I had spent the summer months of 2015 in Leh,inside an Officer’s Flat at the ITBP camp.
During my stay there, each night I’d step outside into the numbing cold and find myself lying on the coarse rubble spread all over the earth; my gaze fixed at the star lit sky.
As a child, I’d sometimes make use of my old Colgate toothbrushes by covering their brushing surface in white paint and then gently releasing the tiny blobs of paint hanging onto the fine end of the half bent bristles onto a rich black chart paper. The whites would often gather up in groups in some parts, hugging each other as if their existence depended on this embrace while the others would reach parts of the paper I’d not even thought of paying attention to.
The result was a ‘star lit sky’ resting in the backyard of an eight year old girl, a sky similar to the one she would witness as an eighteen year old resting on an unfamiliar patch of land in Ladakh.
On some of those nights, I would be overwhelmed; being able to trace my fingertips along the edges of newly visible constellations and planets. On others, a particular feeling would first break me and then build me.This feeling would initially make me realise how miniscule a part I was of this universe; how none of my words or actions would matter in the bigger scheme of things. How I was a drop in the ocean, a grain in the sand.
Following this break would be the building phase which would begin the moment I’d remember the first words of my class eleven teacher, Ms.Maya, to me –
“Dear Nandita, allow me to recite something to you, something I’d read long ago.
Little drops of water,
little grains of sand,
make the mighty ocean
and the beauteous land.
And the little moments,
humble though they may be,
make the mighty ages
No matter how miniscule a part I was of this universe, I was a part of it.Some part of ‘this’ did rest inside my bones. In the end,I did matter.
Well,what seemed like a metaphorical escape then turns out is scientifically true.
You & I, we are indeed made up of stardust.
The farthest we can look out into the history of life as we know it, with our most sensitive specialised telescopes is 13.7 billion years into the past when there were no galaxies, no stars and no planets; nothing but hydrogen and (a little bit of helium) contained inside a star.
Stars are giant balls of hydrogen gas. At the center of the star where it’s millions of degrees hot, a nuclear fusion reaction is going on. Little atoms of hydrogen (which is the simplest and smallest atom) ram together and make bigger and bigger atoms. As a result, the star gets energy and shines.
The incredible part is that this is from where every atom in the universe comes from, besides the original helium and hydrogen.
Eventually all the hydrogen inside the core is depleted. And then the star dies; all the new atoms it created are distributed back into the space. If the star is five or ten times the size of the sun, the death isn’t quite so gentle.The star dies in a supernova explosion.
Since stars are dying and distributing their material constantly in a galaxy, the remnants of a dead star are swept up by the orbit of another star as it moves around the center of the galaxy, to form huge clouds (all stars rotate around the center of the galaxy they belong to.Sun rotates around the center of the Milky Way). At this point,gravity has a chance to clump the clouds together and make them hot inside,hot enough to ignite a nuclear fusion reaction. As a result, a star is born.
Over time, the stars blow away the clouds they were formed in, the Sun blew its too. Here’s an interesting bit. Some of this debris can actually hang around a young star. And if you are lucky, some of it will form stable orbits around this star.
These are actually baby solar systems formed as a result of the star being able to hold onto that little debris which is now orbiting around it and when given a good environment, will form something like our home,
someone like us.,
a result of such great cosmic proportions.
All this while, I’d been looking for a larger connection as I gazed into the star lit skies .And all this while, it was resting right within me.