The moon, when you think about it, is a minor player in the galaxy. Comets, black holes and meteors are more complex and convey more force and influence. The reason the moon is important to earthlings is because of its geographical nearness; and the fact that we have always fantasized about colonizing it. The moon’s size and its dynamism make it compelling to us. It does things: waxing, waning, disappearing, reappearing. It is huge when compared to the stars and even though, we know that this is because the stars are farther away from the earth, we still cannot comprehend this galactical distance. Most of all, the moon is beautiful. It is distinct— easily spottable in that vast eternity that is the universe. So we worship it, stare at it, dream about it, keep healing crystals under its benevolent light. The moon is cool— both literally and figuratively. We chart our travels based on it; propitiate ancestors when it disappears; map tides and a woman’s hormones according to it.
For all these reasons, the moon occupies a disproportionate stature in poetry, music, verse, theater, paintings and our own psychic space. So much so that when Greek philosopher, Anaxagorus, first suggested that moon fed off the sun’s light, he was imprisoned and later exiled for removing the romance from the heavens. In partial apology, astronomers named a crater on the moon after him.
Vedic astrology, if I am not wrong, is based on the lunar calendar. This unpredictable tractable creature that Vedic sages called Soma— son of Atri and Anusuya— created many myths ranging from Rahu swallowing the moon to Ganesha cursing the moon.
Other scientific displines may arouse ire but not this level of romantic nostalgia as the moon does. Genetics, for instance, is drilling into our bodies and discovering that we Indians are neither Dravidian nor Aryan; that there is no North-South divide. We are– contrary to caste and religious predilictions—all mixed up. This recent landmark study by a team of Indian and Harvard scientists offers provocative conclusions but inspires little romance. The moon is the ultimate romantic tool. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said that television could reduce population growth. But how to control desires that waxed and waned on a coir bed under the light of the moon?
Until television became babysitter and distraction, much of India was fed under the moon. Crying infants were taken outside, securely tucked around the hip of an obliging aunt. Unenticing morsels were then thrust into the reluctant infant’s lips using the moon as distraction. ‘Ambuli kaati amudhu padaithu,’ goes a famous Tamil dialogue and it means ‘I showed you the moon and fed you nectar.’ Today, Tom and Jerry play that role.
Even though science is taking it apart and revealing its cratered secrets, the moon might defy the odds. It may be the Black Swan and retain the mystery that made us gaze at it in the first place. Just as Vikram and Mrinalini Sarabhai coexisted, perhaps the moon will remain fascinating to both scientists and artists. So I want to ask Messrs. Annadurai, Madhavan Nair and Kasturirangan: when you gaze skywards at what Chandraayan conquered, do you see craters, terrae and riboleths or do you see what D.H. Lawrence said, “brings a fresh fragrance of heaven to our senses?”
Shoba Narayan thinks that ‘a cow jumped over the moon,’ is just as compelling as water in the moon.