“Dear Planets, I still love you.” Pluto
The spaceship plummeted and did weird somersaults and it was flung far, far, far away into an unknown dark spot in space. The transition from an apprised atmosphere to something unanticipated surroundings was a sign of alarm. The cold atmosphere hit the outer layers of the spaceship and the high pressure started affecting the sturdy walls of the ship. Ice sleets forming on the spaceship were a warning to the crew that they were heading towards freezing death. The atmospheric pressure that was building with greater force made them aware that the spaceship was shrinking making it difficult to move or to breathe. Were they doomed to die a harsh death?
Space exploration, their passion, adventure their forte, the ‘awesome twosome’ as they were affectionately called, had embarked on a voyage to fly high, beyond the realms of human reach. Their interest in and curiosity about the world beyond their home planet, the earth, had always been a topic of discussion and at times debate too, leading to arguments, disagreements among the group of young astronomy students.
Rishi and Rithika, favourites of the renowned Astrophysics professor Dr. Viswanathan, had aced the subjects in Astrophysics and had a deep desire to become astronauts. Space intrigued them. The universe with its magnificent heavenly bodies, the mystical world of stars and asteroids, the mysteries of the universe kindled their curiosity and questions about the hidden wonders of the unknown, unexplored regions of the universe excited them.
As school going kids their sense of wonder and delight was fuelled by the alluring world around them. As they grew their keenness and inquisitiveness to know more about the ancient scientists and astronomers and their magnificent discoveries about the planetary system, solar system, the celestial bodies and their origin kept them on tenterhooks.
Their growing years were marked by a strong will to visit space. Did they think it was like a visit to their grand mom’s village in the suburbs of Mumbai? It was no child’s play, they knew it but that did not deter them from dreaming of space and the wonders hidden there, waiting to be explored. Their investigative nature was lauded by their teachers and lecturers alike. The zeal further deepened when they had the occasion to participate in a symposium conducted by ISRO and had the opportunity to hear the Missile Man, Dr. APJ Kalam’s experiments, explorations and findings as a scientist. Inspired by his achievements, Rishi and Rithika, made up their minds to fulfil their dream of space exploration.
With a Post Graduate degree from Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, and a wish to conquer the length and breadth of space, their search for an opening in ISRO, the most prized and most cherished destination for any space lover, came to fruition the day they received a call letter for interview. A research programme in Space technology followed by a six-month space mission training programme was an exciting package for them.
Their life ambition was fulfilled the day they were conferred with a Ph.D. and their space mission training commenced. The rigorous fitness regiment, diet, health, sleep and stress management, combined with a thorough knowledge of spaceship mechanical and technological aspects, disaster management… the military discipline was fused into their daily activities.
The best part of the training was when they were put into zero gravity aircraft and given a peep into the space atmosphere. A mock drill kind of activity to acclimatize them to weightlessness in space. Each activity was a test for them to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Stress and pressure were two very important psychological factors that needed to be addressed at every point of the training. The fact that they would be away from their family, from their home, from the familiar surroundings might affect their emotional and psychological balance. It was of utmost importance that they brace themselves for such unusual conditions.
Six months flew by and the day of departure dawned with the sky bright and the sun shining down with all its might. The excitement in the campus was reaching a crescendo, the space mission astronauts were being greeted and wished by the scientists and fellow astronauts; a successful mission meant a safe return to the earth’s atmosphere, a crucial moment for the space explorers.
The rocket was launched successfully into the earth’s orbit and the space mission was flagged off with high expectations of its successful completion of its first ever exploration.
Rishi and Rithika felt their senses numbed and breathing becoming harder due to the outward pressure. Spur of the moment Rishi quickly searched for the space suit which would protect them from the radiation. The first thought that occurred to him was that the spaceship was about to explode and either would be burnt up in the fire or hurled out into the space, exposing them to the outer atmosphere; where they were heading for was a mystery to them. The machines, the control panel, radio transmitter, were gradually failing and it was becoming obvious that their end was imminent.
The fighter in them did not succumb to the fear of death. The will to survive and take back good memories of their mission was so strong that they held on to hope and tried to calm themselves. Take deep breath, inhale…exhale… they remembered the Yoga guru’s instructions during the training. To keep calm and wait was the only thing they could do. The tumbling seemed to slow down and the ship started bouncing and hitting something solid. From the impact they could guess that some heavenly bodies were passing by, maybe asteroids.
Suddenly with a big thud the spaceship stopped and they were hurled out of the ship with massive force. The two human bodies, suspended in space, not able to control their erratic bouncing, tried to hold hands and float. Being together and facing the situation was one way of handling it. They realised they had entered low gravity zone of the universe and to remain sane and think coherently was difficult, if not impossible.
The spaceship could explode any moment and their first thought was to access at least a few survival kits, food packets, oxygen masks and maybe a few bottles of water. As they propelled themselves towards the ship, they felt something tugging hard at their spacesuit. When they turned back, to their surprise, they saw a few strange looking creatures pulling them hard towards some hard rock like structures. Their grip was so hard and the smell emanating from their dwarfish bodies was so repulsive that both Rishi and Rithika instinctively tried to free themselves from their hold.
Suddenly they were hit by a cold wave and they felt they would freeze to death in the spot. Their teeth chattering, bodies floating and their suit in the grip of those caricature-like creatures, life seemed to have lost all its flavour. What were they in for? What creatures were these? Their short stature, thick short fingers, eyes like that of a fish and the colour of their skin(?) bluish green, they reminded Rishi of ‘Jaadu’ of ‘Koi mil gaya’, Hrithik Roshan’s film about Extra-terrestrial creatures.
Even in such dire circumstances Rishi wanted to laugh and celebrate their success. If not the scheduled mission, they were exploring space and its wonders. Wasn’t it a wonder that they had stumbled upon life away from their home? His laughter got choked in his throat and his smile hardly reached his lips; low gravity made them do things differently than the way they did on earth. Rishi realised the value of gravity, the pricelessness of smile and laughter. He remembered his science teacher Ms. Nirmala’s words, “Air, water, gravity, nature, earth, soil…. each has a specific place in our lives. If you cannot protect these at least do not squander them, you never know when we will run out these. The value of free gifts of nature dawn on us when we face the shortage, scarcity. When we gasp for breath after a run, when we fail to get a morsel into our mouth….”
Such profound truths revealed!
Rishi sighed and wished that this topsy turvey situation would be reversed.
As those strange bodies floated making squeaky sounds, Rithika felt a strong impulse to free herself from their hold and escape into the space, anywhere but in their grip!
As though sensing her disagreeable thoughts, the strange creatures tugged at her already unhinged hair making her shriek in pain but strangely her whimpering and shrieks were not heard by Rishi.
‘Oh, sound needs a medium to pass through. How foolish, I seem to have forgotten the basics of Physics.” She chided herself.
She stretched her hand to touch Rishi but withdrew as she felt the strange part of the creature, which could be its hand, palm, fingers, anything, wrench her hand and tuck it under its arm and float away from Rishi. Agitated, irritated and helpless, Rishi propelled himself in the same direction with great effort to keep pace with the quickly vanishing creature.
An unexpected horde of similar creature surrounded him making squeaky noise that reminded him of a screeching sound of a car wheels. This was stranger than the creatures because they couldn’t hear their own voice but were able to sense the sound of these weird looking things. It was quite puzzling. Rithika, meanwhile made gestures pleading him to rescue her as the speed with which they were floating made her head real.
Two things that seemed to be changing as they headed towards a surface which appeared to be rocky and released gaseous smell were – sound produced by these creatures was audible and the low gravity wasn’t affecting them. They were gradually stabilizing themselves and it seemed as though the gas was their elixir.
Rishi tried to speak but his voice was stifled, Rithika tried to stand but found herself still floating. With wonder and amazement, they watched these beings touch the surface and balance themselves with ease. From nowhere a swarm of similar beings thronged them and squeaked as though welcoming and appreciating their great work.
From among the crowd, two creatures made their way towards Rishi and Rithika, inspected them from head to toe and suddenly made a gesture as though bowing to them. Neither understood the act. Were they inviting them to be a part of their tribe? What kind of beings were they? What was the surface they had landed on? What happened to their spaceship? Would they ever be able to go back to their green home? These were questions without any answers!
Still wondering why they could hear the sounds made by these creatures and not their own voice, they waited patiently for something to happen. Strangely nothing happened. Rishi made gesture to ask those creatures who they were and what was the surface where the were trying to stand and not float.
The two creatures which had bowed to them, gripped their hands and took them to a creature which was a little taller and stouter than the other beings. Rishi couldn’t make out any gender difference. The gas choked Rishi and Rithika. No atmosphere, no proper surface, no vegetation and freezing temperature, all these conditions seemed favourable to those creatures but for the two of them it was a death-like situation.
Suddenly the radio transmitter started beeping and tried to catch some signals. Rithika was awestruck to see the radio tucked in Rishi’s space suit. Was it being revived or was it a signal before dying away? He knew all his efforts to make his voice reach out to the people out there on earth would be futile.
‘But… wait’, he said to himself, ‘How did I hear the beeping?’ Does it mean that at certain points some voice, sound could be heard? Signals could be received?’
‘Ah, hope follows despair,’ he breathed a sigh of relief. He also saw Rithika stabilising herself and trying to hold on to a big rock for support.
Rishi felt the radio transmitter becoming warm and trying to catch signals. Were these from the earth or some bizarre sound waves from around the surroundings? Beeping was becoming louder and suddenly the surroundings echoed with the deafening sound. The unbearable noise mingled with the squeaky sound of the creatures made them feel dizzy. Gradually the beeping sound returned and an incoherent voice message floated in the surroundings.
Rishi, alarmed and alerted, understood that someone was trying to contact them. He pressed his ears hard towards the radio and heard broken words…. something beginning with P! What could that be?
He tried hard to decipher the inaudible sounds and make a word of it. Pl…o?
‘Was it a planet they were on? Could it be…. No, that seemed like wild guess. The dwarfish beings, the freezing temperatures, the obnoxious smell of gases… were they on PLUTO? But life did not exist on that dwarf planet! What were these creatures? Why was their sound audible and theirs not?
It became clear to him that there was some medium through which sound was getting transmitted and may be these creatures had such structure which radiated sound.
The dwarf planet had housed dwarf creatures and life was sustained through some extra-terrestrial substances!
He remembered his Social Studies teacher had taught them about the planet being excluded from the main planets because of ‘no clearing the neighbourhood’. How sad the planet would have felt on being reduced from a normal planet to a dwarf planet!
Did it contemplate taking revenge on the inhabitants of the earth by diverting the spaceships, spacecrafts and creating havoc and terror in their hearts? Unlikely, he said to himself. Maybe his poetic imagination was taking fancy flights!
As he watched the dwarfs go round and round Rithika and saw her shrinking in fear, he raised his hand to assure her that she need not fear them, they were harmless.
She tried to smile. She too might have remembered ‘Jadoo’ the healer.
How life takes twists and turns and lands one in unimaginable situations which have no outlets. Once trapped one has to live in that enclosed world waiting to be redeemed.
‘Waiting for Godot!
Rishi and Rithika felt more at ease despite knowing that they may not ever return to their safe haven. The sheer pleasure of watching these creatures dancing and hopping, floating and squeaking was proof of life exits in various forms, dwarfish or tall, beautiful or ugly, sweet or bitter, small or huge, when placed in uncanny situations all these differences vanish or do they merge and efface the inequalities?
No gender bias, no voice to express disagreements, no discord, nothing; harmonious co -existence? All that these creatures could do was to squeak to express joy.
Rishi and Rithika felt that their space exploration may not be a successful one as per the standards of human beings on earth, but the accidental exposure to a new world on the Dwarf Planet had kindled a spark in their hearts to understand the universe in its variety and not brand anything/ anyone as per our findings, our research, our limited, parochial thought.
Rishi and Rithika never felt like Gulliver in Lilliput on the Dwarf Planet, in fact they owned it and became one with the dwarfs of the Dwarf Planet.
Fortunately, their vision was not dwarfish. What they seemed to have lost on the earth, they seemed to have gained it on PLUTO.
“Clearing the neighbourhood” around a celestial body’s orbit describes the body becoming gravitationally dominant such that there are no other bodies of comparable size other than its natural satellites or those otherwise under its gravitational influence. “Clearing the neighborhood” is one of three necessary criteria for a celestial body to be considered a planet in the Solar System
‘Waiting for Godot’ is a play by Samuel Beckett in which two characters, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), engage in a variety of discussions and encounters while awaiting the titular Godot, who never arrives. It is an innovation in Drama of the Absurd.
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