Thus (approximately) begins a very unusual Malayalam song I heard the other day. Written decades ago by the chaotically creative poet Vayalar, it features in a film that must have been quite awful - if the picturization is any indication. Whatever, the song took me a generation and some back in Time, to my first encounter with Kalapurusha aka Orion, the Hunter.
I must have been seven when one of our teachers told us about all those enigmatic groups of stars in the night sky and about Orion in particular. From the time I could remember, the night sky had filled me with awe; the teacher turned this awe to terror. For months or maybe years thereafter, I was too scared to look at the night sky. Even in sleep, ghostly Orion stalked my nightmares (even his Desi name, 'Kalapurusha', with its very obvious associations with Kala, Time/Death was dreadful)...
My experience was not unique. A children's science book published by the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad has the following lines: "Out there, light years and light years away, are millions of mysterious galaxies and star clusters, immense swarms of stars that whirl eternally in the darkness of space... Friends, is the thought scary?". Perhaps, the night sky and Death are two fears every child has to go thru and resolve, somehow - and in Orion, they merged (Freud, I am told, has listed some more primeval shared fears but they have never entered my conscious thoughts)!
I learned to spot Orion only when I was at College - by then, much of the world around, night sky included, had become rather passe. To this night, I can't identify any other constellation.
And then came a point of time in the late 1990s when I made a career move to Pune. After several years of drift and even despair, things were just beginning to look up on the professional front; I was also seriously experimenting with Mysticism (I have touched upon some of my then experiences in an old post here on 'Footprints'). On the journey to Pune, I happend to pick up the 'Great Artists' volume on French Master Poussin from a Bombay pavement. I vividly recall dipping into the book while on the train to Pune and seeing 'Orion Searching for the Rising Sun'.
The caption to the painting rang a bell: "The giant hunter Orion was blinded by Gods. Poussin shows him ... stumble towards the East under a sky just beginning to grey, hoping to recover his vision from the the first rays of the rising Sun".
Looking out of the 'Deccan Queen' window, I could see a marvelous November twilight (albeit a sunset). Was therein a message from Up There? I could sense a powerful identification with the crippled hunter, searching for light with sure Hope.
For the next few weeks, I stayed at Lohgaon, to the north of Pune. In those days, the place was outlying enough for the night sky to be visible with village-like clarity. Every evening, as I walked back from work, I would look up at the Giant up above, now more kindred spirit than terrifying apparition. I was asked at my new job to suggest a name for my personal computer. I promptly said 'Orion' but was told it had been already taken, by a guy in my very group! I recall saying: "In that case, let it be 'Nandu', .... basically the same thing!"
I have not looked at Poussin's painting in ages. But when I will, I am likely to see Orion's twilight has remained just that, an unchanged and unchanging grey twilight(*).
Vayalar continues to address the constellation thus: "In some long-lost era, you emerged from the dark and silent void. Now, you appear to stand all alone, leaning on to the unseen wall of Time, you fiery-eyed Giant who walks the Milky-way!"
Among the stars in Orion is 'Tiruvathira' (betelgeuse), which Mallu tradition holds is like 'theekkatta', a ball of fire (minor detail: it is the giant's shoulder, not his eye). My limited knowledge of cosmology finds the poem freakishly accurate on how the big-bang happened and how the stars and galaxies are rushing apart, stuck on the expanding framework of space-time (not just Time). Wonder what Vayalar had gone high on!
The poem ends exhorting the Giant to "take after the little Earth-child and ... bring the fragrance of love and hope to the cold void of your futile existence". Let me too end on that note!
Note: The song actually address a 'mute star', but to me, it makes sense only with a constellation. If I have read things into the poem which were never intended, that is not inappropriate - constellations emerge only when human imagination sees patterns in the random scatter of stars.
(*) In 'Khasak', as Appu-kili watches swarms of parakeets on their homeward flight at sundown, Madhavan Nair tells Ravi: "Mashe, for our Kili too, it is dusk, a perpetual dusk. Just that he never gets to his nest..." Ravi says: "None of us ever reaches the Nest."
And here are some lines by Faiz, as translated by Pankaj Mishra:
"This leprous daybreak, dawn night's fangs have mangled - This is not that long-looked-for break of day. Not that clear dawn in quest of which (one) set out, Believing that in heaven's wide void Somewhere must be the stars'last halting-place Somewhere the verge of Night's slow-washing tide, Somewhere an anchorage for the ship of heartache."