Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mythological Ideas for SF Story Themes: A Novel Approach of Effective Science Communication among Indian SF Audience

Mythological Ideas for SF Story Themes: A Novel Approach of Effective Science Communication among Indian SF Audience
(Delhi,10 - 12 January 2012) 

Indian mythology as contained in Indian scriptures abounds in imaginative ideas. Carl Sagan was very impressed by these sources of ancient knowledge and once appealed SF writers to delve deep into Indian mythology to get original SF theme ideas. Many of such imaginative dreams of our ancestors are still in queue to be realized in want of appropriate technology though many have already seen the light of the day!

There are extrapolations, imaginative themes, and descriptions of gadgets in contemporary sf and in Indian mythology often quite alike. In Ramayan for example, there is a description of a very special kind of aero plane infused with artificial intelligence and emotions named Puspak Viman (Remember, Rendezvous with Rama by Clarke?) . Puspak Viman also possesses a vacant seat always for any last minute VIP entrant! Sudarshan Chakra (a kind of revolving disc) and specially designed arrows used by Lord Krishna and Lord Rama in war fields return to them immediately after hitting the target (Guided Missiles!). Maya Yuddhaa (A kind of illusory /virtual  war) as described in the epic Ramayan causes no real damage to enemy soldiers but is practiced only to frighten enemies who ultimately surrender in such fearful situations! These stories have been very popular among masses and could very well be used in modern Sf with ingenuity in order to woo Indian SF audience.

A survey was made to find out such imaginative ideas in our scriptures for using them as Sf themes as an approach to attract Indian audience for effective science communication. Findings shall be presented. 

(Reviewer’s comments) The flow of ideas from myths to SF ought to be to increase the scientific temper rather than ‘romaticise’ the past by anachronistic reconstructions of the past using present day scientific knowledge. The mythology ought to provide ideas for new scientific theories and new technologies rather than legitamising the past ‘achievements’ to the extent of dulling the present efforts. Author is advised to keep this key difference in writing this paper.Efforts should be to trace the ‘know-why’ of the mythical objects to (re) construct them in the present rather than ‘know-what’ of these objects.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

'Disillusioned' -Story by Arvind Mishra

Nipun, a web reporter of Moon Times was also on-board the flight of Bharat Chand Air Bus Service. "You have reached the moon and soon your will be reaching the apartment of Prof. Surendra Kumar," The broadcast monitor of the air bus, which was mounted at the back of the seat in front of Nipun, was giving regular updates. The young Indian journalist was on an assignment to make a documentary on renowned space expert, Prof. Surendra Kumar. He was speaking in his vigio- phone,”I know the rest of the co-passengers are also getting these updates the way I am getting them. I have no acquaintance with any of these people. Either way there are not many passengers on this flight. Surprisingly no one has showed any interest in knowing about me, neither have I any desire to learn anything about them. Within a few seconds every one will reach his destination. Then there is no need to get friendly with each other...”
Vigionphone was mounted at the back of the seat in front of Nipun, below the GPS monitor. It could be moved to and fro according to need. Nipun had pulled it closer to his face. Vigiophone was sending his every word and every expression back to the moon times.
Prof Kumar was one of the few famous technologies who had been called on moon at a very high salary after an extremely successful career on earth. The number of people coming to moon from earth was very high now.

About 10,000 and 35 sq. meter area, which was around the landing site of Apollo 16 mission, had been converted into an artificial circular habitat for people. The habitat had no connection with the external atmosphere of the moon. The habitat was situated on a very strong pillar made of a new alloy RSWM (reinforced spider web material).  The diameter of the pillar itself was some 2 km, so you can imagine the hugeness of the structure.

The entire habitat was rotating on its axis so as to provide the much needed gravitational force so that people could feel comfortable in the low gravity of the moon. The Airbus was about to dock to one of the entrances of this fast rotating structure. This docking needed a surgical precision but everything was controlled by computers so it was a regular thing for them. It was just a matter of moments when Nipun will be landing on Moon. Web journalists used to get such assignments and then Prof. Kumar was not some ordinary person. He had played pivotal role in the designing establishment of the moon habitat.

The moon habitat was a complicated structure with so many components. The automation of services was one of the most critical things. Prof. Kumar could be called the architect of the project. He was the architect behind the automation of services and the facilities on the habitat. Nipun was supposed to conduct the interview and send it back to earth. Initially, they had planned for a live interview, but Prof. refused for a live interview. He made it clear that the interview should be recorded and should be telecast only after his meticulous scrutiny and edits. Scientists were very much concerned about being misquoted often which could lead to some or the other controversy, so he was extra careful while going public.

"You are welcome at the Southern end of the APJ Abdul Kalam Door. We have successfully docked on the habitat. Please wait for the green signal before leaving your seats. Then you can take floating cabins to reach your destinations. We wish you a great stay at Moon. Thank you for choosing Indian Chandra Air Bus service. Please travel with us in future as well."
The passengers remained seated until the green light on their site turned on. Nipun was the 5th in the queue. Few moments later he was sitting comfortably in the floating cabin. It was similar to Earth's rope way cabins. The only difference was, these cabins were floating or flying on the air. It was a special kind of floating cabin, an excellent example of automated planes. The artificial atmosphere of the moon was creating enough resistance for the cabin so that it was moving at a steady speed. The cabin had a screen and a two way communication system. A lady's voice came from the vigiophone, "Prof Kumar is awaiting your arrival. I am his assistant Maria Grawal. Once the cabin is stabilized, you can exit through the right door and you can walk into the Celestial Rendezvous apartment of Prof Kumar. You are welcome Mr Nipun,"

The cabin halted and docked with the entrance of Prof Kumar's apartment. The door of the apartment opened once the cabin docked and locked onto the door. Nipun entered the apartment. He was greeted by the voice of Maria, "Welcome Mr Nipun. Prof Kumar will be joining you in a few minutes.”

He walked into the room. He could not see her around, he understood that she was monitoring and interacting with him from some remote location. This was a usual feature of communication on Earth as well. He went ahead and sat on a couch. Suddenly he saw a crevice emerging and widening in one of the walls and then he saw that the wall had retracted to make way for a human figure. It was Prof. Kumar who emerged from the wall. Nipun got up.

"Sit down Nipun. How was your journey?" Nipun felt  a deep affection in his voice, something he wouldn't notice in the voice of an interviewee. He had not experience such affection back on earth for a long time. He had seen Prof many a times in videos and photographs but he could now notice such glow on his face and the affection in his eyes. The hair was all white and the style matched that of Kalam Sahab a president of India of yore. Kumar shook hands with Nipun and asked him to sit, as he took his seat on his chair, Nipun felt an awe of meeting such a personality.

"Son, I have 15 minutes for you. I received your questionnaire yesterday. I am glad that Moon Times is producing this programme on me. I always feel excited whenever earthlings remember me. After all I have spent 70 years on earth. I would not have accepted this assignment. You can image, which earth lover would even think of coming to moon at the age of 70? Back on earth this is the age for dharam karam, (religious duties) of “vanprastha”(an ancient  ritual of going to jungle and never returning back home)  . I have been a great admirer of our culture's values and traditions. “Janani Janambhumish Swargadapi  gariyasi(a place where someone is born is no less like a heaven for him) Professor blurted  out in his vernacular Hindi language spontaneously .  .
 " Nipun saw some moist in prof's eyes.
"But what forced you to do so?" he asked inadvertently, but there was some professional request too.
"It's a long story Nipun. I have stored all the information about my life in this fiber cap, I mean capsule. There is a request, telecast the downloadable version only after proper editing. There are some visuals and footage, some are related to my private life - for example my ancestral home at Palanpur village of Gujarat. There are some shots from my Surendra Mansion, my residence at the USA which was an awesome example of cybernetics.  . After watching this all you will realize why at the age of 70 I had to leave the affectionate lap of much loved mother earth. Why I had to choose this mechanical life of moon. Now, I am about to complete 100 years. My life partner left me some 40 years ago. Back on earth when I was enjoying my "Shashtipurti welcome (A felicitation done when a celebrity reached 61 in India) ", she left for her heavenly abode. Now, she lives only in my memories. Both of my sons are in the USA. They have no affection towards their old father. I guess there never was any such affection. This is the gift of American culture. But no, the same 'culture' has taken roots in my parental village of Gujarat as well. Nipun, I left earth when human emotions were dying off. People were living their lives trapped in the mad mirage of materialism. I had never imagined in the 40-50 years of my life that man will engage in materialism to this extent. I was such an idiot that I could not notice this major change in society. Possibly I could not notice it in my extremely busy schedule. Children broke bonds. It’s only on the weekends we would get to hear about their well being. That too on the video -cam. Now, in my Mansion everything was under control of the artificially intelligent robot, my food, my appointments, everything was being taken care by the robots. I also got used to live without care and concern of my children. My servant robot was taking good care of me,” Prof was speaking in an emotional flow.

Nipun was listening to him as if mesmerized. There was some sweet pain inherent in the tone of Prof. Surendra. "Once I get extremely sick. But none of my children took my care. My robot was the one who took care of me. My wife had already died. I had never experienced so much of loneliness ever before. The meaning of life had become meaningless to me. The world thinks of me to be the messiah of automation and cybernetics, but there was no joy in my life. Sometimes I would think of my children, they were so much engrossed in materialism that all of their emotions had dried out? The technological progress and advancement has corrupted the man to that extent that children forgot their filial duties?  And their even biological bonding had been pushed by industrial development? My robots, the automation process, were far better than them and were taking very well care of me. They had become so advanced that they could read changes in my facial expressions and would do things to make me happy. They made me feel better. Now, not only my day time activities, but also night time activities were in control of those robots. After all they were the results of my creation. I used to feel relaxed with this thought. But, human emotions, closeness of relatives were just non existent which used to hurt me very much. And then I took a big decision." he paused for a while. A device alarmed 'only five minutes remaining".

In the meantime an android   came from somewhere and put a plate with some tablets on the table. "These are energy-giving, healthy tablets. They are tasty as well, try some." he said and lost once again in the chain of his memories.

"Yes, I decided that I should go and spend the rest of my life in my ancestral village of Gujarat. May be there I would get that human closeness, love and affection which I desired for a long time. Then I bade goodbye to the materialism of the USA and went to my parental village of Gujarat. I was full of awe when I reached there. There was so much of love, care and concern. That was the legacy of Indian culture which I was dying to get. Those were my relatives, my brothers, cousins, nephews. But alas, it was all only apparent. I was looking for affection while they were looking for the high-tech gadgets that I had bought from the USA -- which I had no value for.

Surveillance equipments that I had bought with me opened my eyes. They were talking in low tones about my bank balance, who was I going to include in my will, who will get how much share, would I put something for my USA settled sons or not, etc. They were thirsty for my money. The western culture was taking over the minds of those people as well. Or was that our value system had started to decline? It was like a broken dream. I was totally shattered and disillusioned. It was very painful for me. Life appeared to be a burden. That was the time when I got the offer for the Moon project and I immediately accepted. Though now I am here and this mechanical world is keeping me busy so much so that the memories of the past have faded. But, sometimes, when I meet young guys like you it reminds me of my own children who have not showed any concern about me in all these years. But I know that they are OK. They have their own families, their own children, but may be they are also following footsteps of their fathers. May be they will also repeat all that had happened to me." Suddenly he got up, 15 minutes had vanished …

"OK Nipun, all this is in this capsule, you may use which ever information is useful to you. Just leave these private parts of my life which I told you. Either way what good are these negative thought going to do to humanity? We will have to accept our fate. The time has come when the man is converting into machine and machines are becoming humane. This is the dawn of a new, a brand new, age.

A new civilization is dawning. We may meet again Nipun, I may come to earth for some work. Otherwise I am going to spend the rest of my life here on the moon, among the machines and all my AI servants. I am loved by them and I love them. You will get more information about these androids and their work distribution system in this capsule. Yes, please don't forget to send me the copy of moon times in which this story will appear."

On his return journey, Nipun was thinking which part of Kumar's life he should focus on and which one he should delete. Then he decided that once all the matter is downloaded only then he will choose. He shook his head which was getting heavy with these thoughts and got busy in the sceneries of earth appearing on the monitor.

Translated from Hindi and slightly modified from what appeared first on KALKION 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

'Science Fiction in India' Published- Reminiscences and Revelations!

This declaration is with a deep sense of satiation akin to  the one when you  get  a sacred ritual completed and last prayer performed. Science Fiction in India is now out as a result of a team work engaged in pursuit for an unexpected long time since the first ever National Discussion on Science Fiction which was organised in Varanasi

The main objective of the discussion  was to focus on various aspects of science fiction and its role in communicating science and technology related issues to the common people and children. The five-day exercise culminated in to preparing a draft for "Banaras Document on SF 2008". It also examined in depth how science fiction input could be enhanced and successfully employed in various science communication modules currently in vogue in India.
            Taking into consideration the quality and sweep of the papers presented at the conference, it was decided by the office bearers of ISFWA to bring the select papers in a book form.
            As stated above, preparation of the draft of the 'Benaras Document on SF 2008’ was one of the agenda of the conference , the book begins with the draft of Benaras Document 2008 and its critique by retired vice air marshal Shri Vishwa Mohan Tiwari.

Here is a glimpse -sort of bird eye view of the content of the book and salient points of the papers included. 
             . In his paper Y.H. Deshpande  argues that SF with its futuristic vision enables man to face technological changes successfully. "Today's Science Fiction will be the science of tomorrow", says Dr. Deshpande. Like mainstream literature, science fiction deals with life. Rejecting the hypothesis that SF is of western origin, Deshpande contends that many stories of Mahabharata and the Ramayana are befitting Indian examples of SF.
            Shri Yatindra Singh Hon. Justice Allahabad High Court and an sf aficionado himself in his paper 'Science Fiction: The Pied Piper of Science' present a lucid account of characteristics of sf and its historical background in detail and points to the topics such as space exploration, robotics, mathematics, artificial intelligence, surrogacy, cloning and stem cell research on which modern sf is based.
            Mohan Sanjeevan in his paper 'Understanding SF' narrates how science fiction is a fine blending of science with fiction. He proves his point by giving illustrations of twelve sf  stories originally written in Tamil and translated into English by him in the Tamil collection entitled -"Vinveli Nilayam".
            C.M. Nautiyal in his paper 'The Dividing Lines between Science Fiction, Science Fantasy and Fantasy: Perspective from Films" credits Campbell with the origin of the term 'Science Fiction'. Comparing sf with science fiction films, he states that both media are popular with the audience. He maintains that science technology is an integral part of Science Fiction. Further, fantasy is impossible made probable and science fiction  is improbable made possible. He averts that science fiction and science fantasy are overlapping categories.
            Comparing fiction in general with Science Fiction in particular, Hemant Dwivedi states that mainstream fiction can learn from science fiction and vice versa for their betterment.
            S.M. Gupta comprehensively surveys the development and evolution of Indian science fiction from adventure stories to Ashok Banker and Rana Das Gupta's ' The Tokyo Cancelled'. Bengali Science Fiction writers include Sukumar Ray and Satyajit Ray. So far as the development of science fiction in the world is concerned, Jules Verne is regarded as the father of science fiction. Among famous Science Fiction writers in England and the USA are still H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov.
            Nellai S Muthu in his detailed and informative paper entitled "Moon: Facts and Fictions" chronologically relates facts about the moon to the books produced as science fiction from 1634 onwards. Jules Verne's significant prediction in his sf 'From the Earth to the Moon' has similarity with real Apollo Program. Jules Verne's forecast about the three men traveling in a projectile to the moon in a weightless state proved  to be correct. We find for the first time, the concept that light could work as a form of propulsion for spacecraft. He quotes extensively from H.G. Wells' novels to prove that the world's first liquid propulsion engine for a rocket application was made. He refers to the lunar mission undertaken by Russia, America, Japan and China in  great detail including that of India and the former president APJ Abdul Kalam's projections in World Space Vision 2050.
            Jayaprakash D. in his paper "Science Fiction Films Help Make the World a Better Place" defines science films as the films that have a background of an advanced, functional technology that is normally set in the future. Then he presents a critique of the Day After Tomorrow (2004) film which in about the effects of global warming and climate shifts.
            In his paper "H.G. Wells-Shaping Science Through Fiction" I Arul Aram gives a detailed summary of H.G. Wells ' The Time Machine" in which the protagonist tells the audience about his journey in the past and into the future. Interestingly enough, the novel hints at climate change due to global warming which may result in the extinction of human race in the distant future. The researcher also discusses Wells' other novels such as 'The Island of Doctor Moreau', 'The Invisible Man', 'The War of the Worlds' and 'The First Man in the Moon'. What Science Fiction writers can learn from H.G. Wells is the harmonization of science and ecology for human survival; marriage between science and social consciousness and lastly amalgamation of imagination and science for further development of science.
            Ratnakar D. Bhelkar in his paper "Allien Encounter in C. Clarke's Childhood End" discusses the overlords' mission to save human race from its destructive use of science and they are victorious in creating an ideal world by the constructive use of science to restore peace and harmony as the face of the earth.
            Pointing out the importance of Science Fiction Drama on radio, Harish Yadav in his paper "Science Fiction for Radio" argues that it not only provides entertainment to the listener but also enhances scientific temperament and develops scientific thinking in the masses.
            Afrina Rizvi's paper - 'Science Content in Science Fiction " is concerned with the evaluation of scientific content as communication material in sf  by  following a methodology for comparative analysis based on Common Science Referring Terms (CSRT).
            In his paper entitled "Science Fiction and Pragmatism" G.S. Unnikrishnan compares science fiction with mainstream literature and concludes that a good science fiction gets reclassified as mainstream fiction.
            "There were several parallelisms between the social and political histories of Bengal and Japan in the 19th Century," affirms Anwesha Maity in her paper 'Comparing Histories of Science Fiction: Bengal and Japan'. Likewise, ‘similarities and evolutionary trends are visible in the science fiction of Japanese and Bengali languages,’ states the researcher and gives many examples of the books published on sf in both the languages.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

विज्ञान गल्प और अपराध कथाओं के जाने माने उर्दू लेखक इज़हार असर:विनम्र श्रद्धांजलि ......

विज्ञान गल्प और अपराध कथाओं के जाने माने उर्दू  लेखक इज़हार असर के विगत १५ अप्रैल २०११ को इंतकाल  की खबर जब अखबारों के जरिये कहानी प्रेमियों को मिली  तो वे स्तब्ध रह गए ...वैसे तो उन्होंने एक लम्बा जीवन जिया और ८२ वर्ष की उम्र में दिवंगत हुए मगर अपने चाहने वालों के दिलों में  हमेशा उनकी छवि तरोताजा ही रही  . उन्होंने बेशुमार वैज्ञानिक कहानियां ,उपन्यास लिखे ,कत्थक के अच्छे जानकार रहे .वे लाहौर से भारत आये और यहीं बस गए ...एक  उर्दू लेखक के रूप में उन्होंने ख्याति अर्जित की और अपराध ,विज्ञान गल्प उनके पसंदीदा  विषय रहे .प्रोग्रेसिव राईटर्स असोसिएशन से वे जुड़े थे और २००६ में उन्हें मशहूर ग़ालिब अवार्ड से नवाजा गया था ...

इज़हार असर उत्तर प्रदेश के बिजनौर जिले में स्थाई रूप से रह रहे थे और जीवन के अंतिम पलों तक वे उपन्यासों के लेखन में जुटे रहे ..बताया जाता है कि वे लगभग हर हप्ते ही एक उपन्यास पूरा कर देते थे-इसका कारण यह था कि सरकार और सिस्टम की बेरुखी  के चलते वे काफी समय से प्रकाशकों  के कुचक्र में फंस कर 'डिमांड राईटिंग' कर रहे थे-मतलब माल दो और जैसा चाहे लिखवा लो -भारत में परिस्थितियों के चलते विद्वता का यह पतन चिंतित करता है...यह दुर्भाग्य ही है कि जीवन के उत्तरार्ध में  उनसे समाज को वह साहित्य नहीं मिल सका जिसके लिए वे सर्वथा सक्षम थे....उनकी सारी प्रतिभा बस प्रकाशकों के मकडजाल में उलझ कर रह गयी थी और वे केवल लुगदी साहित्य (पल्प लिटरेचर ) के सृजन में मशगूल रहे ....

मगर वे पहले ऐसे नहीं थे ..जब बटवारे के बाद वे भारत आये तो दिल्ली के मशहूर उर्दू -रिसालों जैसे चिलमन का उन्होंने संपादन किया ...एक मशहूर पाकेट बुक्स सीरीज के लिए जासूसी उपन्यास श्रृखला नागिन उन्ही के दिमाग की उपज थी....उनके पिता स्कूल  मास्टर थे मगर फिर भी उनकी औपचारिक शिक्षा दसवीं के आगे नहीं बढ़ पायी -हाँ विज्ञान में अपनी रूचि का श्रेय वे शिक्षकों को ही देते थे ...बड़े स्वाध्यायी थे..पश्चिम में विज्ञान और प्रौद्योगिकी की प्रगति से खुद को पूरा वाकिफ रखते थे और कहानी के जरिये उसे अपने पाठकों तक पहुँचाने का जिम्मा उन्होंने लिया था ...उनका पहला वैज्ञानिक गल्प उपन्यास आधी जिन्दगी  १९५५ में प्रकाशित हुआ.ब्लॉगर उन्मुक्त जी बताते हैं कि   इस उपन्यास का रोबोट आजिमोव के रोबोटिक्स सिद्धांतों का अनुपालन  करता है .  उनकी  अनेक वैज्ञानिक कहानियां लगभग उसी वक्त ला -शरीक में छपीं ...जहां   तक जासूसी कहानियों का सवाल है वे इब्ने सफी बी ऐ के बराबर दीखते हैं जो उर्दू साहित्य का एक दूसरा चमकता सितारा था ...आर्थिक तंगी के चलते असर को समझौते करने पड़े और उन्होंने प्रोफ़ेसर दिवाकर और डॉ. रमन के छद्म नाम से दिल्ली के एक पाकेट बुक्स प्रकाशक के लिए विज्ञान गल्प -उपन्यास लिखे जो बहुत मशहूर हुए ...अपने कालेज के दिनों में हम  अक्सर यही कयास लगाते  रहते कि आखिर प्रोफ़ेसर दिवाकर और डॉ .रमन कौन हैं ...

उर्दू एकेडमी के अख्तर उल वासे मानते हैं कि प्रकाशकों के प्रलोभनों  ने इस अजीम रचनाकार से उसकी मौलिकता छीन ली ...वे घटिया व्यावसायिक कुचक्र में ऐसे फंसे कि निकल नहीं सके ...उर्दू साप्ताहिक नयी दुनिया की सम्पादक वसीम राशिद द्वारा  एक  अख़बार को दिए बयान के मुताबिक़ उर्दू साहित्य के अनेक लेखकों की तरह वे भी गरीबी और गुरवत के शिकार बन गए और प्रकाशकों के छोटे मोटे प्रलोभनों के फेर में आ गए ...उर्दू अकादमी द्वारा उन्हें महज ५ हजार रूपये मिलते थे जो अब उनके परिवार का   खर्चा चलाने  के लिए मदद को आगे आयी है .उनकी माली हालत को देख अनेक संगठनों ने प्रयास तो किये मगर उनका कोई ठोस नतीजा न निकल सका -अपने देश में प्रतिभाओं के प्रति व्यवस्था की यह बेरुखी चिंतित करती है .

दक्षिण भारत के मशहूर नायक रजनीकांत के प्रमुख रोल के साथ बनी फिल्म एंधिरन (रोबोट ) को देख वे कह पड़े थे कि अरे यह तो उनकी ही लिखे उपन्यास मशीनों की बगावत (1953 ) की ही अनुकृति लगती है ....उनके एक मित्र ने जब इसके लिए दावा ठोकने की बात कही तो वे मुस्करा के टाल गए ..असर के जाने से भारत के विज्ञान उपन्यासकारों का एक और स्तम्भ ढह गया है ..उन्हें विनम्र श्रद्धांजलि ......