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