The sky blushes an angry purple today. It has been drowning itself in blues this week. But tonight is special. For it is a starlight night.
Three days back I was sitting in the 1937 Reading Room mapping Ovidian similes on an ever-expanding excel sheet. Book number – page number – line number – book number – page number – line number – book number – page number – line number. My slouching back, aching fingers, and tired eyes compelled me to get up and shuffle my muscles. Wrapping myself up in my jacket, I picked up my phone and walked out.
And outside — the stars had come down, as if just for me. As if just to greet me. As if just to invite me into the night. Fairy lights coiled around the rusting iron nails of the reading room. Flickering candles and tea lights lay scattered on the old stone steps. And a Victorian teapot and cup of silver sat waiting in one corner. The night was golden. Not bright and boisterous but soft and subtle, almost hesitating. The golden night, aware of its gossamer glow, was hesitant to come forward and dance and had thus chosen to peek from behind a veil.
Preparing the stage for this performance, I came across four theatre artists, deliberating settings and rearranging the lights. Once satisfied, the director asked the actor to take his position and recite a few lines. Sharing the stairs with candles, I looked up to my left and saw this silhouette of a lean and lithe figure oozing out poetry. And his voice, oh his voice. Like a lover forlorn, waiting on the doorsteps of his beloved’s chamber singing in beautiful melancholy, a combination of maturity and innocence, deep and mellifluous — the actor played his part. My eyes hovered on the space he left and my ears craved more of this poem in his celestial voice. And finally, the golden night made the decision to step out.
“The stage was set such that I forgot all about Trinity’s campus, my pending deadlines, and Ovidian similes.”
The stage was set such that I forgot all about Trinity’s campus, my pending deadlines, and Ovidian similes. At half-past seven, a lightly strumming guitar filled the air and the poet stepped out of obscurity and into the light. He breathed in and let me swallow the atmosphere before he began. The brilliant white of the reading room cast him in arrant darkness and elevated his shadow, projecting it onto the wall in the background, in between the Corinthian pillars.
“Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies! / O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air! / The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there! / Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes! / The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies! / Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare! / Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare! / Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.”
I can’t tell you what happened next. I am not sure myself what happened next. It was too delicate and too magnificent to be explained. What I do remember is an image: the poet, up on a pedestal, antlers on his head, the whisper of music holding him amidst glittering lights under a brooding blue sky. Just after finishing, he sighed and exhaled, and so did I with him, remembering to breathe, to release the air I had been holding in throughout his performance, to stir myself to this world. The clapping hands around me brought me back and I woke up. Or perhaps, went to sleep.
“Today, after the final performance as I am writing this, I am stunned that I experienced these three nights right here, on campus, amidst assignments and lectures, loud and rowdy students, and the intrusive hum of construction and traffic.”
This poet appeared on the steps of the 1937 Reading Room two more times. And two more times I stood mesmerised. Each night came like a blessing wrapped in a sheer golden fabric. And for fifteen minutes, held me in its folds too. Today, after the final performance as I am writing this, I am stunned that I experienced these three nights right here, on campus, amidst assignments and lectures, loud and rowdy students, and the intrusive hum of construction and traffic. It is almost as though there were two nights — the dark one that the rest of the world experienced and this golden one meant just for me.
Tonight, the starlight night bid adieu.
I am back inside, with the Ovidian similes. And I am writing this simply to say thank you — to the guitarist, to the director, to the costume designer and of course, the two poets, meeting across time and countless nights — for letting me experience this golden company of stars.
I remember the moon that shone on the very first poetry reading, splendid and luminous. But such was the effect of this earthly poet, wearing liquid gold and like flowers, picking, adoring, and setting the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins into a circlet, that the moon was too embarrassed to step out again. Two moons cannot share a stage.
This lunar poet brought with him a celestial bliss of golden night and bewitching stars, right outside the 1937 Reading Room. And it wasn’t theatre. It was magic.