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     Volume 7 Issue 44 | November 7, 2008 |

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A Roman Column

Head In The Clouds

Neeman Sobhan

The plane has been airborne for more than two hours, yet I might as well be on a sea-washed Greek island belting out my favourite Abba tune 'Dancing Queen' along with Meryl Streep for all the attention I am giving the white stuff over which I and my fellow passengers are flying. I am so engrossed in the frothiness of 'Mamma Mia!' playing on my screen that the furry flotsam of clouds under us goes unnoticed till a passenger announcement interrupts the video and I finally look out of the window.

The bales of cotton-clouds seem as unreal as the make-believe world of the film I was watching. But with my head in the romantic clouds of the musical comedy I had ignored the actual clouds, which from an earth-bound perspective would have inspired poetry in my fanciful heart. But from up here, riding on the shoulders of the clouds themselves, how easily I am taking these fluffy configurations for granted.

Flying these days has become so routine that the whole idea of being transported above the clouds has lost all power to kindle the human imagination. Cloud gazing is a pastime only for those on the ground, but when you are at eye level with the clouds do they have the same power to enthrall, enchant? Might Wordsworth flying, say, out of Dhaka on an Emirates flight like me, have looked down and written, instead of: 'I wandered lonely as a cloud/ that floats on high o'er vales and hills….' perhaps a line like: 'I wandered lonely as a steel-bird/ that floats on high above the clouds….'?

Are clouds, the stars, the moon or the blue skies more attractive and awe-inspiring only when seen from afar or because they are far? So, could it be after all, that distance does make all the difference in our way of perceiving and feeling, forcing the heart to grow not only fonder but more poetic, more starry-eyed? And by that same token, does too much proximity take away romance, reducing people, places, relationships and objects, to the prosaic and ordinary?

Somehow I hate to allow clichés to win. No, I insist that familiarity does not breed contempt and that distance is not the only thing that makes the heart grow fonder. And so, it must have been this nagging insistence in me to not take my world for granted and not just the sudden rocking of the plane that made me turn back to the cloud-puffed heavens through which we, the most inspired and dreamy species in creation, were floating in the steel-bird that two flighty brothers named Wright had dreamed up.

Of course, the dreamiest mode of transport and escape for humans is still poetry. And no degree of distance or proximity can make any difference in my passion for it, because I can read and re-read the same poem for years and still find romance and undiminished resonance in the same words.

Then, while flipping through that most prosaic of papers, The Financial Times, falling off my dozing husband's lap beside me, I found in the culture pages a poem that seemed to have been planted there specially for me, to magnify the message of the clouds---- both the ethereal and the real.

It was called 'OUT THERE' written by Jamie McKendrick. It is about Space and written from the point of view of astronauts. The haunting lines that I especially read and re-read are:

"Nostalgia for the earth and its atmosphere weakens the flesh and bones of cosmonauts. One woke to find his crewmate in a space suit and asked where he was going. For a walk.

He had to sleep between him and the air-lock. Another heard a dog and a child cry halfway to the moon. What once had been where heaven was, is barren beyond imagining, and never so keenly as from out there can the lost feel earth's the only paradise."

That was exactly it! We humans have invaded the territory of our dreams and imagination, 'the heavens',the kingdom of the beyond, the unreachable sky, the untouchable clouds, untrammeled space. Now here we are: up there, out there. And it is barren beyond imagining; and worse, paradise is not here after all. We look down at the familiar, unfamiliar earth and realize: that is all we have to love, and to hold; all that is real, that is ours. For the moment, for the duration of our lives: earth is the only paradise.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008