“La pila de, Sathi…”
Ummm, what more does an old man want. A single malt in hand, on the rocks and the soft, mellifluous voice of Pankaj Udhas for company. As I settled into my throne, my favourite, soft, rocking sofa, I reached for some salted nuts kept on the teapoy. I had already downed two pegs and reached for the bottle to make another, when the phone rang. Muttering a few expletives, I cursed whoever it was on the other line for disturbing my pleasure. But whoever it was, was very persistent. After I had allowed the phone to go silent, the person on the opposite side reconnected. I reached for my mobile and answered with an alcohol induced slur, “Hello, who is this?”
The line went silent and as I was about to disconnect I heard a faint, “Sir…Sir it’s me, Satish Devarakonda, your student. How are you Sir?”
“Oh, hey Satish, how are you, my boy?”, but as I said this my mind struggled to pinpoint this Satish to my past. That’s the effect daily alcohol will have on your mind, I thought, as I proceeded to prepare the next peg, reminding myself to go easy on it from tomorrow.
“Sir, I am doing good. After all, you have left a great legacy at ISR and we are just building on it…”, Satish droned on.
ISR…yes, Institute of Space Research, where I spent the majority of my life and from where I retired as the Chairman. It had been my life, my karmabhoomi, so much so, that my family life crumpled away but which I realised only after my retirement.
Happy with myself that I had finally placed Satish as my student first and then as one of my younger colleagues, I called out to him, “Satish, cut all that crap and come to the point. What makes you to remember me after so many years?”, i admonished him.
“Sir…Sir, sorry Sir. But the news is like that, I had to call you. Sir, do you remember your obsession in those days?”, he asked.
Keeping away my glass on the side table, I thundered at him, “Don’t you remind me of that. Why are you torturing me? I wasted my life looking for that one asteroid which would endanger planet Earth, all in vain. One asteroid, or maybe many more had wiped out the dinosaurs from the face of the Earth, I didn’t want another to wipe out the human race. If we could have found such an asteroid…asteroids in time, we could have been first ones to warn the important governments of the world to come together and face a common danger. Do you imagine how important I…we at ISR, could have become for the entire world. I dreamt of entering the history books as the saviour of this world…we dreamt, didn’t we, Satish?”, I suddenly realised that perhaps I was sounding too self-centred. “But…it didn’t happen, did it.”, I said wistfully as I reached for the glass again.
After a pause, Satish replied, “Yes Sir, it didn’t happen…then”.
“Then, why the hell, are you reminding me”, I shouted into the mouth piece. “Let me live in peace!”
As I took another gulp, Satish’s sentence played in my mind on loop. “Yes Sir, it didn’t happen…pause…then.”
Suddenly I realised what he was saying. I whispered into the mouthpiece, “Satish…you said, ‘then…’, do you mean that you…”
“Yes Sir, we have found it.” No sooner had he said it, I sprang up from my throne and said excitedly, “Satish, we have…you have done it. Dramatise it, inform all the major governments of the world, inform NASA, be a hero whose timely disclosure saves the world, saves so many human lives. And wait, you will need me, I will guide you, how to go about it.” All effects of the whiskey lying in the glass on the side table were now, all but gone.
“Sir…”, again that irritating pause. “Sir, now there’s no time. We actually missed it and now when we discovered it, it’s hurtling through space…towards us. It’s going to be a direct hit, Sir…within 120 days.”
I collapsed back into my chair, almost losing my balance but shouting nonetheless, “And what were you doing, you nincompoop! Why couldn’t you spot it sooner. And why the hell NASA was sleeping! What about Hubble? How did it escape detection earlier?”
“Sir, its because of its mineral structure. Nothing like that seen on earth nor in space. It’s a huge, gelatinous mass but has distinct property variation from gelatine. We call it gelatine, for want of another word. It’s huge Sir. Almost 120 kms across. As you know Sir, the object that is alleged to have wiped out the dinosaurs was only about 10 kms across. The hit will release energy of many trillion tonnes of TNT.” Satish went silent.
I broke the trance, barking at him, “Gelatinous mass, you say. What disaster it will cause? I think all your bloody calculations are wrong. Yes, there will be a huge impact, but not certainly to the extent which you are contemplating, sitting in your lab.”
“Sir, as I said, it has a distinct property variation from gelatine. It’s gelatinous only when hurtling through space but when it impacts a solid object at the speed at which it’s traveling, it solidifies instantaneously.” Then he added ominously, “Sir…these are the last 120 days of planet earth.”
“Then why don’t you announce to the people at large? They have a right to know, don’t they?”
“Sir, we don’t intend to create panic. The Earth is coming to an end, let the people enjoy their last 120 days going about their normal life. Nothing will be served by creating panic and killing people psychologically.” Then before disconnecting he said, “I called you as you were possessed in this pursuit and thought you would be interested.”
As the phone slipped from my hands, my whole life flashed before my eyes. It was going to be a long, lonely night.
It was all going to end in 120 days. A mere 4 months.
I loved my lonely life fortified by the evening whiskey but now, it all seemed a mirage. I had lost my wife, Geeta to the death God, a few years back, and I was tuned to this solitary life. Though we had spent a good 26 years together, I had never connected to her on an emotional level, maybe due to the nature of my work or due to my own idiosyncrasies.
But my daughter, Meetu, was my life…used to be my life.
As usual, my work did not allow me to watch her emerge into this world, thus missing the biggest experience in the life of a father. I remembered her ambling towards me on her tiny feet whenever I reached home before 9 o’clock in the night, gurgling away in joy.
She used to jump into my arms, playfully pulling at my moustache, my glasses, as she laughed and went, “Papapapa…” Oh, she was just expressing her happiness at seeing me on those rare occasions. Other times…other times, she would be asleep by the time I came, and asleep when I left for the research centre in the mornings.
On those rare Sunday’s when I was home, she would play her make believe games, sitting near me, while I slept in the afternoons. Oh, she was just trying to spend as much time with her papa, those moments with him were enough for her as I wasted those rare days in siestas.
The wetness of my t-shirt collar brought me to my senses, had to wipe my foggy glasses, as I pulled on my clogged nose. With shaking hands, I pulled out a kerchief from my pocket to wipe the glasses.
Why were my hands shaking now…why not then, when I raised them on my teenage Meetu, when she fearfully told me about her dalliance with the neighbour?
Was it my ego which was hurt? Did I consider a lovable human being as my possession? Oh, what was it that drove me to cut her off so cruelly cut from my life? Was it my absence, was it the distance with her precious, distant father that drove her into finding solace with someone else ready to offer her some affection, some warmth? Was I myself responsible for driving away the apple of my eyes? Yes…yes I did, I kicked her out of my home. How dare she…as I took a swig from the bottle, emptying it…
On Saturday morning I rang the doorbell of a flat in Bangalore with trembling fingers. After what seemed like hours, the door opened. My eyes met with the lady of the house. Those familiar eyes widened, first in shock, then in astonishment. Both palms covered the quivering mouth, eyes remained widened, tears welling up.
I just stood there, ramrod straight. My throat choked up, my legs gave way, I just collapsed on my knees as I saw my Meetu after that acrimonious separation many years back.
Before long Meetu was on her knees too, her arms around her father, the dammed waters emerged copiously from their eyes. Father and daughter were united.
The denizens of planet earth were by now used to the hazy, dark mass in the day sky which increased in size on a daily basis. The night sky grew brighter and brighter. As the mass grew bigger, the speculations started. Was there fear? Was it wonder?
Whatever it was, I was not afraid nor was I apprehensive. I was spending the happiest days of my life. I was with my Meetu, my granddaughter, Avani. What I had missed out on with Meetu, I tried to make up with Avani. I became a child with her, becoming her playhorse, building her playhouses, drinking pretend tea which she made for me.
The dark object appeared unusually big in the sky.
The mass started breaking up. As it passed over the ocean, like a flying, gargantuan mountain, gigantic waves built up due to the gravitational force of the object, which rose and rose as if in slow motion, raising steamers and whales alike into the sky. Then they started descending, again in slow motion, flattening the coastal towns like a pack of cards, spreading instantaneous death.
The impact was near the southern tip of the African continent but a huge shock wave travelled northwards, flattening everything in its wake, and incinerating the rest. No one lived to tell tales.
The continent of Antarctica experienced instant thaw, followed by deep shock, barreling the waters northwards in great mountains of water, which generated huge tsunamis in far off northern lands.
Brutal earthquakes were triggered even on the opposite side of the earth and…
Volcanoes opened up on the hills surrounding Bangalore, spewing huge lava fountains high into the sky. Myself and my Meetu’s family were still lucky to have escaped alive from the debris of their building flattened like many others but were we? Unlucky is the correct word, as wherever we saw, we encountered death. Corpses lined the rubble of the once traffic congested roads and the few survivors were dazed.
We saw the bright plumes of lava in a distance, which lit up the darkened skies, followed by violent lightening which struck randomly. Then the rocks started raining, picking their targets from the few survivors. I watched in horror as lightening struck a man running in front of me with his daughter…the…the bloodcurdling shrieks of Meetu telling me that it was Avani and her father.
I ran towards her, to hold her, to comfort her when a ball of lava incinerated my own…
I collapsed on my knees, shrieking to God for my own deliverance, losing all strength. I felt my own body shaking into violent convulsions, trying to scream, but no words escaped my mouth.
I looked up at the sky, where only the thundering clouds marked their own territories. And from one such cloud, I watched hypnotised as a luminous God made His appearance, slowly growing in size, brightening and blinding me with His golden brilliance, finally shape shifting into a ball which crashed into my skull…
I passed through that tunnel of bright light, getting brighter and brighter as I moved, as if on a cloud…
Photo By: Mastertux
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