When The Day Turned Dark

Shriprakash Rao attended St. Xavier's School, Jaipur where he was a sports enthusiast, with particular emphasis on cricket and basket ball. He was also a good short-distance swimmer.

Rao joined the Department of Customs and Central Excise as Inspector, and retired as Additional Commissioner in 2015. He traveled to many nations as a trade negotiator for the Central Government on several occasions for various trade agreements.

Rao is an avid adventurer who has under taken trekking expeditions across Himalayas in India and Nepal. He fancies his visit to Iceland to see the Northern Lights to be the crown jewel of his travels. He is a keen photographer while traveling.

Rao loves driving and has under taken many long drives across India, initially on his motor cycle and later on by car. He is an avid reader and a movie buff, especially of classic westerns.

Rao presently lives in Jaipur with his wife.

It was twenty five ago to the day. In mid-October, 1995, my very dear friend Pankaj (god bless his soul) and I had just sat down for our sundowner. But just after one drink, Pankaj said he had to leave for some work. This surprised me. Rarely anything could make Pankaj move during his sundowner.

On asking he said his aunt is coming from Pune and he had to make her room ready. Now this surprised me. Pankaj’s aunt was a senior professor in physics in the famed Fergusson College at Pune. This made me curious, as it was no time for vacations in college.

So, I asked him, why she was coming. He replied there would be a complete solar eclipse on 24 October, and is visible only in some places in India (and the world). One such place is near Jaipur and she wanted to witness this magnificent celestial event. I was intrigued. Though I had witnessed many a solar eclipse, I had never thought there even could be a complete one.

Pankaj’s aunt came a few days before the designated day. I met her and asked her about the complete solar eclipse. She explained the science behind it and informed us this is a very rare celestial event which we can witness just next door; especially when scientists and photographers travel from all over the world to see it.

So there & then, Pankaj and I decided to accompany his aunt. On being asked where  we would have to go, she said it is a place called Paota near Jaipur. The only Paota we knew was close to Jaipur about eighty kilometers away on the Delhi highway. The other place she had suggested was Dunlodh, which was some distance away.

So we set out to confirm this Paota. In 1995 it was still pre internet era. With no internet/social media this was non-event. The papers carried just one line stories about the impending event.

Our visit to Rajasthan Patrika office to ascertain the date of solar eclipse was also not much of use. Sadly, the newspaper was hardly excited to cover such a once in lifetime event. They just confirmed that it was the same Paota, just ahead of Shahpura on Jaipur-Delhi highway. We also went to University of Rajasthan to see if any team had been deputed to cover the event, but we drew a zilch.

Pankaj and I discussed this coming event with many in our office circle and friends. Not much interest was shown, except some caution that witnessing such an event would bring bad luck besides harming us physically. Nobody accepted the invitation to accompany us in spite of us having invited all our family and friends.

Finally, on 24 October, 1995, Pankaj, Achyut (his brother), his aunt & I along with our children left for Paota at about 6 am (as the eclipse was to occur at about 9, [if my memory serves me correct) in my ever faithful Maruti van.

We reached Paota by 8 am. There was no activity in the village & it was still sleeping. We did not know where to go to watch the event. If it was today, media & onlookers would have swarmed the village.

After, looking all over, we finally managed to see a tent set up in an open field about a kilometer away. So we made our Maruti van bounce across the open field for about a kilometer. As we came to the tent, we could see handful people (both Indians and foreigners) busy setting up their equipment.

 On inquiry, they informed that they were from Birla Planetarium, Jaipur to cover/record the event. We were immediately chastised by Pankaj’s aunt, that this where we should have gone instead of Rajasthan Patrika.

At the scheduled time approached the landscape took on eerie shape, with shadows coming up from nowhere. Suddenly, there was silence in the tent as we could see sun going behind the moon. The shadows lengthened, birds started calling and dogs started howling.

After, what seemed like eternity (though it was seconds only) sun was completely eclipsed & we could see the corona. I was shivering due to sudden cold. It had a look of a late-late evening in winter. Birds started flying to their nests. Suddenly two air force jets streaked by (sent by GOI to take pics).

Diamond Ring
The photo of Diamond Ring was taken by Shri Sriprakash Rao on the day of Complete Solar Eclipse on 24th October 1995 by his 35mm Olypums-10 camera with 70-300mm telephoto lens.

Slowly the Sun started to emerge from behind, making a perfect diamond ring. After a few seconds it was all over. Sun was shining in all its glory, but it was still cold. Birds were flying in circles, not knowing that they had, like us, witnessed a show put up by Mother Nature.

I just not believe what I seen no sun for a few seconds. The temperature, I was told had fallen 5-8 degree Celsius. The importance of sun to earth was never so clear. No wonder we Hindus place so much importance on “Surya dewata”.

The photo of Complete Solar Eclipse was taken by Shri Sriprakash Rao on the day of Complete Solar Eclipse on 24th October 1995 by his 35mm Olypums-10 camera with 70-300mm telephoto lens.

We returned to Jaipur, all lost in their thoughts. The celestial event had completely overawed us.


Exactly right! In the pre-internet days, most people knew what little they could read in the local paper or see on the news. Major events did not mean much. But, as you note, today the world has changed - for the better, I think.

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