A Private Eclipse

I won’t be seeing this year’s totality – can’t take time out from other commitments to go to where it’s happening. But I feel I’ve already had the peak eclipse experience of my life, even though I wasn’t in the path of totality for that one, either.

I was in Delhi in February, 1980, with a bit of time to kill between the end of a six-week tour of India and the start of the school semester up in Mussoorie. I was staying with the Roemmeles, a missionary family with three daughters at Woodstock, one of them my classmate, Anne. I don’t remember exactly how long I stayed; it was not uncommon for students at loose ends to stay for weeks with school friends during our long winter holidays.

So I was with the Roemmeles as Delhi prepared, with some degree of hysteria, for the solar eclipse of February 16, 1980. Whether an ancient superstition or a new rumor, one widely shared belief was that a woman should wear green glass bangles to protect her husband from the evil effects of the eclipse. All the bangle wallahs in Delhi had sold out of green several days beforehand.

The day of the eclipse, everyone stayed home. I mean EVERYONE. Not as in “home on their balconies and roofs watching the eclipse” – home as in indoors, with shutters and doors closed tight.

Even in 1980, Delhi was a huge and bustling city with tons of traffic: cars, trucks, three-wheelers, bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, oxcarts, horse carriages, and pedestrians filled the streets and sidewalks with chaos and cacophony.

Not on this day.

There was an eerie silence in the deserted streets.

The Roemmele girls and I rode bicycles up a nearby traffic flyover that was usually full of vehicles. We had it entirely to ourselves. No life showed in the adjacent buildings or streets.

The day became dim, and later on we looked at the reflection of the crescent sun in a bucket of water. It was interesting, but the natural phenomenon didn’t make nearly as much impression on me as the unnatural one: Delhi without people.

Someday I’d like to see a totality. But nothing will ever top that eclipse experience.

3 thoughts on “A Private Eclipse

  1. Richard Freeman

    I know it’s a stupid comparison, but back in 1967 they aired the last episode of The Fugitive, and you could walk down the middle of Los Angeles streets … no cars.

  2. Deirdre Straughan Post author

    Heh. I dimly recall that there have been other media events with similar effects on the US, don’t remember right now what they were. I suppose that’s a phenomenon we’ll rarely see again, in this age of DVRs and on-demand streaming.

  3. Paul Coole Woodstock class of 1943

    Another media event. Back in the thirties, my folks were on furlough, and we were in Baldwin, KS, where I later went to college. I was 12, out and about that evening when the radio played The War of the Worlds. I remember hearing it from the sidewalk as I passed one house and another. I had a sence that it was a significant event, but it was years later that I heard of the pandemonium in NJ. KS was not in danger so no real reaction. The point is: I heard it, live.

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