When we were young, upon being asked what we would like to become in life, many of us, without batting an eyelid, said: Fighter pilot. There were two important reasons for this: 1) The job of a fighter pilot involved Fighting and flying. (I mean any guy will wet his pants in excitement if the job profile read: firing guns and dropping bombs) 2) Even more excitingly, a fighter pilot usually ended up marrying somebody like Sharmila Tagore.
But after realising that the fighter pilot’s work, in those essentially peaceful times, was actually a lot less mundane (mostly involving flying planes to entertain disinterested children during R-Day parade, more like that of a glorified maranakinaru biker), many of us quickly moved to option B, which was to become a commercial pilot, a job that was in many ways similar to a fighter pilot’s, except that this also involved — you can accuse of having been extremely idealistic — airhostesses.
Of course, not many of us enrolled to become pilots because flying classes were prohibitively expensive and also parents then were disinclined to allow their children to attempt what they believed to be less mainstream stuff. This was an actual dialogue between my friend and his father: ‘Appa, I want to become a pilot’. His dad: ‘Poda, unakku TVS 50-e ozhunga balance panna theriyadhu, nee epdi da plane ottuva?’ (‘You can’t balance a TVS-50 properly, how will you fly a plane?’). There was absolutely no logic to the answer, still my friend did not protest, for — youngsters, pay close attention here as I am going to say something that you would not have had a chance to know or experience in your life —- kids those days obeyed their parents.
Back then, another popular answer to the question what career do you want to pursue was: Space scientist. Many went with this choice simply because it sounded cool, and also the fact was that the honest alternative to it would have been to say: ‘I have no clue as to what I want to do in life’. Also, such an answer usually shut the questioner from prolonging the discussion as nobody then had a clue what space science was about. Remember we are talking about the times when faced with the threat of falling ‘Skylab’, a space station that turned into a gargantuan boiling ball of heat and heaviness, the local government here in Tamil Nadu took the most commonsense precaution of posting lathi-wielding constables in important streets.
Anyway, this week I was reminded of space scientists while reading about the exploits of the ISRO (Indian Satellite Research Organisation) with its successful launch of its first navigation satellite. I was very happy that from being an obscure news tucked inside a remote corner of a newspaper that nobody read, space vehicle launches have come a long way indeed and become fancy front-page stuff that nobody reads still.
Another important piece of information from ISRO this week is that India’s very own GPS is ready. The highly-paid and hugely-decorated Indian space scientists have finally delivered what the country has been looking up to them. I personally can’t express in mere words how chuffed I am about the whole development. Every time I use the GPS device I am overcome with a feeling of shame that all the locational details that I see on it have been supplied by an American satellite. Now, I will know how my apartment complex, street, office and the likes look from an Indian satellite.
But first things first, for those who are slightly modern-devices-challenged, let me try and explain what a GPS is: It is the quintessential marvel of science that tells you where exactly you are at any given point of time. Without GPS, I am sure, you may not be able to figure it out.
Right now, as I am typing this on my laptop at my home, my GPS confirms that I am indeed at my home. Recently, on a trip to Bandhipur forest, we were completely lost during a small trekking expedition. Luckily we had our GPS device at hand, and we switched it on, the screen came to life and voila, we were greeted with the helpful message: ‘No signal’. We eventually found our way out of the forest thanks to the directions provided by a cowherd.
The GPS, in general, works amazingly well when you don’t need it and doesn’t work when you need it the most. In that sense, it is just like our government.
Anyway, the ISRO is also talking about reviving the Chandrayan moon mission project and also exploring the possibility of undertaking a manned mission to space. Exciting times are indeed ahead. And sooner or later, we are bound to hear the line, ‘Sriharikota, we’ve a problem’.
The follow up line, of course, will be: ‘Our GPS has no signal’.