My fascination with space

Musings on everyday life

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By Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 14 Sep 2023, 8:15 PM

Looks like space came down to Earth and settled in our lives like permafrost. Looks like the word ‘space’ came off all the dictionaries and manuscripts around the world and rained down like stardust. No conversation these days ends without foraying into the topic. No glasses clink in toast without the mention of space and how man has conquered the rarefied world.

From the UAE’s Mars probe Al-Amal to Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Artemis, Chandrayaan-3, Aditya-L1, Mangalyaan, Luna 25 and iSpace, all things synonymous with space are no more esoteric; they are quite plebeian in conversations. Anyone who has a couple of millions is in a hurry to sign up for a space trip. At tea shops, laymen discuss how the sun would eventually turn itself off and die as it runs out of fuel and shrinks to a planetary nebula. They know Earth ultimately has no existence without the sun. They dread to think about what lies ahead for mankind.

I love space for a different reason. Ever since my cognitive ability developed, I have looked in awe at space and the immersive solitude it manifests. The night sky looks crowded with around 200 billion-trillion stars calling the universe home, but when they all switch off and go to bed in the day, you have a universe of solitude at your disposal. Isn't it amazing?

This is why I envy Sultan AlNeyadi and Hazzaa AlMansoori, who made the Arab world proud by travelling to the International Space Station. I am living in unease in the neighbourhood of two people who were lucky to travel all the way up and breathe in the freshness of 24-carat solitude made in space. Keep the honours, please, but pass me the fragrance of quietude.

I happened to stay in the same hotel in Moscow where AlMansoori was quarantined after his return from space. When we met in a cafe away from the crowded lobby, he looked as serene as space. He talked like a whisper. He smiled like sunshine. Space is so contagious. I hid my envy underneath a few sugar-coated sentences.

The heartburn has been exasperatingly painful since I am a person who has edited and headlined every bit of UAE space news from the day the duo was shortlisted and chosen as astronauts. I have scanned and processed hundreds of their images and videos. I have seen them brush, eat and play with instruments in zero gravity. I have watched the breathtaking moments of AlNeyadi's spacewalk outside the ISS.

Of all the visuals, what pricked me the most was the iconic photo of AlNeyadi looking out the glass windows against the backdrop of a blue, serene sky with patchy clouds. I recreated the surreal scene in fantasy. I packed home the rest of the crew, locked the hatch and shut off the communication module. I floated in a sea of microgravity and peered down to have a glimpse of our civilisation hunting each other down. I sat by the window reading Neruda in an ambience that befits his words of love. I read louder and louder until tears of joy rolled down. There is nothing as tranquil and pure as spatial solitude.

This is what humankind misses on Earth. The freedom to own a little space of solitude where one can read, write, laugh, cry, whimper, shout and scream. Where you can own yourself without being a partner, a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother or a sister, and do whatever you long to do with no judgmental eyes prying on you.

It is not people who clash, it is personalities. And since it is inevitable to live and thrive in the maddening milieu, occasional solitude would not only be therapeutic but lifesaving. The Covid pandemic has thrown us anecdotal evidence that months-long work from home impacted family relationships, with domestic violence in the US spiking eight per cent since the imposition of lockdowns in 2020.

This is not a call for enclave-making, but a gentle reminder that you are an individual first and foremost. The onus is on you first to take care of you and keep you happy. Of all the questions you face when you are in a consultation with a psychologist, the most difficult one to answer is whether you are happy. To lie amounts to cheating yourself. To tell the truth is rewarding. As you can find out from my weekend itinerary: A walk in the park. A cup of hot filter coffee. A stroll through some old quarters of Dubai. A few minutes on a shaded bench in Karama as weekend traffic clogs the narrow streets. Chase the wind at Al Seef. Wifey walks in the front and Vava behind.

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