THE NIGHT THE STARS SPOKE
Much of my student life was spent in dormitories. I had the opportunity to see a great many people during their entire cycle of daily life – not just 9-to-5, or Saturday evenings. I saw how they brushed their teeth, what kind of mood they were in when they got up in the morning, etc. So I formulate that question more tightly: Who is the person who retains pretty much the same composure as he goes through the whole day, the whole season, the whole life – in good times and bad? Most of us can be greatly jovial and display a happy-go-lucky attitude in public, but that is not a sustainable persona. There are times we are sad or angry or cranky or unpleasant.
I observed that the more even-keeled a person, the more disconnected is he from his immediate surroundings. He is not plugged in to the here-and-now. His mind is always plugged in to somewhere else. Something keeps him always just above the fray, from being flustered, from losing his composure.
But the happy man I now think of was not a fellow student. He was a teacher in High School - an idealistic dream-walker who was then perhaps in his late fifties. This being a residential school, we saw a great deal of our teachers – in and outside the classroom – days and evenings. He taught English language, and saw great beauty in it. He would read to you a paragraph from some classic book, and then go on about the beauty that it held. He needed to convey the beauty he sensed to you. He had then a sublime glow in his face. You could tell that he was truly happy that time. He and his wife led a very simple life on a teacher’s paltry income, in the village next to our school. They had no children. He sometimes took me to his home, and his wife – an unusually quiet and dignified woman – served us dinner. He was exactly the same person in home as he was in class – and when he went to do the daily grocery shopping in the village market, or rode in an overcrowded bus, or was in some distress. There was never another persona or another mood that ever surfaced. He was a kind, generous, amiable, smiling person – just very grateful to be traveling through life. Nothing ever eclipsed that.
One evening I was visiting him in his home, and was about to start on my way back to the dorm. It was a pitch-dark night, and the walk would take me through a newly harvested rice-field. The terrain there was uneven underfoot, unless you knew how to walk on the boundary trail dividing the lots. There were no lights of any kind. Nor did we have any flashlights. So he escorted me through the field (which he was familiar with) up to the paved, lighted road. Halfway in the field, he suddenly stopped and said, almost in an unfamiliar tone of voice: Look at the stars. You pay them no notice on moonlit nights. But tonight it is as though even they have some useful light to offer. It is as though they are pointing directly at you and saying emphatically – Look, we too have something to give you.
This was nothing memorable, but for some reason I have always remembered the night. Even as a grown person, having lost all contact with him, and now knowing that he must be gone, I still remember that night and those stars. Was he saying something about beauty? Or was there after all a sadness in him that never surfaced? Perhaps someday I will understand.