The word Mangal is an oxymoron in its own right. In most of the South Indian languages and even in Sanskrit, it means prosperity and wellness. We bless people to have shubh mangal in their lives. Mangal, the planet itself, gets a rather raw deal though. Its mis-position in your horoscope can tag you as ‘mangalik’ and jeopardize your chances at matrimony. Most of us refrain from doing any ‘shubh kam’ on Mangalwar, i.e., Tuesday. We go from temple to temple imploring all the deities to nullify the bad effects ‘Mangal’ might have in our lives. While we in India mete out a ‘little-sweet-largely-sour’ treatment to the red planet, the rest of the world has for years been hell bent on conquering it. NASA’s Curiosity aroused our curiosity, and NASA kept our interests alive by regularly posting to the world updates and pictures from the mission. Mars suddenly became the next big thing for everyone in the world, and even films were made on it. There was this one film, I think ‘Mission to Mars’, that showed the astronauts discovering a human face statue on the planet! What a good laugh I had when I saw it! Anyway, I digress. While the rest of the world has been going delirious over our red neighbor for long, finally, India has also jumped on to the bandwagon. And with what style! Sending Mangalyan to Mangal on a Mangalwar!
On Tuesday, Nov 5, at 2.30pm, Mangalyan lifted off successfully and settled into Earth’s orbit, but people down on Earth were not to be settled so easily. Everyone was either congratulating or criticizing ISRO for having undertaken such a mission when the money could have well been used to drive poverty out of the country (duh!). The entire country seemed to be taking in the news with a pinch of salt. Why, even the news channels, which one would expect to go crazy over such a news, treated it like ‘just another story’, kind of treatment given to stories of rape these days. I was left wondering if the fact that we have achieved something significant in the field of science is not good enough. True, some scientists are sceptic about the mission saying this is something NASA achieved in 1960s and 70s, but still, we have made some progress by ourselves, so shouldn’t we be at least a bit proud of that?
The icing on the cake was this news debate that was going on in NDTV 24 X 7, where Nidhi Razdan was belting out statistics stating the levels of poverty in India, and asking everyone present whether the money spent on Mangalyaan could have been spent more usefully to eradicate poverty. Interesting, that a sum of 450 Cr draws so much criticism while the powers to be polish away thousands of crores. Why does anyone not pose that question to those people? Just think, how many times over poverty could have been eradicated if only the ‘leaders’ did not siphon off the Khazana.
Most of the people, it seems, are just waiting for the mission to fail. They keep telling, “The first stage is easy, let’s see if this goes through the next stage.” People even have quoted Prof. Abdul Kalam expressing his opinions about the risks during the second stage. For all you know, Prof. Kalam might have just been talking about the standard risks present in any mission, but the doomsayers have interpreted it to show as if even he is not gung-ho about this mission. Well, to give them the benefit of doubt, the mission might actually not end up reaching where it is supposed to. There really could be things that could have been done better. Still, can we not for once, set aside our political and ethnic differences and selfish motives and come together to stand behind the only and premier scientific institution in our country and encourage it to rise higher in the years to come?