Monday, April 11, 2011

The Earth is like an Onion

The Earth is like an Onion
      dedicated to my grandmother who lives in Chattar, Mandi (HP)
Eclipsing the Myths and Discovering America

In 2005, I traveled over eight thousand miles, by air, train, bus, on foot,
over Europe, Middle-East, Atlantic, over lands Catholic and prehistoric,
to arrive at my village in the Himalayas.

My grandmother inspected me with a widow’s eyes,
and offered me goat-milk tea, drenched with tears.

I was asked to explain how far was I from a distant
cousin in London and from another uncle in Africa.

Her elder sister strained her years as well –
While I offered distances in kilometers, their gaze failed
to see what thousands I spoke of.

For both of them, Delhi, four hundred kilometers away, was a far-off horizon
and they barely knew much counting.

So I asked them to forget about distances, and think time.
I told them of the time difference between nations. The elder one asked,
"Why do the damn watches behave differently?"

Neither the time difference nor the number of miles meant anything.
So I grabbed a stick, and carved nations on the ground,
and pointed out India, America.

My cartography was as useless to them as my talk about how distant
we had become, separated by the education and more.

An unsolved problem of explaining stuff, before a future
professor of Physics – I told myself – try harder!

I asked daadi if she had anything spherical at hand.

Daadi looked around the house, recounting several stories about the balls
brought and lost by her different grandsons, concluded, “Forget it, far
is the other world: why worry about it?”

Then I found an onion, and brought out a flashlight.

"See grandmas," I said. "The Earth is like an onion
and the sun is like this flashlight, only much bigger.”

I took a pen and drew the continents and oceans
and lectured, "The Earth is like an onion,
and it spins like a top, once a day."

The Grandmothers watched the shadow of the onion,
and the rays from a battery powered sun and saw rotation
of earth as the harbinger of fun.

Here Sun is rising in India, while America is sleeping.
Africa must wait for its dawn, and London
once lit, isn't now so.

"O close to death old woman!" said my delighted daadi,
"Earth is like an onion, and rotates. My grandson suggests,
Sun is no God moving east to west on Chariot, as we thought."

The two sisters, with their life's wrinkles on them, are hooked
to my demonstration. Excited to show them more,
I find a grape and call it Chandamaama, the moon uncle.

Aryabhatta, Kepler, Galileo and Copernicus smile.
I was repeating their words, translated into Pahari.

Soon the sisters discovered the eclipses.
The elder one remarked, "Why, the younger widowed one,
the accursed Rahu doesn't swallow the sun during the eclipse, o dear."
Both then praised Gods for incredible things Americans taught me.

I returned to my parent's house, and narrated the story to my mother.
She clapped her hands, and burst out laughing, explained to me,
"O son, by now, the whole village must have seen that onion."

The onion, like the earth, now moves from hand to hand.
My grandmother now carries the torchlight
and she is teaching people how to make night and day. 

Published First in MUSE INDIA

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