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'I was never interested in astronomy'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai
June 08, 2004 21:48 IST
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As a student I was never interested in astronomy. In fact, anything on stars and planets used to bore me to death.

The same was the case with my friends.

So when I came to know that Venus would transit across the sun on Tuesday, I told myself I would see the event and try to understand something.

It was my first trip to Mumbai's Nehru Planetarium and I was eager.

I had never seen a telescope in my life; our school never had that instrument. All sorts of questions were coming to mind. How would Venus look? How visible would it be? The monsoon had almost arrived in Mumbai so there was a fear that clouds would disturb the view.

I was told on my arrival that the event was taking place after 122 years and no human being alive on earth had seen it.

Asked what scientists were trying to decipher, Piyush Pandey, director, Nehru Planetarium, said, "Till now the moment of Venus passing through sun is going on expected lines. Nothing unpredicted has happened so far."

It all sounded very interesting.

But there was a sudden jolt.

Planetarium staffers told me that I won't be able to use the telescope as it was not meant for outsiders. Instead, we were told to see a white screen.

After reaching there, I could see a small, black-coloured ball, Venus, with a huge white-coloured sun in the background.

White-coloured sun?

Yes! We were being shown the event in a black and white format!

"It was better if I had watched the image on television rather than come here," commented a visitor.

Disappointed, I stepped out of the planetarium and saw that hundreds of people had gathered to see the event. Many of them were wearing special glasses to see Venus transit the sun.

Konj Vakharia had travelled nearly 20km from Juhu, a suburb, and was excited to see Venus through her special goggles. Same was the case with her friend Shyam Lohana.

However, Khushboo Vakharia was disappointed because she could not spot the planet despite her best attempts.

"I am sure I will be able to see it clearly if I try again and again," said a hopeful Vakharia.

As for me, I was so disappointed that I did not even try to see Venus through the glasses. I just gave up.

I left the place in disgust, but when I was coming back to work, I saw many people at Shivaji Park standing in a queue in the open ground. And guess what? There were telescopes there!

I immediately got off the taxi and asked a bystander what was going on. He told me that Khagol Mandal (The Universe Group) was making it possible for the common man to watch the transit.

I stood in the queue and soon I was peering through the telescope's eyepiece. I could see a clear black spot, very small compared to the sun. It was static and was on the right side of the sun. It was looking like a mole on a cheek.

Yogesh Soman, secretary, Khagol Mandal, said, "Nearly 1,000 people have turned up since morning to see Venus. Children, too, have turned up in large numbers and they are very inquisitive and ask many questions. It is very encouraging to see that children are showing great interest in astronomy. We explain to all of them what is happening."

"Great," I told myself. "I missed all these things as a child, but now there are many children who are finding it interesting because of organisations like Khagol Mandal."

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai
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