Rummaging through the disorder in my study, I stumbled upon an old audio cassette covered with dust. With machines, which could play back this form of recording almost extinct in most households (mine being no exception), I was able to locate one device with the ‘mali’ next door. Minutes later my home was ‘lit up’ with the opening lyrics of a nostalgic favorite, “It was a moonlit night in old Mexico….,” made immortal by the silky voice of Pat Boone and the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales. Hearing the track set me pondering upon Earth’s heavenly companion, that silvery object in the sky that (in a monthly display) grows from a thin sliver of a crescent, into a beautiful circular source of soothing white light – The Moon.

The derivative genealogy (as available from various sources) of Earth’s closest neighbor and natural satellite is long, as it is mysteriously interesting. The word ‘Moon’ is derived from ‘Mona’ (Old English), which stems from ‘Meno’ (Proto-Germanic). ‘Meno’ in turn, flows from ‘Mehns’, a Proto-Indo-European hybrid, with roots in ‘Meh (to measure) – in relation to the month being the ancient unit of time reckoned by the waxing and waning of this heavenly body.

In Latin vocabulary, ‘Moon’ is referred to as ‘Luna’, creating the modern English adjective ‘Lunar’. There is however another adjective i.e. ‘Selenic’, which is so rarely used that it may not to be found in most dictionaries. The word ‘Selenic’ is derived from ‘Selene’ - Ancient Greek for ‘Moon’ and used as a prefix e.g. ‘Selenography’ (the study of Lunar physical features) or in the element name ‘Selenium’. In Greek and Roman mythology, goddesses Selene and Diana were alternatively called ‘Cynthia’ and it is intriguing to note that all three names are reflected in the terminology for lunar orbits - ‘Apolune’, ‘Pericynthion’ and ‘Selenocentric’.

My first memories of the silver orb are those of a child lying in bed looking up at the night sky listening to his mother’s unforgettable voice singing her three offspring to sleep, with the immortal lullaby “Chanda mama door ke, pooe pakaen boor ke”. Years go by and I am somewhere in the 1950s, where I see the same child (now a young boy) standing before a ‘boom mike’ waiting for his cue, as the golden voiced Mohini Hameed aka Apa Shamim croons out the familiar ‘lori’ during the children’s program aired from Radio Pakistan Lahore every Sunday morning. So lost is this young apprentice in the simple beauty of the song and the voice rendering it that a tug at his sleeve by none other than the great lady herself, brings him back to reality, saving him the embarrassment of missing his ‘entry’.

The Moon casts such wide ranging effects on our existence that words cannot describe it. This ranges from the very survival of the species to culture, religion, customs, warfare, health, the way we think, communicate and regulate ourselves. Take for example the lunar influence on tides and their impact on survival of marine life, ships and consequently the human race. Consider the importance of lunar calendars in world religions, cultures and rituals. How bland, classic poetry would become, sans a lover’s tryst under moonlight or how uninspiring the vocabulary, if we did not have words or expressions such as Lunacy, Mooning, Moonlighting, Moonfaced etc. Lunar influence on warfare is profound, for battle plans by attacker and defender are dependent on which phase the moon is in. Lunar influence on human behavior is no more a matter of fiction or horror movies, barring those related to werewolves and other story book monsters.

The effects of a full moon on animal species is evident in the fact that canines such as wolves, jackals, coyotes, foxes and dogs (even domesticated ones) tend to raise their faces to the sky and howl, producing enough grist to reinforce superstition. While I am witness to this phenomenon, I have also seen and heard birds bursting into song for a brief period under the full moon. While this could be explained as mistakenly taking the bright moon light as early dawn, but who knows?

 

The writer is a historian.