By Sumedha Sircar
“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.”
In the summer of ’10, I made a fantastic discovery.
The sweltering heat that summer burst tires, melted admittedly shoddily built roads, and generally belied all notions one had of Bangalore’s normally placid weather. The rebellion of the weather mirrored my own. For I was a new teenager – one with with two whole months of free time. And I was trying to discover myself. Find out who I was. What it all meant – and how I figured in it all.
One is extraordinarily unlikely to find out the answers to such questions lying down on the couch and watching re-runs of Friends – with an inordinate supply of Nutella to boot. So of course, in the quest to prove myself as unique and therefore worthy (of who knows what), I decided to adopt the incredibly trite and inane path of being rebellious – of unnecessarily answering back, going out of my way to not do as I was told, and being generally disruptive – and acting like I knew better.
The irony completely escaped me – a compelling example of just how much ‘knowing’ I was yet to do. I wore hideous black t-shirts – to spoil my mothers delicate sensibilities, of course. As a consequence of this, it was I who suffered the most – did I mention how hot that summer was?
That’s the thing about rebellion. Though sometimes imperative, it often ends up hurting the perpetrator the most.
Housebound by the heat, and finally willing to listen to the vestiges of my glorious pre-teen self, I decided I needed to find something interesting. And late one Tuesday, I did. I found Astronomy. From that time forward, I was hooked.
My screensaver was the Pillars of Creation, Brian Greene was my new hero, and I was quoting Carl Sagan on every possible occasion. I obsessively looked for the North Star and the Great Dipper every time I stepped out of the house. I loved looking at the stars. I knew that those tiny glowing pricks represented something unimaginably majestic. Things so majestic, that even a few of its light rays, travelling for millions of light years through the cosmos, resulting in a pin-sized dot had the effect of making me feel small and insignificant.
I liked feeling that way. It was humbling. Made me feel that what I wore for Tanaya’s birthday party didn’t matter as much.
And then came high school, and found myself enthralled by stars of a different nature entirely. I remained loyal to my Astronomy Club and Scientific American subscription, but I also pilfered petty cash to buy Filmfare magazines (Sorry, Daadi. Your math was always fine.), along with my fathers monthly copy of Forbes. Monthly visits to the Nehru Planetarium were compounded with gossip fests about movie and music stars, and serious discussions about rising political stars.
On Twitter, I followed NASA and ISRO, but I also followed Lady Gaga and Orlando Bloom, not to mention Manmohan Singh. The Pillars of Creation now became part of a rotation of pictures that included Gisele Bündchen and Ricky Martin posing against breezy, tropical backdrops.
These stars, much like the ones I fell in love with a few years ago, made me feel small and insignificant. But this time, I didn’t quite like it. These ‘stars’, after all, were as human as me. Why couldn’t I look as nice as Cindy Crawford does? Cindy Crawford once famously said that, “I wish I had a body like Cindy Crawford.” Yeah, you and me both. Why didn’t I have Bill Clinton’s way with words? I dreamt of someday joining my place in the constellation of these great stars. And my biggest dread was that there was no place for me in the constellation at all. Still, Oscar acceptance speeches were practiced in the shower, and diplomatic conversations with the President of Israel were rehearsed in Hindi classes. Impassioned speeches were written to ISIS and Boko Haram every Sunday afternoon (after all the homework was done, of course. Let it never be said that my flights of fancy affected my academic performance).
Dreaming about solving the oil crisis, or figuring out the intricacies of hostage exchange is nice. Yet one must wonder what it means to be a star. It must be nice to literally have worlds revolve around you, and illuminating everything around you. Yet, if one really looks at it, a star is furiously burning, all alone. Burning to its sure, certain death. The following is the motto one of my favourite authors lived by:
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night
But ah by foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light
While this sounds very nice, one has to wonder about the consequences of ‘burning oneself out’, and ask if it is worth it. Is the ‘hectic glow of consumption’ Thoreau extolled all that?
Take our earthly stars, for example. It can’t be nice to base your entire life on other people’s perception of you. And to have your every action intensely scrutinized and judged. And to know of the ephemeral nature of all the attention. Fame is a fickle friend, and no one knows this better than our stars. Stars of all kinds must meet their end. It’s probably what makes depression and suicide so high among these people under the public eye.
I still watch the stars every night. And pause Youtube videos of Shashi Tharoor to yell at him when our opinions diverge (often). But I no longer romanticise stars – of any kind. They have a life more fabulous, but also a life harder than most.
Perhaps being a star is immeasurably awesome. I wouldn’t know. For now, I’m happy where I am – a casual bystander in the lives of the spectacular, with an unbelievable amount of Anatomy to study.
I have grown up since the summer of ’10, haven’t I?
Sumedha Sircar is a second year student at KMC Manipal, working in the college’s Editorial Board as a writer. Her interests span from Second World War based fiction to Stanley Kubrick movies to John Oliver, and almost everything in between. A social media dinosaur (the point of Snapchat is lost on her), Sumedha is nevertheless creepily well-informed of college gossip. She can often be found finishing record work she despises and listening to Shostakovich -whom she recently discovered much to her delight and much to her neighbours’ dismay. Approach her if you want to geek out about great movies, books, conspiracy theories or watch the stars. Be warned through, she will claw your eyes out if you make the mistake of approaching her when she’s sleepy.