!” I exclaimed loudly, a look of immense distressed clearly visible on my face.

“Sorry madam. Vaise madam, grahan ke time par kam hi khana chahiye …” (Sorry, madam. In any case madam, one should eat less during the eclipse) he offered helpfully.

Er right, I muttered as I marched off, pulling out a piece of gum to chew and shaking my fist at Mr. sun god with my other hand …

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