Only the Lunatics Watch the Moon in Mumbai

First Person

Only the Lunatics Watch the Moon in Mumbai

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Lunacy grips Mumbai. Just for a day.

After all that WhatsApp brouhaha that preceded the event, I thought the city would be rushing to the coastline on Wednesday evening to catch that elusive celestial event – the super blue blood moon – which, we are told, we haven’t seen in a long time. And which, we may not see again for a long, long time.

I thought Mumbai would seek out whatever meagre open spaces we have and take a few hours off work for a glimpse of a spectacle that we haven’t witnessed in 35 years. I was mistaken. Mumbaikars, or at least many of us, don’t bother about the moon.

Barring a few astronomy enthusiasts and those with 32-megapixel camera phones, Mumbai was content to look at the moon when it rose over the neighbouring skyscraper and could be seen during the commercial break of its favourite soap. The eclipse that turned the earth’s only satellite a thing of molten beauty had passed, but hey, it was still a super moon, brighter and bigger than usual.

The city’s smarties made hay, ticketing the event from a seaside café offering a ringside view of the event. The planetarium played its part, setting up stations where enthusiasts could line up for a telescopic look.

But for most of Mumbai, it was just another workday. On Wednesday evening, it felt like I was the only one rushing against the tide of office-goers on their way back to their suburban homes. One of a handful that felt a celestial event of this proportion merited a romantic observation deck. I waited nervously scanning the horizon at the pointy end of the Gateway of India, with the garishly lit Mumbai Shopping Festival enclosure blaring out raucous music in the background.

And then, suddenly, something seemed to shift. The twilight seemed softer, the setting sun almost apologetic as it slid into the Arabian waters. Even the gargoyles at the CST appeared to be holding their breath. The yachts moored off the Gateway bobbed a trifle quieter on the waves as the eastern horizon pinked and then settled into a soft deep blue.

Seventy two degrees east, said those with astronomy apps. We watched. Nothing happened. No moon. Orion sidled up, Venus twinkled down from a cloudless sky. Kolkata has seen it, went a whisper. Mumbai couldn’t lose. For 20 minutes past the appointed time, as the sky went from blue to purple, an uneasy hush fell on the motley crowd of collegians and retired folk who had assembled at the city’s southern tip to witness… they knew not what. The celestial workings were happening alright, but the city’s haze wouldn’t let them be witnessed.

And then just as the impatient were giving up, someone spotted a hardly discernible brown brushstroke in the vastness of the purple sky. A mere suggestion of a bronze globe shimmered above the Navy Club. And then slowly gained hue. You could have been excused for thinking that we had been loaned another moon from another planet for just a day.

Inboxes flooded with images from across the globe as it traversed one time zone to another, bewitching everyone with its triple magic.

A hint of sienna, mixed with a dash of crimson and burnished by bronze. It was ethereal. It didn’t demand applause or beg attention. Very very slowly, the super blue blood moon climbed into the Prussian blue sky and held there. Long enough for the cameras to click.  The first time the super blood blue moon ever made it to a selfie. Not that it cared.

And then just as slowly, the earth’s shadow passed over it, with the speck of illumination on the right taking over the moon, sliver by sliver. In another half hour, the moon as we know it, was back.

It still shone brighter and bigger as a super moon is wont to do, and hey, it was still a blue moon, the second in a month. Inboxes flooded with images from across the globe as it traversed one time zone to another, bewitching everyone with its triple magic.  Facebook timelines were crowded with pictures taken from terraces and trains. A city had managed to remember that there’s a moon in the urban sky.

As I trudged back to CST, still keeping an eye on that bright globe, there were hundreds pushing past me to catch the 8.43 to Kalyan. Housewives had to plan dinner that could not have been cooked during the inauspicious eclipse, and chances are, several folk had “purifying” showers afterwards, even if they hadn’t caught a glimpse of the magnificent moon.  

From tomorrow, the moon isn’t likely to get a second glance. Till the next celestial event is broadcast on WhatsApp.

It’s true. Only the lunatics watch the moon in Mumbai.