What Have We Here?

I am reading about the strangest things these days, sparks of enlightenment in the most unexpected areas. First there was the surprising and strangely heartening news item about Iceland, sometime in September last year, when they picked a “lights out” day. Everyone was expected to turn their lights off -the municipal organizations, several cities all agreed to turn out the lights in an coordinated effort. All this at the suggestion of a Andri Snær Magnason, a poet, on the eve of a film festival so that people could enjoy the best film show there was – the Aurora Borealis – in a dark night sky.

Whenever I come across news items like that I feel strangely and inexplicably happy and contented, overwhelmed at people coming together for beauty, for sharing a collective sense of awe. That news was unforgettable to me.

Then just recently I read about the people who are dedicated to the cause of controlling light pollution. Apparently John Bortle has come up with a scale that measures the darkness of our skies and I was so surprised to learn that there isn’t a single place in the United States that would get the highest dark sky rating of Class I.

Last year when I was flying back from my trip to the Grand Canyon I thought I saw the darkest and most desolate areas of southwestern United States. I remember thinking how dark it must be there at night and what a sight it would be to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way in all its glory, just as it appeared on the postcards they were selling at the Canyon gift shops. But now I learn that even these darkest of all places in Arizona and Utah may only qualify as Class II.

We have flooded ourselves with indoor lights, outdoor lights, floodlights to such an extent that the night skies have dimmed and the stars and planets that Galileo could observe with his naked eye or even the most primitive telescope aren’t visible anymore with more powerful optical devices. How sad is that? It is certainly sad enough that we can’t look up to the stars anymore and feel the overwhelming sense of awe and wonder or realize the speck-like nature of our existence…one may say stargazing isn’t really of consequence in the grander scheme of human existence, that it is something that can safely be relegated to the realm of poetry and philosophy… but then shouldn’t we at least worry about the fast diminishing energy reserves? That’s if that is of larger consequence in the grander scheme of human existence?

The other interesting thing that appeared on the widescreen of my internal plasma TV was the vigor with which some New Yorkers fight for and defend their right to a bright, sunny and green Central Park. They offer up resistance to the construction of buildings that could cast a long shadow and snatch sunbathers’ stretch of sunshine. There are all kinds of shadow casting measurements and petitions to the city whenever a new tall building threatens with its dark shadow.

We have people fighting for light, we have people fighting for darkness and today I find there are people known as freegans who routinely fend for themselves in garbage cans to make a point about wastage. In countries like the United States, where food is cheap, enormous quantities of food get discarded simply because they are a day past the “Sell By” date. I can’t sound self-righteous here, I too am guilty of such wastage.

There are those of us now who are ashamed at our behavior and there are those of us who are dedicated to shaming us offenders, the freegans, the crusaders for dark, the crusaders for light, the ones who are rejecting the fruits of capitalism and unchecked hubris and embracing all things natural and green and then there are those of us who give these souls the thumbs up in their endeavors but refuse to change our ways, we are hypocrites in the sense that we are the ones – the ‘vice’ – who regularly pay our tribute to ‘virtue’. But there’s a third set of people, those who still aren’t convinced that after several centuries of wasteful overheating perhaps a mechanism somewhere needs to act as a philosophical or intuitive ‘thermostat’ that could once again restore balance and order.

Maybe one day these sparks will come together as a brilliant flame and light our paths again


  1. What have we, indeed! This stream-of-consciousness styled piece made for very interesting reading, Prags. As enlightening as it was for the trivia-lover in me, what I liked better was your balancing act with the facts and cognitive-collectivity of perceptions and thoughts. Perhaps we aren't the bunch of proverbial fighting bees that we need to be if we have to deliver, or more simply, "do" our bit. Guilty of not being able to live upto the lightgreen tag I'd claimed right to myself. Someday…like you say. Keep up the good work!

  2. An extremely insightful read, Prags. I am glad I came by, after almost a 10 month long spell. This piece is so relevant and informative for a star gazer like me, as it's one delightful activity that I'd never want to give up. So it will always stay put in my grander scheme of things and existence. I conciously try and live up to the "light-green" tag, as Ranjini appropriately calls it.And kudos to the Freeguns. We need more of their tribe. I also wish their was a way to curb wastage of food cooked in the resturants and hotels, especialy for buffet spreads.Glad to start my day with informative and valuable insights :o)Thank you!

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