The moon is in the news! This week marks 50 years since the first man landed on the moon, and the papers are full of it, including reminiscences of that milestone year–1969. This took me back to my own association with the moon landing. It was my final school year, and we were told by all our teachers that this was a sure bet as a topic for the essay in our English and Hindi Board papers. So we read all that we could find, and mugged up the names and the dates, and the famous quote “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”—the first words by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon (20 July 1969), and wove them into our creative writing practice.
Those were simple times. Television had still not come to our home. The whole family would avidly listen to the All India Radio news read by familiar comforting voices as they conjured up word pictures of events at home and abroad (the highlight of which was the live broadcast of the Republic Day parade on 26 January). Newspapers in black and white print, and sometimes fuzzy photographs provided the visual support to the audio coverage. We first saw a colour picture of the moon landing in the Span magazine published by the American Cultural Centre.
Being a teenager in Delhi was more about innocent pleasures, than pressures and angst. We had real friends (not virtual) with whom we spent all our time, in school and at each other’s homes, plied with home-cooked food by the much-loved aunties. We had music playing on LPs—Beatles and Woodstock; and the occasional Beat Show, when one of the parents offered to pick us all up and ferry us home for a giggly night-spend together. But we also sated ourselves on the rich offering of music, theatre and art that was easily accessible in Delhi in the 1970s. Books were our BFFs, and sources varied, from the American Library to the hole-in-the-corner neighbourhood lending library.
We were one of the early (now reviled) Khan Market gangs, when ‘hanging out’ meant simply walking around Khan (then not so up-market), and treating ourselves to a coke! Choices were limited, and aspirations were achievable—to join the Administrative Services or become a college lecturer if you were an ‘arts type’, or to become a doctor or engineer. Cut-off marks in lists were in the 60s, and annual fees in the best colleges were still in three figures.
And yet we all got somewhere meaningful, in our own ways, even though by today’s standards we did not “arrive in style” as it were. And we are still there, doing our best to live by our values, in a very different age. It has, after all, been quite an age–half a century–since those days. Since then science and technology have indeed made a giant leap forward, We can be proud that very soon our own moon mission Chandrayaan-2 will be up and away on its way to land on the moon.
Even as we now have the ability to probe the crevices and craters of the distant moon, wonderfully, the moon has not lost its magic for the dreamers and the poets and painters.
We need the moon more than its needs us—look up at the full moon today, and you will know why!