Staring at the Universe forever

I was about 9 years old. We lived in Delhi at a time when there was no pollution. In summer the nights were cool and the whole family slept on the ‘Kotha.’ The terrace of our little rented bungalow in Nizamuddin. I still remember the earthy taste of the water from the clay baked ‘Surahi’ that lay there in case you felt thirsty. The water was cooled through the natural physical laws of osmosis and evaporation. Plastic bottles were unknown and I still cannot get used to the taste of water that comes out of a plastic bottle ….


… and who could forget the dust storms that came so suddenly. The neighbouring desert in Rajasthan’s warnings as it tried to encroach on the incredibly green city that was Delhi. The family rushed up, scurrying to roll up the beds before the sheets blew off into the wind. To get to shelter downstairs before your eyes were so filled with dust that you could no longer see.
Even sleeping was a huge adventure those days.
But what I remember most was lying on my ‘charpai’ – a bed made of ropes strung between a wooden frame – staring at the immensity of the Universe. The stars were unbelievably bright and the sky almost cast a shadow of my hand that I could see on my white sheet. My mother would point out the ‘big bear’ and all other formations of galaxy’s and their names according to western or eastern mythologies. I loved searching for these galaxies at night. They were my friends.
I was just begining to learn about a man called Newton at school. I was being taught the basic laws of physics. I had my own idea of the universe though, and Newton seemed just seemed to complicate what was so natural. Did an apple fall to the ground or did the ground move to the apple ? I revelled in such imaginary ideas annoying my physics teachers no end. I used to sit and dream that I was the apple, and see the ground and everything else rushing toward me, as the branch that I broke myself away from rushed away from me.
I was being taught that nothing existed in this universe unless it was ‘something’. And that ‘something’ had to be measurable. It had to be defined. Without realizing it at that time, I was being force educated into the world of the finite.
So imagine my trauma when I stared every night at the universe. I would ask my father “how far does the universe go ?” ‘
“Forever” he would say.
I could not imagine what Newton would say to “forever” ? Was it ‘something’ ? But something had to have an end, and if the universe was not ‘something’ how could anything be ‘nothing’ ?. I would lie for hours and try and force my imagination to travel distances unknown. Go beyond the stars that I could see. Beyond all those distant Galaxies. Travel into darkness from one imaginary place to another. In search for the end of the universe. In search for ‘forever’.
Sometimes I would break into quite sobs for it was impossible to find ‘forever’. I was just so frustrated with the limits to my imagination. My mother would come and put her arm around me and encourage me to say the Gayatri Mantra. Yet even while I would say the Gayatri Mantra three times with my mother, my mind would be searching for that elusive ‘forever’.
And now, after all these years, I am back where I started. I am once again the little boy staring at the Universe in search of ‘forever’.
shekhar

18 Responses to “Staring at the Universe forever”

  1. Navin says:

    You stirred up nostalgic memories from my own childhood. We also used to sleep outside sometimes on “Manjis” or “Charpais” in our house front/backyard or the terrace, in Delhi. I also used to look at the clear black starlit sky at night for hours, trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe or just in sheer bliss of looking at the stars. Yeah, those were the days!
    Even here in Mumbai, being on the top floor of the building, I sometimes walk up to the terrace to look at the night sky.
    Cheers!
    Navin

  2. Neeta says:

    I too remember looking at the skies but not being as intrigued. As far as I could remember and even now I’m intrigued by people the most.
    Would it be that we carry tendencies from our past in this life.
    Here’s a clip of a toddler playing the tabla that’s intrigued me and reminded me of being lost in one reality that you mentioned in an earlier post.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcQ-bbJlyBE&mode=related&search=

  3. heather says:

    Dear Shekhar
    Besides films, there’s a book in you, too, which I hope to read some day soon.
    love, Heath

  4. kedar says:

    Alexander the dude…
    but there is a vast difference…you have spread your hands before you are on the death bed!!!
    those quiet sobs…
    take care…lots of love…kedar…

  5. GJ says:

    Forever is inside you Shekhar.
    The mistake we make is to open our eyes.
    Which is why children are so beautiful.
    They shut their eyes to whatever doesn’t make sense to them.
    All they know is how they feel.
    That awe that you felt… hold on to that.
    Don’t get nostalgic, you’ll start to feel like it’s all passed.
    It hasn’t.
    It’s there, just close your eyes to everything that tells you it isn’t.

  6. piyali says:

    “I was just so frustrated with the limits to my imagination.”
    so, thought/cognition is finite and is bound by our experiences????

  7. shekhar says:

    Not really Piyali, the struggle at taht time was between learning and imagination. And his taken me many many years now to unlearn and go back to see the world through my imagination. Shekhar

  8. Rudra says:

    That brought back some very similar childhood memories , shekhar – i wonder if our scientific ‘facts'(newton’s included)are just some ‘***sophy’ or ‘***logy’ ?
    we also have apparently authoritative information of the 14 planetary systems decribed in the vedas , are they true ? is it only the material universe that we can see that is real ? it always boils down to the subjective viewpoint , the observer -which i wrote in some posts on this blog .
    the blank void that goes ‘forever’ may just be a visual effect of our defective vision perhaps? after all the human eye is just a convex lens with limited focus ? even the telescopes and other opto-electronics we use only serves to enhance the vision as we know it – is that all that is correct ?
    that is so insufficient , and its so amazing we seem to trust the convex we are born with – and trust the same eyes which see two clearly different tran tracks as a single point beyond some distance. perhaps the forever is aonly a kind of blindness? hmmm ? hmmmm…

  9. Rudra says:

    PSLV launch : congratulations to all ‘connected’ indians on this blog – on india successfully launching the polar satellite launch vehicle – launching 4 different satellites , including the retrievable space capsule. amazing feat , since we are the third nation to have this capability. next step -our own space capsule , and with chandrayaan – india’s mission to moon , it maynot be far when india will have its own space station and bases on planets in the solar system.
    i am hoping to take a ride to space on board ‘avtar’ , 25 years from now.

  10. Hi Shekhar,
    Came across your blog and am going through it right now. This is just to say “Hi!” and hope you are doing great. Your daughter’s name is Kaveri…that is lovely because I live by the bnaks of the Cauvery River (that’s how we spell it here in Mysore!).
    Hope to hear from you.
    Best regards
    ratna

  11. piyali says:

    Actually,wanna know whether the imagination is finite or infinite ? i mean,yeah, one can imagine anything – there’s seems to be no limit to it. but is it exactly so ? hw can i imagine something that isn’t in any vague way related to what i have known or experienced , consciously or subconsciously?

  12. shekhar says:

    I think we interpret our imagination, Piyali. And also our experiences, both conscious and subconscious. And that interpretation is educated to live withing the realms of the logical world as percieved by our five senses.
    Mostly the logical world likes divisions. It likes to define. It feels safe in the realm of separation. So even if you were to experience formlessness, your interpretation will quickly step in and try and define it,
    Shekhar

  13. XYZ says:

    Hi Shekhar,
    can search end and forever begin?
    forever cannot begin with an end
    because forever is forever
    perhaps the ‘search’ is ‘forever’.

  14. Gayatri says:

    My Father
    The memory of my father is wrapped up in
    white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work.
    Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits
    out of his hat, he drew love from his small body,
    and the rivers of his hands
    overflowed with good deeds.
    — Yehuda Amichai
    Sometimes, you remind me of him.

  15. rinesh the God of Love says:

    When you know ‘Nothing’ Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers ,when you know ‘something’ mountains become rivers and the rivers become mountains & when you know ‘Everything’Mountains are Mountains again and rivers are rivers again.
    I was reading somewhere manytimes in our life its better to take instinctive decision (not really based on any facts) than pure rational thinking.Me as a child was more knowledgeable than the grown up Me?

  16. Avtar Singh says:

    Dear Shekhar:
    Very nice, well-written, and touching post…..it reminded me of my state of mind about six years ago, when my search began to answer all those very questions you have raised. Sorry for the late response to your post, but better late than never. I hope you read it.
    It has been an interesting six years of journey for me to seek answers to many of these questions integerating modern physics, cosmology, and wisdom of the ages (Buddha, Nanak, Krishna, Kabir, Jesus, and many others saints). You and other readers who may be curious to know answers to these questions may want to read my paper – “In search of the Universal Reality & Purpose” published in Metanexus. The link to the paper is given below:
    http://www.metanexus.net/conference2005/pdf/avtar_singh.pdf
    Hopefully, it answers many of the following questions and more:
    When did the universe begin, how far it extends, what is its future, purpose?
    What is reality, what exists, what is Mithya or illusion? What are the limits of scientific reality vs. Truth?
    Is there a creator or God?
    Who are we? What is purpose of life and death?
    Is there life after death?
    Is there a universal consciousness?
    What is happiness? Can it be achieved?
    With this theme in mind, I have also produced a series of short videos (up to 25 minutes duration) working with a team of local TV/video producers that have been broadcast on the Comcast Cable Channel 15 in the Bay Area (Please see the enclosed India West article). The titles of the videos are listed below:
    1. Understanding the Universe from a Human Perspective
    2. Science, Reality & Truth
    3. Science, Mind, and Consciousness
    4. A Scientific Approach to Life
    5. Science of Purpose and Happiness
    6. Science of Genuine Happiness
    These are based on my book – “The Hidden Factor: An Approach for Resolving Paradoxes of Science, Cosmology, and Universal Reality.” (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/140339363X/ref=lpr_g_1/104-7305128-5391916?v=glance&s=books)
    Love & Regards,
    Avtar Singh
    avsingh@alum.mit.edu

  17. Anon says:

    Reminds me of a short story called “The Last Question.” It’s short but has left me as well as hundreds of others breathless.
    http://infohost.nmt.edu/~mlindsey/asimov/question.htm

  18. J. Stallings says:

    Please see my blog. Nice to see I’m not the only one who can see reality.
    http://www.lawsofreality.blogspot.com

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