SHADOW AND LIGHT – Animation By Priyal Shah

Listen to this Story
Narrated by Anjan Prakash


1. High Shadow

To get a window seat on an evening flight before sunset when it is a clear blue sky with sprinkles of cloud, is like securing the best seat for a hit Broadway show.

This show begins about 30,000 feet high up in the air, a few minutes before the sun sets. Keep a watchful eye. Just when you have caught the sun at its last quarter, do not get distracted by the flight attendant who brings you a bottle of water or if your partner asks you a question. Once in this stage, the sun slips away like a mother going to work while her toddler is distracted.

The slipping out of the sun hails the dusk. Isn’t dusk a beautiful sounding word? Dusk isn’t just a word, it is a cauldron which the angels stir producing the magical potions of the evening. As they stir, the sky moves from orangish-red to orangish-yellow, and if there are clouds, they catch the colours and turn the orangish-red to pinkish-red, then with a few more stirs, they transform into bluish-grey, then greyish-blue. Here the angels pause briefly, allowing the creatures of the day to make their way home. This is Twilight as we call it.

For the last few stirs, you need to shift your glance to the window on the opposite side. Yes, to the eastern side, even if it means straining your neck. Now look closely. Here you will see the growing strata of dusk.

You will notice a deep-blue grey band, darker than the twilight sky, stretching across the curved body of the Earth. This is the Earth’s shadow rising as the sun slips further away on the western side. The pink band above this shadow is the Belt of Venus. As you hold your steady gaze, this blue band diminishes the pink and the world as you see it  moves into a complete shadow, enveloped in a rich cloak of darkness, one punctuated by points of light.

The celestial bodies pop out one after another – Venus, the brightest after the Sun and our closest planetary neighbour, then the stars shimmering and sparkling, as well as the glowing white of the moon in the shape of her lunar phase. The Night has fallen upon us along with all the light she holds.

Whether the sun slips out of the earth, or the earth spins out of the sun, the risen shadow is the Earth alive, as is the shadow of it. Can I say, we are now in one of the largest shadows known to man, the most expansive darkness, the nightfall?

This shadow becomes our night for the next several hours, in our part of the world, until the angels stir the cauldron of dawn into daylight.

2. Deep Light

Another time you are not miles up in the air watching the show of darkness, but several metres underwater to catch a magnificent show of light.

I am descending fifteen metres underwater for a night dive in Hawaii. It is dark as I begin the descent, but closer to the bottom, I notice I am arriving into a large circular pool of light. Along with my dive instructor, I make my way into this circle of other divers hovering at the bottom with their torch lights on. Our lights merges into theirs, creating the light pool. We hold onto a rock surface at the bottom of the ocean, buoyancy adjusted.

Stop. What do you hear? Silence. Only hand signals are our mode of communication. As I settle into this new ambience, I notice that the pool of artificial light is not without life. It appears cloudy, ‘just like a good Scotch Whisky’ I think, hovering in the chill Pacific waters. There are hundreds and hundreds of planktons floating in this light.

About five-seven minutes roll by. Then just like that out of the dark and into the light arrive a school of Reef Manta Rays. One by one to feed on the abundant plankton. About twenty of them swim right over our heads like giant white flat clouds of about 12 feet in width each. Like children in a playground, they play and somersault, even as they feed.

Their white underneath with distinctive markings reflect the bluish tint of the light. But it is the warm yet mischievous glint in their eyes when I lock mine into them, that touch every cell in my being. They move in and out of the spotlight. And we, the floating audience of humans absorb this wonder of life.

Twenty minutes into this show, the actors with their stomachs full, begin to exit the stage. I carefully watch them turn into shadows slowly merging into darkness metres beyond the light.

3. Shadow & Light

In the natural world, call it darkness. Or call it night. Both mean that I am in the shadow side of our planet Earth. Nowadays people use the terms light and darkness religiously, spiritually, metaphorically and philosophically too. But here, I stick to the natural encounter. Natural can teach too.

Take for example the performance in the air, where the Earth’s jet black shadow revealed the ever present light of the stars and the reflective moon. In the right season, closer to ground there are fireflies, glow worms and bioluminescence, visible too, in the night of the Earth.

Or what about the spotlight at the bottom of the ocean which revealed the plankton, and the feeding Mantas that visit the seas each night for the plankton. Go few more metres underwater, and in the pitch darkness, life is visible through some more bioluminescence in under water creatures.

And so I wonder, can shadow be defined without the presence of light, or light seduce, without the presence of shadow?

Perhaps light has more takers than shadow in the religious, spiritual and philosophical world of humans. In the natural world, shadow has a lot of takers. The natural world as the Earth slips to night is meant to show us the existence of shadow as a natural law that governs all life on earth, and the mighty Earth herself.

Can you for a moment imagine a habitat of only light without shadows. This means we are mostly imagining a habitat with no life. No eagle, no rabbits, no trees, no bats, no fox, or no lizard. If there is life in the light, there has to be a shadow right behind. Or right at the front. Or right on the side.

Without that shadow of the predator to alert the prey, without that shadow of the prey to ignite hope in the predator. Without those shadows of trees to rejuvenate a hiker, or comfort a worn out creature. Without the mighty shadow cast by promising clouds. Without the familiar shadows of your loved ones. Without that shadow to alert you when outdoors, or a shadow in which to hide, how is light good enough?

I wake up each morning to briefly catch the play of shadow over light, the shadow cast by life that surrounds me. I stare at the skies in the evening to watch the play of light over shadow. And when it is time to move indoors, I now have the strength to say this prayer:

Thank you for the day. Thank you for the night.

Thank you for both shadow and light.

The nature of nature,

In this circle of life.

If I wake up to the shadows of the day,

And sleep to the lights of the night,

There is beauty and wonder in this Life

Keeping my spirit so alive.

Thank you for reading.

May your weekend, be filled with play of light and shadow, as I look forward to hearing about your encounters with both, in the natural world.🌻



    • Ashvin Shivaraju

    • 10 months ago

    Anjan, i am in awe of you, what a nice topic, informative!
    Had never thought of shadow n light in this way.
    Planktons…reef manta ray…..
    so nice that you have seen them all..

    Thank you

    1. Thank you Ashvin and so glad you enjoyed it :). Yes, blessed to have enjoyed them. 🌻

    • Clare

    • 10 months ago

    beautiful, thank you! Reminds me of an essay my daughter Soledad wrote based on Virginia Woolf’s lightness and darkness. So important in this time as well to see both sides. Much love

    1. Dear Clare, thank you for reading and writing. I would so love to read that essay if your daughter is okay sharing it with me. And didn’t know Virginia Woolf has written about lightness and darkness. I shall check it out. Much much love right back. 🦋

    • Elizabeth Thomas

    • 10 months ago

    Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing that amazing experience of being underwater and up in the skies.

    1. Thank you Liz…and very sorry, I mistook your comment from a dear friend and aunt (her name is Elizabeth, and we call her Liz Aunty), and only realised this is you, after she whatsapped me about my post.
      Yes, two beautiful experiences indeed…and thank you for reading my blog post, right after I shared. 🙂

    • Atima kala

    • 10 months ago

    Beautifully penned thoughts as for me night is never dark enough and day has plenty of Grey’s so it’s the dusk which defines the beauty of the hour whether it’s morning or evening.looking forward to more thoughtful journeys.

    1. Atima, so well you describe that night is never dark enough, and day has greys :). Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts on it. I too look forward to journeying on, through this exchange of experiences. 🍃

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