On Thanksgiving this October, my wife Sananda spent hours studying in her graduate students’ cubicle at the university. She was the only student in the department building that day. Amidst the strict restrictions during the past few months, Sananda had been busy writing her Ph.D. comprehensive fields essay. I promised our little twins that we would go out for a drive after Mamma got home in the evening. We jumped into the car at the ‘blue hour’, the time of changing shades that Joan Didion wrote about: “this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades.” The shade that evening was not as intense as Didion describes in her splendid book Blue Nights. However, it was blue enough, the shade appearing a tad melancholic in my eyes, for me to be grateful for, especially because depressing gray covered the skies the whole day.
The clear blue skies and the white, cotton-like clouds of the spring and summer in our newly adopted country were brought into sharp relief at the season’s first snowfall mid-November. It was more of wet snow. Looking up at the dull skies, I felt pangs of separation from the experience of the past months. However, I was in for a surprise. The unexpected, beautiful weather of deep blue canopy above us and vibrant, happy sunshine that followed in the next few days brought a cheer and a smile. The bright, cool weather—unseasonal for this time in November—lingered for more than a week. Even as I enjoyed the respite from the snow, a fear also lurked inside me about the effects of climate change in making winters go astray from their usual pattern. I am not greedy. I can live with the few months of the winter skies. Hibernation is not a bad thing.
Everyday, when I drive to work through the flat farmlands of southwestern Ontario, the unhindered, big sky brings a prayer to my lips: a prayer, not in obeisance to any personal god (for I have none) but in veneration and adoration of the beauteous, blue-colored marvel that continues to hold up against myriad efforts toward its wanton destruction in the name of development in many other parts of the country. I am fortunate to be in a counry that is much less polluted than most other developed countries, even though we are not immune from the climate extremes of polar vortexes, melting of the glacial ice in the Artic, and ravaging floods, not to mention the intermittent wildfires whose heat and smoke lead to death and destruction. I continue to read about, listen to, and learn why Canada ranks among the least polluted countries, with many of its cities lauded for their clean air quality. To me, it’s more a testament to people’s passionate voices and spirited struggles to contain the fragility of the skies, to preserve their blueness—blue in all its shades—that’s born out of an undying love for nature laced by a genuine fear of its rapid deterioration, which I also share.
My fascination and curiosity with blue skies started in childhood in a small town in eastern India. Unknowingly, it turned into love and awe, something my young mind could not put into words. The scientific explanations I studied in schools were just that: dry, precise, and objectively true. They could not capture the beauty of the cover above us and, importantly, the workings of an individual mind and heart. My mind. My heart. I do acknowledge that scientists, mainly those who study astronomy, work to describe the wonder and splendor out there with scientific explanations. I never tried to explain. I also did not seek explanations of why I felt the way I felt. Some things in life are best left to just feeling the sensation and absorbing it.
Now, I feel wrapped in the comforting blue shawl of the sky with white scrappy-wooly patterns of clouds strewn over it that enhance the warmth of the embrace. I can put my emotions into words which I could not earlier. I prefer the unobtrusive blue sky as well as the blue skies with thick smudges of all kinds of clouds (rain-bearing and otherwise) over anything else that meets the eye. If I had abundant leisure time, I would watch the sky for hours. Nothing exudes a gentle aura as the blue skies do. The aquamarine blue palette, one that is very light and transparent, is calming. The sapphire sky, as mentioned in Lion King’s ‘Circle of Life,’ stirs up desires. The fading blue grounds us in the ordinary, the mundane, to appreciate the deeper shades.When the mind wanders and I am lost gazing at the sky, I hear a soft tune playing somewhere up there that comforts a bruised mind.
With its transcendental expansiveness, the sky expands my own being while making me aware that, like an atom, I am just a minuscule unit in this vast universe. This self-awareness has bred in me my love for all human beings, for I feel we are all equal under it.
The sky is also my teacher. It has taught me gratitude. I am grateful to be under its shield, sharing it with billions of others, and feeling free and secure. Freedom and security are the two gifts of nature and we must cherish both.
Above all, the blue sky is a harbinger of hope. In my childhood, when I saw the dark clouds and the calamitous rains during Kalbaisakhi (the Indian version of Nor’Westers that are accompanied by severe thunderstorms and lightning), I knew it was ephemeral and the blue skies would greet me shortly. I never lost hope and they never disappointed.
And talking of clouds, they have always taught me, over the years, not to be rueful and repentant of being adrift most of my life. “You are one of us,” the white clouds whisper in chorus into my laden eyes.
I remembered my wife’s words when our first child, Putu, was born premature and was fighting for her life. Sananda had said to me, “I know how much the blue skies mean to you. Another reason to love you. You have taught me to love something beyond me, beyond you, beyond life, and beyond this earth.” She wished I had been a poet. Our daughter did not survive.
“The sky has taught me that,” I said. My wisdom is a gift from above. I have merely passed it on to Sananda.
I wished, too, to be a poet and like all Bengali children, I tried my hand at short rhyming verses. That was a long time ago, during my preteens.
“I sucked at it. I sucked bad,” I added with a grin.
To me, the blue sky is not a distraction. It’s a benediction. I feel I am a part of it, that I belong to this cosmos, the totality. We are all part of it. Just look up to the sky for a few minutes. Try it. You’ll feel it—the sky hugging you. Unconditionally. The clouds sometimes appear dusty and soiled—its rare pristine whiteness besmirched—and spreading all over and partly blocking out the blue. The playfulness between the two, the changing blue sky and the drifting white clouds, make them lively. It’s a benign flirtation—the bands of clouds jostling amongst each other to be the sky’s lover. You would feel like joining them to partake in their fun and mirth. Before you know it, when gazing above, you will have joined them and drifted away.
The ‘blue hour sky’ on Thanksgiving Day, October 12, 2020, London, Ontario