This Humour Column Was Written 7000 Years Ago

Like most middle-class Indian kids, I first completed my engineering and then got around to figuring what I really wanted to do in life. So I’m the first to admit that I know next to nothing about science. The only time I use my education is when my parents ask me to fix some busted gadget, and I, applying what I learnt as a telecom engineer, swiftly pick up a cellphone to call the repair guy.

But as it turns out, I would’ve been clueless even if I’d actually paid attention in class, because here’s a news flash: What we know about science is wrong. It is all a western imperial construct designed to overshadow our original achievements. Simply put, the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Americans have all shamelessly Pritam’d our inventions.

I’m thankful to the various patriots who, of late, have been working really hard to enlighten us about this piracy. The most recent exposé took place at the 102nd Indian Science Congress, where leading scientists had all the logic smacked out of them by the glory of ancient India.

For example, you might think that the first airplane was invented by the Wright Brothers, after they got sick of booking tickets on IRCTC. But no. Captain Bodas, a retired flying instructor and a speaker at the Congress, pointed out that the first airplanes had been invented in Indian about 7000 years ago. Some of them were the size of jumbo jets and apparently they could move forward, backward and sideways, hover in mid-air, do barrel rolls and also bharatnatyam in mid-air.

These planes were also loaded with twenty missile systems. Now I don’t mean to brag, but I too designed similar fighter jets in school, via the technical process of doodling in my textbooks. (I was inspired by scientific materials such as Swat Kats and Centurions, but clearly I should’ve paid more attention to Amar Chitra Katha.)

But that’s not all. We reportedly also had pilots in ancient India, who were prescribed a diet that alternated between buffalo, cow and sheep milk and wore special shockproof, waterproof, electricity-resistant suits made from the fibres of underwater plants. Their names have been lost to history, so let’s just call them Captain Shri Maverick and Goose.

If the pilots got bored of flying domestic, they could take their crafts for an interplanetary spin. No, really. It was claimed that the planes could go from planet to planet. To buttress this point, another speaker, Kiran Naik, said that proof of this lay in the fact that during ancient times – and I wish I were making this up – two kings were fighting on Mars when one of their helmets fell off. This is why you should always take off your helmet before fighting on Mars.

He said that “If you google ‘helmet on Mars’, that helmet clearly shows up”, because ancient India also invented Photoshop. Sadly, all these advances in aviation were squandered because as it turns out, the industry was run by Vijay Mallya’s ancestors.

Mr. Naik then educated the audience about a bacteria that lives inside cows and converts whatever the cow consumes into 24 karat gold. Wow, that has to be the worst Tanishq ad ever. Picture a young, hopeful man going down on his knees as his girlfriend blushes with anticipation:

Guy: I cannot imagine a life without you. Will you marry me?

Girl: Yes, yes, a million times yes! (pause) Where’s the ring?

*they hear a PLOP! in the distance*

Guy: Go get it yourself.

Seriously, I cannot get over the fact that India is home to bovine creatures that crap gold. But enough about Mukeshbhai.

Not all talks at the Science Congress were as eye-opening. The others were woefully bereft of fantasy and stuck to boring ol’ scientific temperament. I wonder what it was like for the scientists – including Nobel laureates and a Fields Medal winner – to sit back and listen to stories that essentially took a flamethrower to their life’s work. It’s like Sachin Tendulkar being told by a baseball player that his stance had been wrong all these years and also once an ancient Indian batsman hit the moon for a six.

I bet they feel smarter now and cannot wait for next year’s Science Congress. If I were them, I’d make travel arrangements right now. Where can I book a one-way ticket to 5000 B.C?

(Note: This is my HT column dated 11th Jan 2015.)

I Predict That You Will Read This Title

I hereby announce that I am incredibly proud to be an Indian. Like a Bombay gutter in the monsoon, my pores are overflowing with desi ghee as I type this with my long, straight fingers that coincidentally look like an ‘I’, which stands for ‘India: The Birthplace of the Universe And All Good Things In It, Except Biryani Which Is Invader Food’. I’m just seconds away from spraying on my signature scent – Eau De Chicken Tikka Masala – and being chased down the street by nubile Indian belles who want to tie me a rakhi because culture is best bro.

I wasn’t always like this, but I’ve seen the light thanks to right-wing visionaries whom I didn’t even vote for. I guess that’s the beauty of democracy. Even if I voted against them, I can reap the benefits of being ruled by people like former Uttarakhand CM and BJP MP, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who claimed in the Lok Sabha this week that an Indian sage had conducted nuclear tests in the 2nd century BC. He also said that astrology was the topmost science, and that regular science – y’know, with all its stupid experiments and proofs and logic – was a pygmy compared to astrology.

See, that’s the kind of glory that causes my chakras to swell up with joy. Gone are the days when India was only known for giving white people hernias with the Kama Sutra. The world will now worship us as the people who made the first nukes – even before the atom had been discovered – and they will bow before our might. Or they would, if we could locate those old nuke designs. I don’t know what happened to them. Maybe they were stolen by ancient terrorists who, as we all know, were invented by Pakistan.

Nishank was also of the opinion that there must be a proper discussion on astrology in the Lok Sabha, which makes sense because most of our politicians were alive when the planets were formed. Now a lot of you might dismiss astrology as a frivolous, non-science, but it is much more than that. It’s also hugely profitable. It provides employment to hundreds of thousands of wastrels across the country, way more than any silly IIT.

Astrology saves people from the rigours of having to go out and earn an honest living. People may refer to astrologers as hacks, often comparing them to other charlatans like aura-readers or investment bankers. But astrology takes serious skill. You have to train really hard to keep a straight face and not say “LOL dumbass” while accepting a client’s money.

In case you’re still sceptical, let me show you how my predictions this week changed my life. My zodiac sign is Aries, as is Robert Downey Jr.’s, so yeah, I’m basically Iron Man. Here are actual predictions India’s top astrologers made about me today:

“You will desire absolute freedom in whatever you do today.

Holy pigballs! How did they know?! Yes, this is true. I desire absolute freedom in what I do today, but only today. On every other day, I want to be bound, gagged and slapped around like Rajpal Yadav in a Priyadarshan movie. Also, the genius of this prediction is that it applied to most Indians before 1947, and also to every teenager ever. And speaking of teenagers…

“A lot of entertainment is on the cards for teenagers, like window shopping or going for a movie.”

If by “window shopping or going for a movie” you meant “taking pictures of their junk”, then yes, this prediction works too.

“You shall be eager to complete all your assignments well in time.”

(NOTE FROM ASHISH’S EDITOR: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Seriously, screw this guy. He’s like the Air India of freelance writers.)

“Those in strained relationships shall be able to find a solution, but for that to work you shall have to keep a cool head.”

Now I’m glad I got this information. It’s something I would never have figured out otherwise. But I wish I’d read it sooner, because now there’s a rapidly-spreading blood stain on my carpet and I don’t know what to do. Dammit. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I were a godman.

Once again, I’d like to thank all those who, with their informed decisions, made this current state of affairs possible. And if you’re still sitting on the fence then get down because that sounds painful, and join me in drinking the Kool-Aid. Or as it was called in India, som ras.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 7th Dec 2014.)

Once Upon A Time, In A Galaxy Not So Far Away…

The universe is an infinitely vast entity, almost as big as Antilla. That hasn’t stopped humans throughout the ages from trying to understand its secrets, resulting in theories that range from the mythical (“The earth is a ball of snot inside the nose of a sleeping giant.”) to the scientific (“Atoms are the building blocks of snot.”).

It is this spirit of curiosity that is the star of my latest TV addiction, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. It is a follow up to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which brought science to massy television – something long considered impossible, given that the source material features exactly zero Kardashian booty.

The 2014 version aims to repeat that feat and make science cool again, which is why they got the internet’s favourite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, to host it. Tyson is the Will Smith-meets-Morgan Freeman of science. He seems like the kind of guy who’d spend his day neck-deep in equations that look like Elvish to us muggles, and then take on a beer-chug challenge at a bar in the evening (and win, because he’d know the optimum angle at which to hold the mug so as to minimise Spillage Coefficient. Then he’d trash-talk the loser with something like “Your mother’s so large that black holes cannot escape her gravity.”)

Fun fact: Cosmos is executive-produced by Seth MacFarlane. Yes, the same Seth Mac Farlane responsible for a gag that consisted entirely of Family Guy characters vomiting on each other for two whole minutes. And yes, the same Seth MacFarlane who opened the 2013 Oscars with a song dedicated to Hollywood’s most famous breasts. So naturally, you’d expect the Big Bang to be shown as a giant Peter Griffin fart, and Pluto would be the Meg of our solar system.

Sadly, that isn’t the case. With eye-popping visual effects, animated stories and a tight script, Cosmos is what the meme generation describes as ‘science porn’, except that you feel no shame at the end of an episode. (I don’t understand this current fad of adding the word ‘porn’ to describe anything that looks drool-worthy. Seriously, stop tagging photos of things like cheesecake and calling it ‘food porn’. That just maligns the good name of porn. Also, don’t ever google ‘food porn’ with Safe Search off. You’ll never look at glazed donuts the same way again.)

I wish schools in India would take some time off from stuffing kids’ bags with lead bricks, and use shows like Cosmos as teaching aids. The country could do with some nurturing of scientific talent – we have enough social media evangelist ninja potato whatevers – as opposed to an overworked, blinkered teacher reducing the greatest minds and discoveries of our species to “Learn this equation. It will come for 15 marks in board exam.”

Cosmos works because along with facts, it brings you the stories of the ambitious, brilliant and flawed geniuses behind those facts. For example, for most Indian students, Isaac Newton was reduced to a set of three equations – a bunch of letters and symbols that they remembered but didn’t fully understand, like Ke$ha.

Now consider his story, which will count for nothing in a board exam, but is fascinating nonetheless. A premature baby, he would go on to battle bipolar disorder and silly English hairstyles, while also laying the foundation of the modern world by inventing calculus. The math of his time wasn’t advanced enough to support his work, so he just invented a whole new branch of math. Normal people would’ve given up and gone out to catch the plague or whatever it is that they did for fun back then. Oh, and he did this before his 26th birthday. (By that age, I’d learnt to not throw up after drinking, which is almost the same thing.)

The only problem with Cosmos is that it’ll make you want to smack people in the face. It’s because you’ll watch stories about how we came into being, of the forces and coincidences that led to this moment where you’re able to read this text because we figured how to control sub-atomic particles and make them carry data, of bloody wars and heroes whose exploits are a mere blip on the timeline of the universe, of suns a million times larger than ours, and as you’re appreciating the enormity of it all, some client will start acting like it’s the apocalypse, all because his logo looks 0.05% smaller than usual. See, that’s why we need to make science cool again – so that kids don’t grow up to be that guy.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 22nd June 2014.)