Hi! Recently, like the rest of the world, I watched Chris Nolan’s Interstellar.
While it was very much a cautionary tale, of a world in the future riddled with climate change, with disease, monstrous dust storms, and basically no future on earth; the film was also about all that you hold most dear. It got me thinking: if I were to settle on a new planet, what would I carry with me?
Here is my list of five, mostly from the natural world. The Five things I can’t live without: birdsong, the cheerful Marigold, a mythical dragon (in reality, a large mammal), animals in their natural element, and books (not chargeable kindles. Real books). I for one, cannot stay on a planet without trees. While grasslands and deserts are amazing, there’s nothing quite as reassuring as standing under an immense tree, with its arms wide one. And not hearing birdsong in the morning, would be a lonely existence indeed. What’s your list? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This first appeared here.
Every little girl and boy has entertained the thought, at least once, about being an astronaut. Wear a space suit (or a form fitted muscle hugging customised uniform), float in a gleaming chrome spaceship, and find new worlds. How do you get through space, that big expanse of asteroids, planets, moons and we-know-not-what? Using a great ship, a time-warp or a blackhole (the last being a link between two parallel universes, with one good and one evil). And if you’ve watched Chris Nolan’s Interstellar, you will also know that you can get through space through wrinkles, or worm holes. I won’t reveal the whole story. But the movie, hailed universally, is about finding new worlds, because in the future, Earth is dying, diseased and riddled with climate change. The protagonists want to search for, populate and colonise new worlds. But as American poet Robert Frost said, “Space is lonely”. Or as Star Trek quips, space is the final frontier. So, what would you take with you, if you had to fill out a new planet? Here is my list of five:
1) Birdsong: If you wake up before seven in the morning at most times of the year, you can hear a new language. It’s the language of the birds talking to each other, a dawn din that starts from a tree and spreads over the neighbourhood. Warblers warble, larks burst into songs, parakeets trill, some birds cheep, and crows caw. We don’t know why birds sing their happy song in the morning, pre-historic Pharrell Williams, if you may. But each day, the dawn chorus has a new dimension, some new aspects. Not quite predictable, and not always melodious, but always uplifting. If we had to live on the moon, would we have to live without trees? The thought is frightening. On a new planet, I would take birds with me, so I could have birdsong. A random programme can’t give me the varying orchestras that real birds — tiny and fragile, but big, generous singers — do. If you haven’t heard birdsong, get up this Sunday just after dawn, and give it a listen.
2) Genda phool: All the magic of the world lies in one seed. A seed produces a humble shrub or a mighty tree, and James Cameron’s Avatar had the Vitraya Ramunong tree at the centre of all its planet’s neural magic. But all seeds have magic, the promise of life, even on our world. If I were to pick a seed to take to the planet, it would be the marigold, the humble genda phool. It’s ubiquitous, dotting the fringes of a smutty roadside dhaba, or adorning a sweaty politician’s corpulent neck. It hasn’t been given the status of a neat red rose bud, à la Nehru jacket style, and it’s not as swish as a violet orchid people like to make their wedding garlands from. But the genda phool has spirit. It is cheerful, lasting seasons, thrusting its ruched yellow head on to pollution, population and congestion, and sticking out its tongue at bad circumstance. It’s considered holy, but it blesses more than the moneyed devout with its presence. What better burst of Indian spirit!
3) Khaleesi’s dragons: If I were to pick a fabulous beast to take with me (one that doesn’t quite exist), the competition is hard. I like Alice in Wonderland’s ugly, drooling but amazing Bandersnatch. I like the stern hippogriff of Harry Potter (helps that it can help one fly around). I love the beasts of The Lord of the Rings: the olliphaunts with more trunks than elephants, the huge flying eagles and the swift horses. But the dragons fromThe Game of Thrones series are something else. They love their mother, the fiery Khaleesi, but they also love their freedom, their hunt, and their own damn free will. Drogon, Khaleesi’s biggest dragon, is big, mean, and occasionally loving. It seems almost that author George RR Martin is making an analogy for all wild carnivores: people who share spaces with wolves, tigers and bears will tell you that these animals are fierce but intuitive, predatory but discerning. A large obligate carnivore is never an easy sight to behold. A wolf pauses and howls, and this can be bloodcurdling or thrilling, depending on how you look at it. Tigers and leopards are sleek and silent like the onset of the night: you never know they are there, until you actually see them. Drogon, Khaleesi’s biggest dragon, is wild, and never quite predictable, enigmatic to a fault. For me, he is nature itself. He would be a fitting mighty presence on a mighty new planet. Also, a dragon defying gravity would be a sight to behold.
4) Gravity: It is different on different world; and so is the concept of time. For those who haven’t watched Interstellar, this the chief takeaway message. For experiencing these things, I’d like to have a few options. A kangaroo, to see how it would bounce on a planet with different gravity. A gypsy horse in a tesseract with me, to see how its hair would swish in a time warp. A giraffe, to see how it would lope through a strange new world with a different sense of time coursing through. Dragonflies, doing their maniacal zigzag flight in the air, in an air that may have a few weird thermal currents. And a spotted whale-shark in the water, bigger, but gentler, than a tidal wave.
5) Books: Finally, I’d take more than a book or two with me. You see, if you’re reading this column, you probably love reading. And I don’t need to tell you that books are more than just paper, more than the stories they have to tell. Because they have a presence. And the smell of a book is a homecoming, and the feel of a book is tactile and palliative. You should probably know that you have no chance with me if you offer to buy me a drink at a bar, but you have half a chance if you offer to buy me a book at a bookstore. And apart from the feel of the book, its scent, its presence, and the ideas it has, which are bulletproof; here is the penultimate winner for the times we live in: a book isn’t ever going to run out of batteries.