Kohoutek by Mayank Chhaya
I could not assert with unquestionable certainty that I did indeed see Comet Kohoutek sometime in early 1974. I am fairly certain I saw it as a 13-year-old over Ahmedabad’s sharply etched January winter sky. I am absolutely certain that we knew about its passage through our solar system. We knew its name. So let’s just make it simple and say I saw it.
Apart from the thrill of watching a bright object in the sky with a hazy tail, the lure of Kohoutek for me was also captured by its name. Kohoutek sounded melodious to teenage ears.
Although Kohoutek will not return for another 70,000 years, for me it metaphorically returned this morning when I chanced upon an interview with author George Bishop. His latest novel "The Night of the Comet" is about a 14-year-old boy named Alan Broussard. Here is how Ballantine Books, the novel’s publisher, describes part of the theme:
“For his fourteenth birthday, Alan Broussard, Jr., receives a telescope from his father, a science teacher at the local high school who’s eagerly awaiting what he promises will be the astronomical event of the century: the coming of Comet Kohoutek. For Alan Broussard, Sr.—frustrated in his job, remote from his family—the comet is a connection to his past and a bridge to his son, with whom he’s eager to share his love for the stars.”
Bishop’s novel is supposed to be a coming of age story which is pretty much where I lose my interest. I am not much of a coming of age type. That may have something to do with the fact that there was no coming of age in my life. I often joke that I entirely skipped teenage. For instance, one never had acne or pimples. But one did have Kohoutek, I think.
It is remarkable how the mere mention of Kohoutek, while browsing through morning news today, swung me right back to 1974 and scratched out my own personal memories about the comet. In my mind’s eye, I was out on the unfinished front yard of our rented house looking up for Kohoutek and then on to the terrace for a better, unobstructed views. The sky pretty much looked the way it does in my artwork above. The Pleiades or Seven Sisters that you see so clearly on the top left of the image were as clear as they are here. Kohoutek may not have appeared this good but retrospection has a way of accentuating realities past.
Motion and movement cannot be felt at the enormous scale of the solar system. However, what created the illusion of movement in Kohoutek’s case was its icy tail. It was as if one had caught it in its slow motion trajectory after being flung by some distant hand.
In Bishop’s story Broussard Jr. was more interested in something more resplendent, nearer and yet unattainable to a teenage mind, a captivating girl named Gabriella Martello. In my story, I had no such distractions. There were girls in my neighborhood for sure, but they did not streak my horizon like Kohoutek did that night. In any case, those were the days of treating every girl as a sister which was an impractical standard to follow from the standpoint of the preservation and proliferation of the species.
By the time, Kohoutek is scheduled to return, unless it is destroyed in the interim, it would be the year 71974. There is a possibility that the 7195th generation child or children descending from me may yet watch it again. In case they do and in case they read this blog, I would like them to know that its appeal is in its unattainability and distance.