10 January 2020

Forget constellations and the names of oceans

It was around 8 pm on the 1st of January, 2020. Standing on the beach just outside ‘Resort Edelweiss’ in Mirissa, my brother-in-law Mark Freeman had been looking at the sky. This I learned only when he showed something on the screen of his phone. What I saw was a scorpion. The constellation. Full complement of stars.  

‘I hadn’t seen this constellation since I arrived,’ said Mark who was visiting after many years. 

The constellation, in full, was not visible due to the clouds. We could see parts of it though. What Mark did was to point his phone towards these stars. A mobile app allowed him  to point their device to the sky and instantly identify constellations. 

'It has your location, notes the angle and captures the stars,' he explained. Pretty. Pretty amazing.

My sister, Ruvani, softly recalled a poem by Jack Gilbert titled ‘Tear it down,’ or rather a particular line, ‘you must forget the constellations to see the stars.’

Coral Island
A cloudless night sky in lightless surroundings is a festival of stars. A spectacle. Stars yet to be hidden by cloud have their own charm. The first star to make an appearance in fading light is beautiful. The last star to resist the rising sun makes for reflection. Stars, in all forms and in and out of configurations, can make you smile. Constellations get in the way of delight. Unless you are ignorant of such patterns.  

It’s the same with most things. Jack Gilbert’s observation is pertinent.  

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness. 

We find hearts by abandoning its popular definitions, we find moment by discarding tenses, we find ourselves by ignoring prescribed ways of being, we find independence by refusing to inhabit someone else’s version of our reality. There’s grammar that empowers and grammar that cripples and it is ours to choose the syntax relevant to the texts of our lives. 

Let’s move back to the sea. What is the Indian Ocean at first glance but a massive body of water on a map? What is sea if not a bluish-greenish-grayish something next to a beach? What is a tropical island but sun, sand and water? 

The sea-beach rush is for sea-beach things like swimming, sandcastles, sunbathing, snorkeling and surfing. Well, maybe a bit of whale-watching and a sunset too. Those are the large things. The sea-related constellations, if you will. 

What of ocean-stars, though? They are seen if you look closely or if you close your eyes altogether. Close your eyes and the ocean is an orchestra. Forget the surge of waves and primordial liquid-pull and you’ll see the universe captured in a multitude of things: shells, broken coral, sea glass, seaweed and seaweed-ripple dance, a hermit crab and other crustaceans of different size, shape and color scurrying among wet rocks and dead coral, the ancientness of a line of brightly colored boats, a range of sand-textures rough or easy, wet or dry on naked feet. 

You notice the time pass, the ease of sun on cheek, the slap or caress of wind, the changing color of water, the ebb and flow of tide, and repetitiveness that does not deny new discoveries and delights. 

It was night when Mark looked for a familiar constellation. It seemed that the constellation had decided to wreck itself and re-arrange constituent stars along the horizon, amused perhaps by the follow of human fixation with arrangement, order and definition. The sea's blackness was subverted here and there, now and again, but the foamy white of breaking waves. Stars. Ocean-stars.  

Now it is morning. It is raining in Mirissa. It’s not a welcoming beach or sea, if you’ve been fascinated with sea-constellations. Indeed, if constellation is what inspires, then Resort Edelweiss, named thus by its original Swiss owners, is a melody you will not hear. You might remain ignorant of its many pieces of magic distilled from a night sky and an ocean. It’s true of many things, astral and aquatic, unless you are somehow ready to abandon constellation, the names of oceans and the popular definitions of heart.  

This article was first published in the Daily News [January 3, 2010]

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com