Chasing the Southern Cross

|Author: Evan L.|

More than a month ago at about 6 am on the roof of the NGO, Akshaya Patra, I noticed something odd in the sky. Bleary eyed with my thoughts lacking coherence I tried to place what I was seeing. There above the horizon are four stars dotted clearly, the Southern Cross. This is a constellation I thought impossible to see given the name and our location on the Northern Hemisphere. And yet here, despite all logic, I became convinced this was the constellation I saw. Count that as another contradiction present in India.

After returning at a more reasonable hour in the morning I feverishly looked up whether this was possible. The Southern Cross is a special constellation for me, I first saw it when I was a teenager on a trip to Australia. It was so clear in the sky, not like the other nebulous constellations that I was told existed. Seeing this on the Island of Tasmania, surrounded by penguins, I began to wonder if I could learn to identify other constellations. It would spur a hobby of star gazing that I continue to this day. When it was confirmed on google that it was visible from under 20 degrees North, my excitement grew.

Thus began an informal and very poorly executed quest of mine to see the Southern Cross. Henry and I agreed to get up one morning and find it, but timing was never convenient and there was always the excuse of bad weather. Henry was driven by a desire to see one particularly bright star that may have been in his imagination. He was convinced it was real though, and that was good enough for me.

Recently, my friend pointed out to me that looking at, talking about, or even thinking about stars is, in her words, stupid. I wanted to argue and point out the ‘deep’ reason they attract me, but ultimately, she was pretty much right. They do not add tangible value to anyone’s life and it does not really matter that they are there. Maybe it is just calming to be reminded of how small you are and no matter what you do you probably cannot mess up anything too badly. What do I know though?

Henry and I finally found our time when we went on a brief trip to Hampi three weeks later. We stayed up talking until 2 am and woke up at 4 completely exhausted. Accompanied by a few others we climbed the roof and were disappointed to find that the tree line blocked the constellation. Another loss. Already exhausted we did not have the patience to wait for it to rise. At least an app on our phones confirmed its existence for me once more.

As Julian would say, India continued to happen, and the constellation began to slip from my mind. Inconsistencies of the world of children’s book publishing with its endless light skinned cartoon characters and the poor treatment of well diggers who performed one of the most important occupations in the city occupied my mind. It was on our other trips that it would drift back to the cross. Looking at the red moon sink out of the sky on a beach in Goa reminded me. Then more recently, in Puducherry, I sat out looking into the cloudy night sky at about.1 am. Casey asked me whether I had seen it yet. There I was again, exhausted staring at the sky just where I had started. I was no closer to actually seeing it and I do now know what exactly I hoped to accomplish by seeing this constellation again.

Chasing this constellation sounds quite dramatic and a good hook for storytelling. That is not really what happened. It was vaguely in my mind, persistent but hardly as pressing as everything else going on in India. So why do I still feel the need to see it?

Here is the best answer I have. Twenty degrees from the equator is quite a lot since the north pole is technically on ninety degrees. A constellation with the namesake of South seems wrong to be visible from the North. It’s a lie. Whether purposeful or not it remains confounding. Why did they do this?

By seeing it, maybe I hope to understand it. Coming to India, I hoped that actually seeing the struggles of the people living everyday life would help me understand why the world is so unfair? And yet, like the Southern Cross, I have already seen this suffering up close. In Seattle I would see a homeless person every day. It did not make sense to me then, so why would it make sense to me now?

In India I have discovered a land of contradictions and inconsistencies. The caste system, which doesn’t exist anymore but somehow influences all of society; the Cauvery river supply, which allows people willful ignorance of water issues but provides a very necessary source of life; and everyone wanting to take a picture with me because I looked foreign but not wanting to have more conversation beyond asking where I was from. These all impacted me, but I think what I ultimately found the greatest inconsistency in was myself. I want to go out and change the world, help those less fortunate. How noble. Yet at home, in Seattle the place I miss right now despite having spent such a large percentage of my life there, there still a lot of pain. It seems weird to leave that unaddressed.

Maybe this is why I plan on going to the roof of ISI tomorrow at 5:45 AM. Henk wants to film a sunrise shot for our 2-minute video and it seems like the perfect excuse to wake up a little early. Maybe this time, seeing the cross once again from the North Hemisphere, it will all make sense.

End note: this is my last blog and everything above is fine, but it leaves something out. All that we have done in India has been heavily aided by many people who have been incredibly generous with their time. That goes for everyone from Jullian, Jenny, Deborah, Aruna, Meenakshi, Bhargavi, Aditi, Anna, and the whole Biome Trust. One person in particular though deserves a big thanks. Elbin has coordinated and made possible the transportation and translations for us every week. He has dealt very patiently with my haphazard coordination and last-minute requests. Thank you so much, everyone, but especially Elbin.

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