24 Sep 2016 20:24 IST

The Sun and the Moon

And how their stories will always be told

Many years ago, I woke up early one dark winter morning in snowbound Moscow and looked down from the window many storeys high. The streetlights threw pale shadows on the quiet street below. All was still and silent and lonely, but for a swaddled figure throwing salt upon the icy street surface. That’s the moment I decided I would never ever grumble about the sun — not its glare, not its heat, not the sweat. I would never want to be that person freezing out there.

Despite all that we know about the sun, it never stops fascinating us, even though these past September days in Chennai have been uncommonly hot. And for all the number of astronauts that have landed on the moon, it will never lose its magic. The mythologies of different cultures weave a myriad mysterious spells over us about them that no scientist can ever dispel.

The sun is an orange

Take the story of Hanuman who, when he was little, thought the sun was an orange and he wanted to have it, right then, to play with. So he jumped up into the sky, and it took Indra’s thunderbolt to knock the little fellow back to earth. Imagine the sun as the Greek god Helios driving across the universe in his chariot. In Hindu mythology, the sun as Surya is driven in a chariot drawn by seven horses, representing the rainbow. The image is mindboggling.

In a poem by a little girl that I read long ago, she described the sun as an orange in the fridge!

Remember Icarus? His father, Daedalus, was a famous craftsman, and he made them both wings with wax and feathers so they could dare to fly. They fixed the wings on their shoulders and just before they took off, Daedalus warned his son not to go too close to the sun, for the wax would melt, nor too close to the sea for the feathers would get wet. But once Icarus was up there, he forgot himself and pushed further and further upward, even as the sun watched his ascent. Soon, Icarus’s wax-wings melted and he plunged into the sea that is now named after him, the Icarian Sea.

What can you say about the moon that hasn’t already been said in poems and love songs? In a folktale from the North-East, it is said Sun and Moon were children of Mother Earth. They loved their mother and wanted to be close to her. Choose me, choose me, each cried. Well, I want to rest, Mother Earth said. So, watch over me, and then I will choose. Sun shone in all its splendour, shining firm in the bright blue sky. Mother Earth sweltered and smouldered, she didn’t get a wink of sleep. Then came Moon, pouring down cool, soothing rays that gently massaged her tired back, and Mother Earth fell into a dreamless sleep. She chose Moon to be near her. That’s why the sun lies 150 million kilometres away from the earth, while the moon orbits at the relatively short distance of 3,84,400 km. Sometimes, when the full moon appears all honey and gold, it feels like the moon will touch the earth. At others, the moon seems far away. Is the earth angry with the moon sometimes — maybe for being the object of so much love and erotic fantasy…?

Restful beauty

The moon is powerful because it draws you towards itself. Its gravitational pull is so strong, the oceans cannot resist, their waters rising towards the moon with the tides. In boarding school, tides were the last thing on our mind. Our dormitory was a large balcony, converted. When the moon waxed, we felt the full effect of its rays in our room. There’s no scientific study to prove its effect on our behaviour, but certainly the adrenaline pumped faster on moonlight-flooded nights.

You look up at the sun and you scrunch your eyes, but you know it’s there, shining for all its worth, on everybody and everything on earth; every day. But there are places on earth where the sun seems to have fallen off the edge of the horizon, where its light doesn’t penetrate for days and weeks at a stretch. This happens in the Polar Circle. It’s what they call the polar night, when there’s 24 hours of night… And then there’s the polar day. For about 50 days in parts of Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden, the sun never sets, nor, indeed, rises.

For us, sitting deep inside the tropical zone, this is unbelievable. Here in the topics, we have hours of daylight followed by the darkness of night, a routine that regulates our body clocks comfortably and easily. Up there in the Polar Circle, the body clock must go haywire. It can’t be easy to handle those endless days and endless nights.

Like I said at the start, I love the sun, I feel it is mine. Still, when night comes, I plunge into it with a sigh of relief. And if there’s a full moon in the sky, there’s magic too. There’s promise of sleep and dreams and tomorrow to look forward to, and the sun, my sun.

When humans finally colonise Mars, will the moon still be the moon?

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