Isaac Asimov played a crucial role in the development of my juvenile imagination, with his wonderful ideas unhampered by his lack of felicity with literary prose. I’ve even invoked his planet Trantor in exploring the limits and ethics of urbanization. I am delighted, therefore, to find that Asimov’s wonderfully imaginative short story Nightfall inspired the latest blog post by Meera, my neighbor here in Coyot.es. In turn, her lovely prose (and the poem she quotes) brought to mind of a bit of my own juvenilia, a poem I had written many moons ago, about trying to break free from the prison of light, to embrace the night. A night we have gradually banished from much of the world today, as evident in the above image you may have seen, of Earth at night, this one composited from over 400 satellite images from NASA and NOAA. (Here’s another recent view, captured by a single satellite during March-April 2012.)
Unlike the world of Nightfall, we have but the one Sun, not six – yet within a few decades of global urbanization we have managed to make strangers of most stars! Many urban-dwelling members of our own species may now be astonished and bewildered, if not actually driven mad, should they suddenly be confronted with the full splendor of the brilliant night sky as it appears still over the world’s high deserts, for instance. I have seen Venus cast a shadow in the pre-dawn night (while camping in the Sahyadri mountains a quarter century ago). I have also had friends report in complete amazement their discovery that the milky way can actually be seen by the naked eye from some places on this earth! And I hope we can halt, and roll back, the marching of the armies of light across our planet, and bring back the night. Not only for ourselves, for we need the stars and the night to nourish our souls, but also for migratory birds and all the wonderful nocturnal creatures who need the dark and the starlight.
Here, then, is the youthful me railing against the light, as I wandered through a suburban woods in Dehradun in the Himalayan foothills one spring night, trying to blot out the city lights and find some stars, mayhaps an owl, and find myself.
Prisoner of Light
The soft darkness, an element forgotten
or never yet discovered perhaps? Night,
feeling, reaching out for me with the
gentle fingers of the strong wind, draws
and propels me, into the bottomless pit
of my self. The invisible, dark red
glow of Palash blooms, the Flames
of the Forest, half opened buds of an
incomplete spring paint the night in
terrible, fascinating hues, that drive me
out of my mind and out of my heart.
My intellect struggles to express, throws itself
against the walls of an imprisoned knowledge.
A captive imagination revolts against that dictator,
Language, hurls itself at the grammar bars, and
though bruised, trickles out gradually through
the gaps, amorphous fluid that it is. A chaotic
upheaval as estranged Reason and Emotion,
each denying the other, yet forced to coexist,
come face to face, in the noisy graveyard
of my deforested mind; captive, under siege from
the fluorescent battalions marching all night.
The uneasy half moon, ashamed of itself,
seeking the anonymity of a mist-veil,
unable yet to shut off its light, watches
the fugitive jackal of my intellect scavenging
on the rotting remains of my self-respect
under the cover of lightness. The sombre
trees, living tombstones on my buried
humanity, run from me, as I crash madly
through the dead wilderness of my mind,
like a blind rhinoceros searching for
a resting place, a home or a grave.
But the army of Light, it cannot
bear to watch! It hauls me out of
the enchanting night. Its vice-like grip
squeezes the darkness, pulls my shrivelled,
dry self back into the circle of radiation.
An eternal prisoner of Light, once again
I fail, to understand, to unify myself.
– Madhusudan, 13 March 1989, Dehradun.