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’.