The Martian Dream

The waves lapped and splashed at the seashore. The trees rustled and swayed in the wind. The crickets hummed and chirped the song of night sweetly, sonorously. But Madhavan could not be lulled to sleep. He squirmed, squirmed, and squirmed on his bed.

Dark shadows of confusion and anxiety ran across his heart, his mind, his soul. Ghostlike shadows slithering like snakes of misfortune. Hissing and whispering – your dreams would die.

Dawn was still far off. He craved the light of life. For the dawn to break out. And bath him in its golden radiance. Obliterate the shadows. Gobble up the snakes. And whisper in his ears – your dreams would not die. They would live.

***

Finally, the dawn broke out and the clock struck eight. His phone buzzed in a shrill cacophony and yanked him out of the slumber. He lifted his phone lazily, glanced at the calling number with sleepy eyes, and murmured in a sleep-laced heavy voice, “Hi Bhairavi, How are you?” Bhairavi answered curtly, “Argh!  Not good. When would you decide about the US? My visa is ready and my company is sending me to the US in a month. Things are getting pretty delayed from your end”. Madhavan retorted, “Give me time, I need to talk to my Boss. Things are not as simple as you think”. “Sweetheart, talk to him right today and settle the things,” she insisted. He pleaded, “Keep patience, Bhairavi, I would certainly bring up the issue with Bhaskar today”. Little pacified, she answered, “OK, Sir, I would call you up in the evening. Ensure that things are really settled today. Bye, take care”. “You too, take care and bye” mumbled Madhavan, and hung up the call. He shook his head in distress. Ugh, Bhairavi is on my back all the time. Why does she not understand that things take their own time?

Madhavan and Bhairavi have been engaged for the last three months. Madhavan was working as an astrophysics engineer with ISRO in Sriharikota, India’s prestigious organization for space research, and Bharavi as a software developer with TCS, a big software company headquartered in Mumbai. Two years back they had met in a billiards club in Chennai. Then two strangers. Now love birds. A fiancé and a fiancée.

***

The Mars mission was very close to his heart. Madhavan had been working with ISRO for the last 2 years after completing his Masters in first-class from IIT Madras in Astrophysics. On account of his diligence and passion, he was inducted into the prestigious project related to the red planet. But it seemed destiny would have its way, and his dream would soon go down in flames. Life is full of compromises. Perhaps it makes sense to listen to Bhairavi. I would get better opportunities in Astrophysics in the US. When one door shuts another opens.

He sat at his table and started writing the letter of resignation. I, Madhavan Iyer… his hands trembled. I, Madhavan Iyerhereby resign… the pen slipped off his hands. His hands moved into a clasp supporting his forehead. Destiny slapped hard on his face. A dream appeared broken. His life a rudderless ship. A wingless bird. He heaved a sigh. I, Madhavan Iyer, hereby resign from the post of Aerospace Engineer. My decision is purely based on personal reasons. He undersigned the letter and pushed it into a white envelope with a lump in his throat. He peeked at the wall. Blinked. Avoided the eye contact with the pictures on the wall. Apologized. Sorry I could not make it. Forgive me. There hung the posters of Vikram Sarabhai, a renowned Indian physicist, and astronomer, who initiated space research in India.

***

In a daze, he revved the engine of his black Hyundai. Vroom!  The car roared and started off towards Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Soon he drove past the two launch pads soaring high in the sky. In a few weeks, a rocket would be launched from one of these pads. While it would carry many dreams into the sky, into space, and finally into the orbit of the red planet, his dreams would plunge into the depth of Bay of Bengal. To be smothered in the sea’s womb or gobbled by a sea monster.

He parked the car and plodded towards his office.

A big placard “Mars Mission- Exploration of the red planet”, written in golden lettering hung on the wall. Bhaskar, his boss, was supervising a team of engineers on giving final touches to the orbiter spacecraft. The orbiter spacecraft was shaped like a cuboid and weighed above 1300 kgs. It was covered with a golden multilayer insulation blanket to help maintain its inner temperature. Special alloys and composite materials were used to build its skeletal structure. The three gleaming blue solar panels projected from one of its sides were meant to generate 800 watts of electric power near Mars. The golden antenna projecting from the other side of the spacecraft was aimed for radio communication with the earth and to estimate its accurate distance from the blue planet. The microprocessor-based control system acted like its electronic brain and would very accurately change the orientation or orbit. Apart from this, the spacecraft also carried five scientific instruments called payloads comprising cameras and spectrometers and were aimed to study the Martian surface and its environment.

Madhavan kept shuffling around in his place. Peeked at Bhaskar. Once, twice, thrice. Furtively. Glanced next at the letter. A storm of anxiety brewed. His heart pounded. His legs trembled. He fidgeted. But I have to give the letter. But I have to give the letter. Bhairavi would not tolerate any more delays. She had made it clear. He finally mustered up the courage, plodded towards Bhaskar, and mumbled, “Hi Bhaskar, I wanted to talk to you. Do you have a minute?” Bhaskar, still busy supervising, answered nonchalantly “Yes, tell me“. I have a letter for you” he muttered. Bhaskar answered back, “put it on my desk. I would read it once I am free” while scanning the solar array of the orbiter. Madhavan lumbered towards the cabin of Bhaskar. He pondered over. Should I resign? Should I? There is no other way. Once decided is decided. His lips quivered. With a heavy heart, he placed the envelope on the desk. The white envelope on the glistening brown desk. The messenger of death of his dream.

***

Bhairavi arrived at Sriharikota from Chennai on Sunday to meet Madhavan. They had agreed to meet at a restaurant. Draped in a pink silk kurta and blue jeans, she disembarked off the bus at Sriharikota bus station and boarded a taxi to the restaurant. She strutted into the restaurant and demanded a table from the cashier. She sank onto the chair and kept twiddling her engagement ring. A sparkling diamond ring. Engrossed in thoughts. Madhavan would have resigned by now, and soon they would fly to the US. Her dream place. So many beautiful destinations. The yellow stone national park, Alaska, Hollywood in California, Grand Canyon, Niagara falls… “Hi Bhairavi”, greeted Madhavan. Ah! End of her daydreaming. Madhavan planted a kiss on her cheek and said, “Welcome to Sriharikota”. Bhairavi retorted, “What a boring place this Sriharikota is! It looks like a village. How do you live here? I came just to meet you”. Madhavan gave a disapproving look and protested, “Don’t say so. I love this place. This is the place where I started my career and is dear to me”. Bhairavi chuckled, “Ok, sir”.

Two platters draped in banana leaves clinked on the table. Steaming hot Andhra meals. The platters were neatly arranged with an assortment of curries, fried vegetables, pappu (lentils), sambar (a lentils-based spicy stew), rasam (a tangy spiced broth), perugu (yogurt), pickles, chutneys, rice, and spicy gun powder. And the unmissable ghee, which exponentially raised the taste quotient when poured on generously on any of these items. Madhavan and Bhairavi wished each other “Happy meal” and started eating. “So, did you talk to your boss? She asked.” Yes, I have given the resignation letter to my boss.” He mumbled. “Wow, I am so happy Madhavan. Imagine life in the US would be so great and you would also get a job easily.” Madhavan looked at her with a tinge of sadness in his eyes. She continued, “I had always wanted to go to the US and work. Finally, my dreams are getting realized.” Dreams… Madhavan coughed. The tumblers trembled. She enquired, “What happened? Are you ok?” “Oh! Nothing, the ball of rice just got stuck in my neck,” he answered back, hiding his emotion.

After lunch, they hurried towards the bus stand. Bhairavi had to catch the bus to Chennai. The bus was standing. The conductor hollered “Chennai, Chennai, Chennai”. Bhairavi climbed up the stairs and said, “Bye, see you soon”. Madhavan reciprocated “Bye, see you soon”. The conductor whistled and the bus roared. Bhairavi and Madhavan waved at each other. A cloud of dust swirled. The bus zoomed past him, turned smaller and smaller. Reduced to a toy and then disappeared out of his vision. Madhavan lost in his thoughts. Dreams… she said 

***

Gloomy faces greeted him the next day in the office. While most of the engineers were still busy with the work and were inspecting the orbiter. Few were also seen whispering to each other. People have got to know about my resignation. Their whispers are all about my decision to leave ISRO. News must have spread like a bushfire. How would I face my colleagues now? he panicked. Soon Bhaskar slipped into the room with a solemn face. The face always beaming with a smile looked as if an eclipse had fallen on it. He announced, “I sadly inform you all that one of our colleagues–Prabhat died in a car accident today. Prabhat was very passionate about the Mars Mission. It was his dream to see the mission become successful. Let us first hold a two minutes silence for the departed soul”. The whole team was shocked into a dead silence. They mourned in deep silence for two minutes and prayed for the departed soul “Rest in Peace”.

In the evening, the whole team assembled at the funeral pyre. To pay homage to Prabhat. To attend his last rites. The mortal remains were consigned to flames. Devouring flames. Devoured his flesh, his body, and his dreams. All at once. Prabhat wanted to live for his dreams. He toiled day in and day out to realize his dreams – to see the Mars mission taking its shape. But alas, the fatal accident cut short his dreams. 

An unbloomed bud fell off. An unfertilized egg broke open. An unfulfilled desire.

Life is precious, one must live one’s dreams. Death is approaching.

***

He reached home in a sullen mood. He sank onto his chair and plunged into an endless brooding. What have I been doing? What course my life would take in the US? Dreams, Aha DreamsThat was what Bhairavi talked aboutHer dream to live and work in the US. And what about my dream? He banged his fist on the desk. The pen stand rattled, water splashed off the steel tumbler, drenching the books, notebooks, and diaries. He gazed at the picture of Vikram Sarabhai. A smiling Sarabhai. I would not give up. I would never give up.

I would fly like a Seagull,

Far above in the sky;

Like an unchained and unbridled spirit.

The buds of my life would bloom.

The eggs of my desire would fertilize.

My dreams would not fall and stumble.

But walk, trot, lope, and finally gallop.

In a fit of paroxysm, he wrenched the engagement ring off his finger and flung it out of the window. It tumbled and tumbled. It swirled and twirled. And rested on the road. A flashing car zoomed past and crushed it into pieces. Powdered pieces. Death to his Engagement. Life to his dream. A poison before. Nectar now.

***

Madhavan strode into the office thinking about the resignation letter. Bhaskar smiled at him and greeted, “Good Morning, Hope you are doing well?” He answered back, “yes, I am doing good.” Had he read the letter? Why was he smiling at me mischievously? Madhavan could not hold his horses and enquired, “Bhaskar, Have you read my letter?” “Ww-which l-l-letter? Ww-which o-one?” He stuttered. Oh, yes, I remember now. Poor letter. I went to the terrace to have a coffee, and I had kept the envelope on the dining table. A gust of wind blew. The envelope swirled and swirled in the wind and got stuck in the Mango tree in our company’s garden.” “So, you did not read the letter?” Madhavan asked him cheerfully; his lips parted into a smile. Bhaskar continued, “Actually, I went to the gardener and asked him to bring me that letter. And you know, he brought me one”. Madhavan’s face flushed and his breath turned faster.” It was a different letter. Two letters lost that day. One was recovered. The other one lost forever.” Bhaskar ran his palm across his face and said, “The gardener said – your letter had been stolen by a bird or eaten by the squirrel on that tree”. Madhavan had his last laugh.

His phone buzzed and buzzed. Followed by a torrent of messages on WhatsApp. All from the same number. From Chennai. He attended no call. But sent a message. It was nice knowing you. Bye Forever.

***

Final testing of all the spacecraft systems was on. Madhavan and his team members worked for almost fifteen hours for two weeks before the launch. A checklist was prepared to test all systems and sub-systems. The solar panel looked good, the cameras and the spectrometers seemed in order. The golden antenna was tested to check if it was sending the radio waves properly. The control system of the spacecraft was tested again and appeared alright. The Telemetry looked properly functional. A separate team of engineers tested both the solid and liquid propellant engines.

The mission took off on the historic day of 05th November 2013. BOOM! The giant cloud of fire burst and crackled; the rocket thrust itself into the sky. The dream finally took its wings. The dream bird soared higher and higher in the sky, skimmed over the atmosphere of the blue planet, and finally drifted apart. A new horizon reached. An outer space. A thunder of applause followed.

The dream bird maneuvered and maneuvered. It dived and dived across the blankness of the infinite space, across the dancing and twinkling celestial bodies, and on 24th September 2014, finally descended upon its destination–the Martian Orbit. A history made. A record broken.

A bud bloomed. An egg fertilized. A desire fulfilled.

A volcano of joy erupted. A life worth lived.

***

The waves lapped and splashed at the seashore. The trees rustled and swayed in the wind. The crickets hummed and chirped the song of night sweetly, sonorously. But Madhavan could not be lulled to sleep again. He squirmed, squirmed, and squirmed on his bed.

Extreme happiness too leads to insomnia.

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2 Comments

  1. Bindu Pillai

    Reply

    Well researched and narrated. The message is loud and clear- to follow your dreams.

  2. Sara

    Reply

    I think your story is very interesting. What I can’t get over is how much you know about aerospace science. It is obvious when reading this story that the author knew what they were writing about. I think that adds to the authenticity of the story. I look forward to reading more of your stories.

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