Kavita Di Kahani

Kavita Di Kahani: Umber Di Shehzadi Nu (to the Princess of the Skies)

I am not aware if each kahani has a kavita behind it, but each kavita appears to have something to do with some kind of a kahani. Below is the Moving Image of “Umber Di Shehzadi de Naa: To the Princess of the Skies,” a kavita I wrote 41 years ago and which I recently set to images and my voice.

This is the story of that kavita:

I first came up with the idea for Umber Di Shehzadi during the dead of the night in the rented front room of BDO, a friend and class fellow from Khalsa College, Amritsar, who was living in Southall, London.

Khalsa College, Amritsar

There were about half a dozen of us, all classmates from the same year of Khalsa College Amritsar, who by the quirk of fate immigrated to the UK in a span of a year or two of each other during the late 1960s. We all found our first jobs in factories or bakeries. And we were all single. That meant that over the weekends, we had no other obligations, and would often get together at each other’s  rented one-room accomodation. (none of us, fresh arrivals from India, owned homes yet).

That particular evening, we were all there to witness a historic moment: to watch the first human walk on the Moon. The Apollo 11 space flight landed the first humans on Earth’s Moon on July 20, 1969. The mission, carried out by the United States, was considered a major accomplishment in the history of exploration and represented a victory by the U.S. in the Cold War Space Race with the Soviet Union.

BDO’s real name was Surain Singh Sandhu belonging to Dibbi pura, a village on the border of Pakistan in district Amritsar, but we all called him BDO because before moving to England, he used to work as a Block Development Officer in Punjab. And this designation stuck (and he liked it) even though, after moving to England, he worked as a machine man in a factory making steel ropes for the shipyards in Middlesex and then as a postman in the main  Post office in London.

On this special evening, BDO entertained us with a deliciously cooked chicken served with English Cream Sherry and as usual his Punjabi landlady prepared the rotis for us. Wise desi landladies in those days used to let us single people cook our own daal, sabzi, and meat, but would not trust us with making rotis in the shared kitchen. They would politely offer to make and supply rotis free of charge because as much as we thought we were quite the experts in the kitchen now, we would make such a mess by spilling and spreading wheat flour all over the shared kitchen during kneading the dough. So they figured it took the same amount of effort to cook the rotis as it did to clean it all up later, especially from the hidden spaces around the cooking area.

As we sat glued to the BBC, an announcement came on telling us that the program would be delayed by a few hours from the time originally stated by the U.S. network, CBS News. We tried unsuccessfully to take a little nap in between, but remained very excited as the moment began to move closer to midnight, the expected landing time in London.

Neil steps on the moon!

When it finally came on the television screen, we were mesmerized and hung on every word: Launched from Florida on July 16, the third Lunar Mission of NASA’s Apollo Program was crewed by Commander Neil Arden Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the spot they named ‘Sea of Tranquility’. Identifying themselves as having landed at the newly made up name ‘Sea of Tranquility’ Neil Armstrong baffled the CBS News broadcaster back in the USA momentarily, who I think was Walter Cronkite, before he could fully comprehend what was going on. From a small one-room apartment in Southall, my friends and class fellows of Khalsa College, Amritsar and I watched Armstrong and Aldrin become the first humans to land and walk on the Moon. The magnanimity of what we had just seen is still fresh in my mind.

As soon as their space ship, “Eagle” touched down, we sat there speechless. Then we saw Neil Armstrong setting his first footsteps on the moon’s surface, the ‘Sea of Tranquility’. I wasn’t sure how everyone else felt about this electrifying moment as they watched this with jaws dropped; for me however, I was in a different universe now. It was a bigger magic or miracle than any religious or non religious stories tell us about our respective belief systems and which the respective followers may or may not fully believe. But this spectacle was the mother of all miracles, no less divine to say the least, as it was for the whole mankind to see for themselves what was happening before their very eyes.

This was kind of like a new religion which transformed my human experience enabling me to see and feel the universe in a different way. This was a miracle which no one, believer or non believer could deny had occurred.

Planting the U.S. Flag on the Moon

For a moment I forgot that Armstrong and Aldrin were busy collecting the soil samples, noting down the size and colors of the strewn off rocks and planting the American flag staff into the Moon’s surface in haste, in case the mission’s landing there was cut short for whatever reasons and the crew was ordered to return to Earth immediately.

The poet in me was looking beyond what we were seeing. In my mind’s eye, I was seeing a proverbial fairy tale . A magnificently beautiful magical fort like palace standing proud amidst this ‘Sea of Tranquility,’ where the human from the Earth has just landed. In this appearing and disappearing whimsical palace, living all by herself is the Earth’s sister, the untouched virgin Princess of the Planetary system who I called ‘Umber di Shehzadi’ (Princess of the Skies). Man has never asked for permission from the places or, in this case, the planet it wants to colonize. But if he did, I imagined what the Earth would tell her sister, the Moon, about the Man who had come to her planet.

The human from Earth walks to the palace and knocks at the palace doors. Soon the princess answers the door and gets wonder struck by what she sees standing in the door before her. Himself dazzled by her serenity and indescribable beauty, the human falters momentarily. Controlling himself the very next moment, he wastes no time in seeing her dilemma of being uncomfortable by his unannounced tresspassing and his completely camouflaged strangers’ looks. Before the door slams shut in his face, he quickly hands her the letter of introduction, which he takes with him as a sealed reference written by her planetary sister Earth; Written on the condition that only the princess and not the human should break open the seal to read it.

It was as powerful a moment as it was divine. The moment was a spectacle equivalent of imagining the Big Bang only in reverse. In millions of years, the violently separated planet Earth, for the first time had made contact back with one of its other planetary family members, describing her own fate as well as inquiring the wellbeing of others through a human!

In a far fetched and strange sort of way, in my heart it felt as though this was also about me. I had left my mother and my motherland, perhaps feeling the same way, behind in India. Looking for greener pastures, I had just landed here in England. A far distant strange land.

The princess, Umber di Shehzadi holds the letter in her delicate fingers, breaks open the seal and reads the letter silently to herself.

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