The Degree of Shoshin

I wonder sometimes how the brain works. I mean, some references make us link to something else across the bridges of time and space where no ostensible link exists. Was astronomy the link? But that seems weak given that I ogle at the stars every opportunity I get. Could the 12 degree landing of Insight be the link? But the slopes that my mind linked to were at a 11 degree incline. And we were very proud that our little corner of the world could provide just the right 11 degree slope too – that is why I remember the incline so clearly.

Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Maybe it was something to do with the specific angle at which the Insight can land on Mars that brought back memories of a trip to the Radio astronomy center in Mutthorai in Nilgiris – who knows?  The radio astronomy telescope on the slopes of the Nilgiris was magnificent and awe-inspiring. It still is. I remember hearing that the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) had scoured plenty of slopes in India and this humble village was deemed just the right one to capture radio waves. It had the right level of incline(11 degrees), minimum light pollution at nights, and we were proud of our unassuming Nilgiri hills for providing such a marvelous slope.

By Own work – Ooty Radio Telescope, CC BY 3.0,


I remember going to visit the center with the father one rainy afternoon during the monsoon season. We often piled onto his scooter that the kids had lovingly nick-named Street Hawk given it tore through the streets with a ear shattering noise, even if we could run beside it. (I often wonder how it must feel for someone who goes to India for the first time from a country like the US or Canada, and sees a family precariously making their hazardous way through the haphazard traffic – obviously uncomfortable, but looking joyous and confident. Even cars here seem so cranky – “departing lane, departing lane” it goes on like a parrot on caffeine. Fine – relax! Talk about sticking to the straight and narrow path – sheesh kababs.)

Anyway that is how we toured the Nilgiris during our school holidays. We would start out on a supposedly clear day, the brother standing in front, his feet making sure not to come under the brakes foot pedal, the sister on the pillion seat, and self squashed between the driver’s seat and the pillion seat, my face turning a ninety degree angle to make sure I could breathe, and off we would go on our adventures. Sometimes, our Street Hawk could not quite pull up the intense slopes of the Nilgiris such as the Katteri falls, and we would all good-naturedly pile off, let the pater go up the slope on 1st gear, trudge up there, and pile on again. What was life without these little pleasures?


Invariably midway through our trips somewhere, the skies would attempt a volte-face: the sun would dip behind the clouds, a brisk wind would start around us, and the first raindrops would start. Sometimes, if the downpour got heavy, we would shelter at a random farm or village and nibble into the ample snacks packed for the trip, and head out again after the fierce downpour stopped. The dubious weather reports then were listened to with the amusing attitude of one indulging a child, and if it all went towards building the weather reporters’ confidence, it was time well spent was the general attitude. Ours was a forgotten corner of the world, and we loved it just the way it was. 

Off I went meandering around the countryside when I should have been sticking to the Radio astronomy tower as usual. The point is, I remember thinking as a child standing on that steep incline with the monsoon winds buffeting us from all directions, struggling to stay upright, and thinking for the first time how we must be standing at all. We are spinning on a very fast ball after all, gravity is all very well, but what would happen if Earth decided to just let us go for one instant? It was a terrifying thought, I clung a little harder to the pater’s solid hands and redoubled my wonder at how we exist at all. 

That is the beauty of space exploration isn’t it? It rekindles wonder. If retaining wonder in our day to day living is the mark of a meaningful existence to paraphrase the German philosopher, it is no wonder that we marvel childhood with its fresh perspectives, and its great capacity for wonder. The beauty of #Shoshin

“The highest goal that man can achieve is amazement.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When the Stars Shine Down

You know how William Blake said something about Wonder? I had forgotten, but luckily the Internet is there for souls like me who wonder vaguely what was it the bloke called Blake said about Wonder and Voila there it is.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand 

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour.”

William Blake

You can use your sense of wonder for a great many things: To marvel at the bunk beds as the daughter and her friends did, or at the restrooms as the son did on our recent camping trip.

The husband and I fulfilled our sense of wonder by watching the night sky. Where we live, the stars are dimmed out by the lights of civilization, but even then, we set out every now and then to star gaze. Every time, we are a little farther away from the lights of civilization, we look up and admire all those generations before us who studied the skies and named the constellations. What a gift it is to us! One truly realizes the value of accumulated wisdom when one gazes upon the limitless night sky, does one not?

On that warm summer night, as we sat around the campfire after an exemplary meal, it was with that feeling of humility and gratitude that anything to do with the stars brings on, that we gazed. As we sat there, every now and then, we would detect a satellite moving across the sky. We even saw a few shooting stars in the sky. Conversation turned to how even the campfire’s lights can mask the true glory of seeing the Milky Way.

Time wore on and we turned in for the night.

We may have retired, but the son’s mind was still reflecting subconsciously on the wonders of the automatic flush or the blinking red light in the bathroom, I would never know. What I do know is that he got up enthusiastically every few hours to get a whiff at the wonderful restroom. It was at his 3:15 a.m. marveling session that I decided to make the best of it.

Stars Shine Down
Stars Shine Down

Maybe, this was nature’s way of granting me the joy of seeing the true beauty of the Milky Way.  I slipped out and stood under the stars inhaling the grandeur of it all. The mortal sufferings, the pain humanity goes through, the agonies we endure everything seems to stop for that moment when the stars shine down. It is as beautiful as it is therapeutic.

I came back yearning to see the beauty of the night sky again and found this trove of beautiful pictures of the night sky:

Everybody should get themselves a dose of the night sky every once in a while, even if it means visiting the restroom fifteen times with a wonder-filled toddler.

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