It was a hot summer day…too hot actually, it wasn’t normal at all. The air was dry and she wasn’t able to sleep. The walls of the house were radiating heat and even the lush garden around brought no measure of coolness. Instead the humidity made things worse. She had been tossing and turning and even the dull whirring of the fan brought no respite.
Anagha was on the wrong side of fifty. Much on the wrong side, but the years didn’t tell on her. Perhaps her physical activities and the many hours in the garden plus a decade of yoga had done their bit to keep her going strong. The bed was getting too hot for her and she decided to go and sleep on the lower terrace where the open air of the early morn was sure to brig some respite from the heat.
It was 11 pm and there was a load of work waiting for her the next day. This was not unusual. The excessive work was a part of her life and she had always taken it in her stride. But the years were getting on, and of late she had been feeling the pinch of the load. Nevertheless, she carried on finding solace in the hope that providence would intervene and bring some rest. Right now, though, she could ill afford the lack of sleep and the few hours of rest she hoped to steal was probably all she was focused on. She made her way through the balcony up a few stairs, walked through a passage and opened the door to the terrace. She was met with a gust of wind which, though warm, helped her to breathe easier. There was moisture in the air and it would be cool soon.
Making a bed on the floor she lay down with a sigh of relief. The mosquitoes were absent and that was a relief. Making herself more comfortable she lay on her back and with a sigh closed her eyes and drifted off into a dreamless sleep. Even the sound of the odd truck passing along on the nearby road. didn’t wake her neither did the muted chatter of the watchmen in the nearby commercial complex disturb her. Soon it became cool and it became quiet as the night deepened except for the faint rustle of the leaves as a light wind started flowing. At about 3 am a crow cawed and getting no response from his brethren, fell silent. They do tend to get up very early but are not very noisy. Another hour and a cuckoo gave out a sharp high-pitched call. It was immediately responded to by other cuckoos in the vicinity and there were a series of shrill calls one after the other. Although quite musical the sound tends to jerk one out rather rudely from one’s deep sleep. Anagaha was startled out of her sleep and was quite dazed for a few minutes before she could gather her senses and remember where she was.
Normally this would not have disturbed her as she was used to it. But out here on the terrace the sounds were sharper and more piercing and the quiet of the night and open air seem to make it louder. It was 4 am and she had slept almost 5 hours. That is all that she needed to rejuvenate her. The fresh early morning air clean and rich in oxygen made her feel fresh and soon she was alert to her surroundings. However, it was still too early to get up and it was still very dark.
It had been many years since she had slept on the terrace right under the stars and she thought she would enjoy sleeping under the open sky a bit longer before dawn set in. She noticed a slight haze in the air and her eyes naturally went up to the sky to take in the vast expanse of the space and the beautiful starry sky.
As a child her mother and she had spent many a summer night under the stars and enjoyed the time together telling stories and laughing together. They were wonderful years indeed and the sky used to be full of stars and the moon spread its cool light. It was heavenly indeed. But that was in her village home. The climate was cooler in this town (now turned into a city), and more salubrious and not as hot as it now was. The sun just burned down especially in summer and the winter afternoons were unbearable too.
Anagha wasn’t prepared for the rude shock she experienced. All her coolness vanished as she looked at the sky. It was dark and smoky and the air was a little thick. She peered at the sky. Not believing her eyes she took out her specs from under the pillow to be doubly sure that she was actually seeing something odd or if her eyes were failing her. She stared hard and looked as far as it was possible. There wasn’t a single star in the sky. She sat up and hurriedly got up to go further along the terrace. Yes! not a single star. The only thing in the sky was at the moon with a faint Venus a little further along. It was as if some one had wiped out all the stars from the picture. The sky looked dismal and dull and air had a peculiar smell to it……she wondered how she hadn’t noticed this before. Where was the beautiful night sky of her childhood? ‘Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky’…. she remembered one of the first nursery rhymes and how mother used to teach her as they looked at the stars…yes, her mother was educated and well read. Bemused she wondered how does one take the night sky for granted and how easy to think that nothing would change that whenever you looked up it would always be there.
Anagha has spent her childhood years in the village where the skies had a different color, were mostly clear of smog and the stars were in great number at night twinkling away in their glory. Sleeping out in the open was a common practice and the air, day or night was mostly clear except during the rainy season when the clouds mostly blocked out the stars. She had moved to a small town after marriage and now this town had become a mega city and lost all its old worldly charm. Actually, she no longer liked it, everything including the people had changed. The town had turned into a concrete city and foliage had been reduced to the minimum, the rivers had become dirty and the people commercial and selfish. Trust had gone out of the window and life had become artificial, reduced to egotistical pandering, materialistic reveling and an avid pursuit of money. Humaneness was rare and everything had a selfish motive …even the word ‘help’ had lost its meaning and everyone frowned more than smiled. There was no goodness in the hearts of the people. And everything was so lighted up with electricity that one was blinded to the surroundings. The few trees that were left never got to sleep and the noise during the day was extreme and continuous. May be the quiet was only for about and hour in the night. This city had stopped sleeping. And people just talked and talked and talked. Silence had vanished and with it had vanished the peace and tranquility of the thoughtful mind. The intellect had been reined in by the mind and the unthinking had taken over.
Her village had changed too but still the old-world charm continued to some extent. The change here, had been at a steady pace and without realizing she had adjusted to the city and had adopted the life style that it required. Being busy the passage of time and the change in her environment and in within herself had gone unnoticed. The stars or the lack of them had suddenly jerked her back to reality.
After another hour of contemplation and running down memory lane she decided to get up. It was now 5.30 and the chirping of small birds had begun in earnest. Still in a nostalgic mood she decided to call her brother who still tended the fields along with her parents. It was some time since she had seen them and perhaps the pull of the stars was stronger than she had realized. She also became aware of the reality that over the years as her life had gained in quantity the quality had definitely got eroded and just like the vanishing stars substance had vanished from her life.
The city had taken away all that she valued. Not just the clear air and the friendship with nature and the lovely animals that she spent time with but also the values and trusting friends and the smiling happy satisfied lives that she used to come across every day that spread cheer. The town had lost its space, had become a concrete jungle, teeming with people that were cold and selfish.
When marriage had brought her to the town, it wasn’t so different from the village then. The people here were good then, very helpful…… even the strangers and there was no fear. The houses were just one or two storied, the air clear and the surroundings very green. Mostly small cottages and bungalows, each with a garden and many flowering trees. Bullock carts and cyclists monopolized the roads in the morning hours. Cars were few and commercial activity was restricted to a stretch on the highway leaving the city free from heavy traffic and thus pollution. Mainly academic, learning institutions prevailed in fairly large numbers comprising schools’ colleges and a university well known for its quality and high standards. Every road had its peculiarity and was recognizable. There was camaraderie among people, a willingness to help abounded and people. were polite and well behaved. Thieves were unheard of. She remembered how a lot of pricey stuff lying around in the premise’s days on end, but no one had the fear of theft.
Its all gone now she thought. All the roads looked the same, high rise buildings blocked the sun, the trees had been cut down in large numbers thanks to the heavy construction activity both by government and private enterprises, gutters had replaced rivers, Garbage piled up everywhere while everyone spend more time on debates than action and solution. The politicians decided anything, the middle class was kept busy by making their life difficult at every turn, decisions taken without taking the citizens into confidence by the powers that be, and no one had time for anybody and only money talked. The word ‘values’ had disappeared from the dictionary and the younger generation had no respect for anybody and were lost in their own world that was shaky and without foundation with an ‘who cares’ attitude.
Yes, she thought, all had changed and now at this age she needed to find the stars again, to find that serene happiness that meant life in real terms. The city had eaten into her soul and she felt the need to restore it.
The entire morning, she spent on the usual duties only today she worked in an absent-minded way, more like a machine. She rang up her brother and voiced her concern saying,” Brother, I have to find the stars. So, I am coming home tomorrow. Be there at the station. I have to find the stars that have vanished from here. Where did they go?”
Although puzzled, her brother maintained his counsel and decided to wait until she arrived in the village to question her on what she meant. He had never been to the city. Lucky man…he had lost nothing, yet!!!