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  • Sulogna Mehta

The Telescope

For astrophysicist Siddharth, the sky was the world, the planets and stars, his friends and family and the galaxies, perhaps his extended family. What else could be said of a man who would reach home late evening from his workplace - a reputed science institute in the city - gulped down coffee and headed straight to the terrace with a high-end refractor astral telescope.

His conversation with his wife didn’t extend beyond a cursory, ‘Hello, how was your day?’ to which he was not keen for a response anyway. Sunayana knew this too in their 20 years of marital life. She just smiled while serving the snacks and coffee.

Their son Akash, preparing for engineering entrance exams, would be too busy in his study room and he would not be disturbed till dinner time.

Late one Friday night, Venus and Saturn conjunction was to occur with the crescent moon. Siddharth was hoping for a celestial treat but a partially cloudy sky since morning irked him. Nevertheless, he finished his dinner, carried his telescope to the terrace and set it up in the right direction for the best view.

He had barely been there for ten minutes, when a blanket of cloud covered the cosmos. Siddharth hated the rains because he felt cut off from his ‘kith and kin’ residing millions of light years away. Before it started to rain, he wanted to pack up the stuff and as Siddharth was adjusting the lens, with his eye close to it, the lens accidentally fell on the dimly lit terrace of a newly constructed apartment quite a few blocks away.

He saw a young couple dancing in the rain, a slow and sensual waltz. As a light rain commenced, the couple kissed passionately and then went down from the terrace, holding hands. The scientist stood rooted, transfixed for a few minutes, oblivious that it had started drizzling.

Curiosity took the better of him. He directed his telescope towards another house. It was past 11 pm but the lights were on. Curtains were fluttering. Through the telescope, he managed to see a teenager seated in his study and was reading with all concentration. Probably, the boy had exams the next day. A woman, quite likely the mother, handed him a steaming mug, containing coffee or some energizing beverage. She ran her fingers through the boy’s hair affectionately and soon sat down near him with needlework. She kept her son company on the night prior to his exam.

Siddharth knew taking a sneak peek in people’s private lives is not a gentlemanly thing to do. But he couldn’t resist the temptation of checking more households. His lens now scanned another lit-up room, closer to his apartment. He could decipher the faint sound of coughing coming from that room, whose inhabitants were an old couple.

The old man was seated holding a bottle of medicine near his wife’s head. He poured a little liquid from the bottle to a glass kept at the bedside table. The man then tenderly helped his spouse to sit up, arranged the pillows at her back and against the headboard to lean comfortably. He must be saying some soothing words to her as she drank the medicine and handed back the glass. The man waited till the old lady went off to sleep within a few minutes. The room’s light was then switched off.

Siddharth slowly averted his eyes. It was almost midnight. He decided to go downstairs when a loud cheer made him turn around again towards that apartment roof, where he had spotted the young couple dancing a while ago. For all these years, he had been oblivious to the mundane realities of life flowing on the earth. Rather, he was disinterested.

He looked through the telescope once again, telling himself that it would be the last time before he left the terrace. A group of young boys and girls were shouting “Happy Anniversary” in chorus. The drizzle had stopped by then and he could see that a table had been brought in with a cake and candles on it. The youngsters cheered and clapped before the middle-aged couple who cut the cake. “Happy anniversary, mom, dad,” “Happy anniversary, uncle auntie,” some others could be heard yelling. A jubilant celebration followed.

The scientist packed up his stuff and pulled himself downstairs, to his quiet, posh apartment. His wife had been sleeping in the room next to his study. It has become a routine since years that after his star-gazing and other research works, he went off to sleep in the divan placed at one corner of his study. He forgot when he and Sunayana had last slept in the same room. When was the last time they had chatted? When did they last have a real conversation beyond exchanging a few cursory words during meals?

As he stood at the threshold of his son’s room, he found his good-looking son, a disciplined, meritorious student as always, was studying for his entrance exams. He tiptoed out and gazed through the window of their beautifully decked living room. The rain had started again and this time, it was more than a drizzle, falling with full vigour.

His eyes fell on the wall calendar, the one his institute brought out every year with introduction and photographs of various constellations and cosmic bodies. His wife had the habit of encircling special dates on the calendar and she had done it this time too. The day after tomorrow – Sunday – has been circled in red. He realis

ed that it was his birthday. All these years, he had shunned birthday celebrations and Sunayana had limited herself to visiting temples and offering pujas for his well-being. Should he make this Sunday a little different? “How about taking Sunayana and Akash out for shopping and dinner?” He wondered.

And for the first time Siddharth thanked the rains for helping him discover a galaxy within his home.

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