The Pandemic Struck World

BY DRISHTI RAKHRA

I made a new friend recently. We met through a mutual friend from Delhi and realised that we had much in common, with both of us being students of literature and big fans of poetry. We decided to meet for the first time in late December, in Bangalore’s latest popular watering hole, Bob’s Bar. We sat for hours and spoke to each other, mostly about what it is like to live in a pandemic world. 

She told me what the last few months have been like for her, living at home and struggling to claim enough space for herself; while I told her my own stories, of never feeling comfortable enough in the city because of the endless lockdowns that have forced us back inside. Apart from the generation that survived the Spanish flu, I am certain that no one is capable of empathising with us – us young people who have just begun to see that the world is larger than we previously believed. 

We hit it off, my new friend and I, because we were both hungry to be in love with the city we had found ourselves in. Even as we said this to each other and made promises of meeting several more times, another lockdown loomed large. Our second meeting was more urgent than the first, perhaps heavy with the knowledge that we wouldn’t be able to meet again. Our prophecy came true, like these things usually do, as Bangalore’s coronavirus cases climbed up the ladder to the highest rung in the country, but that is a story for another time. 

For our (temporarily) last hurrah, we decided to meet at the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, just shy off of Infantry Road. The planetarium occupies a large triangular-shaped piece of land between two larger, yawning roads. I have been there only once before, on a school trip. My memory of the place, like all childhood memories, is skewed by my child-like perceptions — believing everything to be bigger than it was. I remember my uniform-clad self walking through the garden of the planetarium that led into the auditorium. Even then, I was struck by the dome-shaped roof, unaware that the show was not going to be displayed in front of me. It was displayed on the roof of the audi instead, so that your experience was one of lying back and looking at the stars, mimicking the feeling of sleeping under a star-studded sky. 

The experience this time was not unlike my first one, but I remained most fascinated by how small everything seemed. In the eyes of a child, the planetarium is ripe with possibilities. It contains worlds, literally and figuratively, of different kinds, of different dimensions. The park outside the planetarium is full of swings and installations. Some of them are rustier than others, but what caught my eye was a spaced-out (no pun intended) installation of our galaxy. Each planet is positioned at an approximate fraction of a distance from the other, with a little nameplate telling you all you need to know about the planet and its relative distance from the earth. I stood there and felt a child-like glee; for a moment feeling like I might be able to return to a simple, pandemic-less world. 

The park was full of children; it was, after all, New Year’s Eve. The planetarium has a schedule of shows up on BookMyShow, and the widest range of choices you have is that of language. My friend and I picked English, being careful not to slip into the Kannada show by mistake. At 4:30 pm on the dot, people began filing in. In one corner of the waiting room outside, there was a weighing machine: asking the age-old question, how much do you weigh on different planets? There was a queue in place, but we stayed away. Our faux touristy selves were not capable of pretence to that extent. 

Finally inside, I realised that our tickets were not the best. The ones at the back were booked, but we managed to get seats in the middle of the auditorium: our necks would be strained but not as much. Once the show started, I was struck not by the process of formation of meteors (I remembered some Physics classes, after all), but by the careful construction of narrative. We were reminded of important Indian scientists like CV Raman, Visvesvaraya, and Homi Bhabha. Words like Indian legacy resounded with importance. The show was meant to inspire, and inspire it did.

The show began with an animation of two children – both running to catch a falling star, but bumping into each other instead. They end up seeing stars because they’ve just hit their heads, but they’re never able to catch one. The auditorium was filled with giggling children, all taken by the exciting story playing out in front of them. Littered with animations throughout, the planetarium reminds you of the larger world you are a part of, while firmly anchoring you within it. Indian contribution to Science and Astronomy is sketched out sharply (I was reminded of the presence of a CV Raman Nagar in the city, not far away from the planetarium). The show traced the earth’s journey from the Big Bang Explosion to our present moment, reminding us of the passage of time – particularly apt for the end of the year. 

My friend and I found ourselves giggling throughout the show, perhaps not the intended audience for a show written for 10-year-olds, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Now and then, a child would exclaim loudly at something the narrator had just said, and I promised myself to give the planetarium another chance, to watch all the shows they had and pay close attention to what they’re telling us, that we’re not meant to stay locked in, even if sometimes that is the only choice. 

The Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium is an important part of the Karnataka Government’s initiative to further Science Education. Read more on the official Bangalore Association for Science Education website. 

Drishti Rakhra is a reader, teacher, and writer, in that order. In 2019, she completed her Master’s in English from Ambedkar University Delhi, and is currently an assistant professor at St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.