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Honourable politicians, don’t make Chandrayaan-3 landing about muscular nationalism

On Wednesday evening, August 23, India’s Vikram lander is expected to tunnel through the wispy atmosphere of the Moon, and land on its dark south side, just as dawn breaks over it. To reinterpret Neil Armstrong, it will be a small bounce for the lander, a giant surge for India.

We will know in real time if the lander of our hopes has touched down on its sturdy legs — as we Indians have been doing for millennia, tossed on the storms of existence and evolution. And how at each adverse turn of the dice, our hardscrabble ancestors who inhabited this subcontinent, have upended the challenge and learnt from adversity, stashing knowledge for the future.

So at around midnight on July 20, 1969, countless Indian mothers and fathers shifted tiny transistor radios near closer to their sleeping infants and toddlers to let them “hear” the human voices that came beaming from the stillness of the Moon — a fusion of moon-sound, human voices and crackle from another celestial body. I was one of the parents, whispering a running commentary about the epic moments to the dozing little ones’ subconscious. The hush of the night on Earth — in Delhi — and the American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s drawl, “A small step for Man, a giant leap for mankind” shot over the shallow breaths of slumbering babies who were participating subliminally in an inter-planetary epic.

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I hope today’s young parents huddle around TVs or mobile phones on August 23 to log in to the live broadcast from Sriharikota and that they tell their children how the people of India, and a few other nations, have begun the resolute journey of migration to other planets. Undoubtedly, we will inhabit these bodies in the next 100 or more years; we might even park an off-shoot of our civilisation on the Moon. This aplomb resonates with the poem that somebody whispered in our ears decades ago, “Sitaaron se aage jahan aur bhi hain (The universe is vast and infinite possibilities lie beyond it).”

It is a time for deep reflection on the audacity of our “frailty”, starting with the nose cone of an Indian rocket being transported on a bicycle to the launch site in Thumba in the ’70s, to the aspiration of today’s space exploration in India and abroad, and the simple idea to keep going until we reach the stars.

I know that I will huddle around the TV, with a cup of cardamom tea, aromatic with the alluring fragrances of Earth, the planet that many humans will abandon in the next hundred/thousand years for the Moon, Mars and exo-planets. This is not a time for flexing our space muscles. It is a time for celebrating our sure-footedness and for reflecting on where we’re headed as the human race, particularly as Indians.

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So here’s an audacious request to the Hon’ble Politicians — as the lander touches down, please don’t appear on TV in a live broadcast to take credit for this epic achievement, or to pat the ISRO chairman’s back patronisingly. This is not a moment for muscular declarations of “conquering space” since the BJP came to power in 2014 and the “dastardly dynastic rule of the Gandhis” was shoved into the dustbin of history. A political party’s historic poll victories or defeats are micro-blips in the vastness of the universe, whose outer edge is 100 billion light-years away. For context, the farthest known man-made objects barrelling through space today, Voyagers 1 and 2, are only 2,400 crore miles away from Earth, and they lifted-off in 1977, when Indira Gandhi had just lost power after the Emergency,

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We will owe the lander-cum-rover’s stellar performance to countless Indian scientists’ and technicians’ unyielding efforts in the last decades, to protect and improve sentient life on Earth by opening up vistas other than our planet.

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As we participate in that far-reaching moment when the Vikram lander makes the anticipated soft landing on the south side of the Moon, we want to brood, unmediated by political celebrities, on the idiocy of our “differences” of religion, the strife in Manipur and in Nuh, rapes in Rajasthan, UP’s midnight cremations-by-stealth, the sale and purchase of MLAs, slaughter of humans in lynchings and honour killings, rampaging social polarisation, the daily humiliations of living lives of unequal futures — and bulldozers.

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No hard feelings, Hon’ble Politicians. Just think of your 140 crore fellow citizens who have swaddled their minds with images of the impending touchdown on the Moon, and who want to be inspired by our scientists as they talk of how India is about to reach a stepping-stone to deep space, and about the boundlessness of the Universe where the Earth is a tiny pinhead. We’re just “dangling” from it. At least let us dangle together as we reach for the Moon.

The writer is a senior journalist

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