I had a minute of perfect peace today, at 12 40 in the afternoon. The power was off – Chennai’s daily two-hour power cut – and I was at the dining table, seated for lunch. The air was perfectly still, perfectly silent but a bird that twittered far away. Through the window I could see the verandah, the green trees of Kalakshetra beyond, a cloudless sky, a line of colorful clothes hung out to dry. Occasionally, a gentle breeze drifted by, out of nowhere, bringing a momentary coolness. The hot rasam in front of me breathed a gentle wispy column of steam. The meal we had cooked had turned out very well. No serious thoughts occupied me, no worries, no plans – the weekend stretched out ahead of me, like a summer vacation. It was perfect peace.
My thoughts drifted to another moment of peace – a longer moment – more than ten years ago, in October 2002. It was during Shaastra, the college technology festival, at about 4 in the afternoon. I was at the IIT Madras stadium where a group of perhaps 30 people had gathered. There was a rocketry competition going on. A large blue tub of water lay on the ground, and the contestants had to design and demonstrate a rocket that would launch out of the water and fly as far as possible. I was not participating; I was a Shaastra big-shot then, and I was sitting in the pavilions, a spectator to the action.
Inexplicably, in 5 years of life at IIT Madras, 5 years which are now a continuous stream of good memories one on the heels of another, this moment is my favorite memory. I can’t explain why – none of my closest friends were with me, and I had no stake in the competition, one way or another. But I remember the scene as vividly as if it was happening here, and now. At the center was the launch tub; surrounding it, a small circle of organizers and the present contestant; then a slightly larger circle of the other contestants, and a handful spectators like me. The IIT Madras stadium in the autumn afternoon is a vast blaze of green grass, ringed by the darker green of the institute woods on three sides and a shady pavilion on the fourth. The sky was spotless, a deep and calm blue. Hardly anyone spoke, and if they did, the voices in the central circles did not reach us on the periphery. Every five or ten minutes, a rocket would streak out of the water, breaking the stillness like a sudden lock of wind, and soar into the sky, traveling a couple of hundred meters in a perfect parabola. A patter of silent excitement in the field, and in the stands, perhaps I would turn to a companion and murmur a remark or comment, like old debenture-holders watching some county cricket match. I remember staying for half an hour.
It was half an hour of bliss, a Wind in the Willows moment. And perhaps there is nothing greater in life to look forward to than peace, and stillness, in the lap of nature, thinking nothing, being nobody, feeling the security that comes from being a little gear in the big machinery that is the great natural world around us, and an occasional splash of color in the sky or gust of wind in the air, giving us occasion to exchange brief commentary with an equal companion nearby.