A few of us lucky ones may have witnessed live, the recent Blue Red Moon phenomenon. We were only able to enjoy the spectacular pictures of the moon’s sighting, emailed the next morning by my sister-in-law from their farmhouse in India. The breathtaking photos demonstrated the unsurpassed majesty of nature.
Pictures of the moon in all its glory revived latent memories of a childhood ditty. Most of us who were born in India would surely remember these lines, softly hummed by our mother, grandmothers, aunts or nannies:
“Chandaa maamaa duur ke, pooe pakaaye buur ke
Aap khaayen thaali mein, munney ko dein pyaaali mein”
[Moon (maternal-)uncle so far away, making sugar pancakes
(He) eats from a platter (but) serves the little boy, in a small cup]
This nursery rhyme and all-time favorite lullaby transcended all regions and societal divides across India for generations, but I am not sure if this is still the case. Perhaps, busy parents are now able to abdicate their responsibility, downloading it to a suitable “App” that the child watches in the crib before lulling itself to sleep.
Mankind has, for ages, been enamored of the moon – the glowing orb that shrinks to nothing and then returns. It has been used by love-struck paramours as an intermediary for communicating their yearning to the object of their emotional outpourings, while poets have frequently used this symbol to pen paeans of unrequited love, and, as a symbol of celestial beauty. Folks, specially from South Asia have used variations of “moon” for naming their daughters and sons over the ages. Some of the names that readily come to mind are “Chandramukhi and Mahjabeen (moon-faced), Poornima (full moon), Chanda and Hala (moon) etc.,” for females and “Chandrakant (beloved of/by the moon), Mayank and Shashank (moon) and Hilal (new crescent moon) etc.,” for males. Bollywood movies and songs are also replete with references to the moon. Other cultures too favor names based on the moon, for instance Luna, Yue, Tayen and Diane etc.
I have always been fascinated by the phases of the moon, not in a scientific or astronomical sense but by the unfolding beauty as it waxes and wanes. One can stand and stare at it, savoring a new experience each time. One evening, looking out the window I espy but a tiny sliver until a few nights later, behold, a full moon bursts through from behind a cover of clouds in all its silver glory! Out for a walk on the neighborhood trail, as silhouettes raising dark thoughts are scared away by the fresh snow glistening under muted footfalls I suddenly stop dead in my tracks, entranced. A silvery shimmering crescent breaks free from the embrace of the frozen lake’s lip-locked ripples, those shivering custodians of its timeless depth. Or, that summer evening when I sat on the deck playing peek-a-boo with the moon as it winked at me through the gently swaying tree’s canopy of leaves and out of nowhere a window in my mind opened, with these lyrics of a beautiful ghazal penned by the famous poet Rahi Masoom Raza waltzing out, misting my eyes:
“Hum to hain pardes mein, des mein niqlaa hogaa chaand*
Apni raat ki chhat par kitnaa tanhaa hogaa chaand
… chaand bina har din yuun beetaa jaise yug beetey
mere binaa kis haal mein hogaa kaisaa hogaa chaand
[I am in a foreign land all by myself, in my country the moon must have arisen
On its forlorn rooftop, how lonesome must the moon feel
… without the moon each day passed, as if like an eon
without me (I wonder) in what state must the moon be in, how will the moon be]
*Chaand (Moon) could be a metaphor for one’s beloved in this ghazal.
This then leads to the question, “Through whose eyes do we witness the moon?” My own, or that person at the other end of the world? Do we both see the moon as a bright sphere, or does one of us view it as a pock-marked, foreboding planetoid? Based on the state of mind and emotions of the watcher, the moon could be a symbol of joyous union with the beloved or perceived as the source of rising tides in dark seas and minds, encourager of the blood curling howls of nocturnal beasts. What color do the eyes reddened by murderous fury see in the moon’s visage?
“Beauty,” as the adage goes, “lies in the eyes of the beholder.” My perception of the moon, while different from yours, need not be better or worse. Both should be able to co-exist without causing a clash of minds. I wonder if we could simplify other aspects of our lives as well? Race, color, gender, religion? Blessed is the child, who doesn’t know any better and is able to fall asleep, snug in the belief that its maternal uncle, the moon, watches over it smiling benevolently.
Enjoy this ghazal sung by Jagjit Singh.