Jamil Urfi’s book ‘Biswin Sadi Memoirs, growing up in Delhi during the 1960’s and 70’s’ (https://cinnamonteal.in/authors/jamil-urfi/) which is a nostalgic, personal remembrance of the bygone 20th century or the Biswin Sadi was published last year. In this extract from the book he recalls the mystique surrounding the moon and the moon landing on 20 July 1969.
This year celebrates the moon landing by NASA’s Apollo 11 mission fifty years ago. There has been much excitement about it this year and also on account of India’s own efforts to send the VIKRAM lander (named after the man behind India’s space mission Vikram Sarabhai) to the moon. The Chandrayan-2 of our very own ISRO.
The moon, the most conspicuous and largest celestial object in the sky fascinates all of us. Infact one of our most enduring childhood memories is that of watching the moon. I remember as a little boy, on full moon nights basking in its soft glow, watching it intently, examining its scars and craters.
Growing up, one heard plenty of Hindi nursery rhymes and poems about the moon, perhaps the most well known being, ‘Chanda mama duur ke’ in which the moon is likened to a moody, temperamental, maternal uncle.
There was also another poem which I remember was included in our lesson books, written by the Urdu poet Afsar (https://www.rekhta.org). Simply titled ‘Chand’ it visualized the moon differently—not like the moody, fussy, maternal uncle but as a more playful object. Its opening lines were:
tum naddī par jā kar dekho
jab naddī meñ nahā.e chāñd
kaisī lagā.ī Dupkī us ne
Dar hai Duub na jaa.e chāñd
In the bygone 20th century or the Biswin Sadi the first manned mission to land on the moon—the United States’ Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 was hailed as a defining moment for the entire century, a triumph of science and technology. For most of us who grew up in the 60’s it was something which was immortalized in Hindi film dialogues and songs. In a sense ‘Biswin Sadi’ and the moon landing were mentioned together. For instance, in the hit film of the 1970’s, Johny Mera Naam, the lead actor Dev Anand could be heard mouthing the dialogue:
Janab ye beeswein sadi hai, aaj kal insaan chand pe rehne ki baat kar raha hai…
On the day of the actual moon landing I remember there being a lot of excitement and the adults discussing it. Some weeks later father took us to see an exhibition which had been organized at the American Embassy in New Delhi where samples of moon rock and a life-sized model of the spacecraft Apollo 11 and its different stages were on display.
I don’t remember much of the moon rocks but the spacecraft models, displayed out in the open, were really fascinating.
But back then it seemed incredible that two men had actually set foot on the moon—the yellow disk which hung in the night sky. I remember that night very well (a Google search tells me the exact date) though I was only eight years old then. I lay on my bed in the open courtyard and looked skywards, trying my best to spot those men who were on the moon, but that was impossible. I gazed and gazed at the millions of stars and the Milky Way. Surely, behind the layers and layers of stars there would be a point where there would be no stars and beyond that . . . perhaps a vast area of darkness beyond which . . . ? Did anybody have an answer? Many years later, when I got interested in reading Hindustani poetry, I came across the famous lines (by a famous poet), ‘Sitaron se aage jahan aur bhi hain.’ (There are other worlds, beyond the stars.)
But in 1969, aged nine years only, I hadn’t heard of these lines. All that I recall is that on the night of the moon landing, I lay in my bed contemplating the secrets of the cosmos while gazing at the moon. I must have got exhausted and finally gone off to sleep after a long search.