“…Contrary to received opinion, science fiction’s preoccupation has always been the here and now. Its far-flung planets and future timelines are merely a way to analyse the contemporary. In this respect, it is the most politically engaged of all literary genres. Motifs that may appear trashy to the uninitiated - space exploration, extraterrestrials, futuristic technology - can in fact be surprisingly sophisticated tools for dissecting and examining the world as it is…"
(FT, February 9 2007)
Laurie Penny asks in New Statesman, April 30 2013 "Modern life is science fiction – but would you dare go on a one-way mission to Mars?" and explains:
This is the reality of man's mission to Mars...possibly in year 2018, non-Governmental project, 521 days journey, one way ticket, funded by reality TV..."a very small space with three other people"...Could you imagine a woman delivering a baby in such an environment?
On learning that about 600 Chinese have lined up to travel on Mars One, Marathi daily Loksatta, on May 4 2013, felt worried sick that 'colonizers' Chinese were now going to invade Mars (after recently 'invading' India)! The paper also felt that China had now become 'Mars' in Indian nation's horoscope.
I have not a read a lot of science fiction. In Marathi, I have not read almost any beyond Jayant Narlikar (जयंत नारळीकर) and Narayan Dharap (नारायण धारप).
The other day, I read the late D B Mokashi's (दि बा मोकाशी) science fiction short story 'Sharavati' ('शरावती) first published in Diwali 1963, almost 50 years ago. 1963 is the year of John F. Kennedy assassination, Vietnam war...Cuban Missile Crisis and India-China war were just a year old that Diwali
I like a lot of what Mr. Mokashi has written. This story too is interesting but can't be called one of his best and, another thing, he can't really write about politics. His praise for Indian civilization and nation- unnecessary for the story line- is not just jarring and but not even entirely factual. (Is it prompted by India's crushing defeat by China towards the end of 1962?)
Mokashi imagines that an Indian woman astronaut 'Sharavati' is travelling to Mars in year 1980 and soon after the journey begins discovers that she is pregnant!
How did she get pregnant? During a break in her training for the Mars mission, she meets her husband alone as their kids are away.
Eventually, she delivers a baby boy in space- apparently with less trouble because of zero gravity- and returns to earth successfully as her mission is aborted by its possible collision with an asteroid. (Today, Mokashi would have been advised not to bring Sharavati and her kid back to the earth but instead make them colonize Mars by reaching there!)
I have already quoted David Graeber earlier on this blog:
"As someone who was eight years old at the time of the Apollo moon landing, I remember calculating that I would be thirty-nine in the magic year 2000 and wondering what the world would be like. Did I expect I would be living in such a world of wonders? Of course. Everyone did. Do I feel cheated now? It seemed unlikely that I’d live to see all the things I was reading about in science fiction, but it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t see any of them."
Manned Mars mission is one of "any of them".
Cory Doctorow has said : "science fiction writers don't predict the future (except accidentally), but if they're very good, they may manage to predict the present."
Although unwanted pregnancies were of immediate concern in 1963, Mokashi is certainly onto something bigger than that in his story. At the end of the story, I got a feeling that it was steeped in feminist ideology. And I think that is where Mokashi succeeds and predicts the future: 2013.
Mokashi imagines J L Nehru c 1980 to be not just alive but riding a horse and giving interviews on the subject of Sharavati's predicament. We know Nehru died in 1964 but it's interesting to see how the generation of Mokashi could not quite contemplate Nehru's death just an year earlier.
Mokashi imagines a kind of media frenzy we see today. But he hands out a certificate of good conduct to Indian journalists vis-a-vis their foreign counterparts. Surprisingly, he doesn't imagine TV in India in 1980 and he is right because TV went on rampage in India only after 1982.
Mokashi tells us a little about the world politics of 1980. World has seen WW III in 1965 and is on the brink of WW IV in 1980.
Mokashi's world of 1980 is quadripolar: Yellow skinned (पीतवर्णीय), America+Russia+Europe, all of Asia, and Negroes. He sees the world divided on the lines of racial schisms and not economic / ideological ones. (I was confused by just one thing how yellow skinned and all of Asia are two exclusive groupings? Isn't Asia = yellow+brown+ some white?)
That's quite a bold prediction considering how powerful Russian block was in 1963. Therefore, not only Mokashi sees the fall of Soviet Union and demise of communism but predicts America and Russia coming together. It's also interesting to note how race was going to prevail over other things in his future. (If we consider India, we know how caste, religion and language have prevailed over economic and other factors.)
Mokashi says we may think of this state of world politics as barbaric in 2001. On the contrary, we all think this to be normal.
Towards the end, Mokashi tells us that thanks to 'Sharavati pregnancy' episode, humans end up colonizing Mars in 1980 and those colonies now are thriving in year 2001.
If so, the following should not surprise us.
In January 2008, there was a report in Daily Mail of UK:
“The photo of what looks like a naked woman with her arm outstretched was among several taken on the red planet and sent back to Earth by NASA's Mars explorer Spirit.”
I am just worried about one thing: Is she Chinese and of child-bearing age and, if so, will she mate only with another Chinese?
courtesy: Barcroft Media and Daily Mail, UK