24th March 2019
Because The Gambia is like Sri Lanka in the sixties (when days were bright and nights were dark) – with no neon lights as there are in SL today casting that bright glow above Colombo that dims the stars in the night sky – and because it doesn’t rain here for ten months of the year so that the skies are usually completely cloudless, one of my favourite pastimes after dark is looking up at the sky.
On any given day you can see a million stars scattered across the heavens! It is the most stupendous sight and brings back warm and wonderful memories of a childhood spent sitting on the half wall of our verandah in Nugegoda seeing the Milky Way arch across the sky – a rushing river of stars that took your breath away.
It’s Aiyya who first infected me with his passion for astronomy. He spent hours poring over star charts and teaching me how to know the difference between a star and a planet in the sky and clearly identify the different constellations that could be seen in the sky at different times of the year.
He also shared with me his love of science fiction books and let me borrow his precious Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov collections. I was later to become hooked on sci-fi movies (my all-time favourite film being ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’) and when I went to Canada I had the privilege of watching most of the original Star Trek series (…’These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations……to BOLDLY go where no man has gone before…’) and also Star Trek: The Next Generation with Captain Jean Luc Picard and Data (who replaced Captain James Kirk and and Mr Spock!)
So I owe MUCH to my elder brother who taught me the sheer thrill of watching the night sky during my childhood and teen years. It was such an unexpected bonus to look out of the window at night when we first came to The Gambia and see Orion up close and personal as I had not seen it in the last few decades of my life (due to night light pollution over the city of Colombo!) It was absolutely thrilling to see the giant figure of the ancient mythical Greek hunter lying spreadeagled across the sky with his dog Sirius at his side.
It is also because Aiyya inspired me to become interested in stargazing that I fell in love both with the words of Don McLean’s song ‘Vincent’ (1971) which begins with the lines ‘Starry, starry night…’ and with Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic painting which is what the song takes its opening lines from.