Escape velocity

“Chandan chacha,” someone from the crowd screamed. “Neeche baitho.”

The sound speakers were blasting at full volume while Chandan chacha stood in front of the big television. Installed today, this TV had the eyes of the whole village on it. Chandan’s son had brought it this morning from a nearby city at a Diwali discount. While TVs were not uncommon in the village, this one was by far the largest television in the entire village. Also, Chandan’s son had decided to go for an enhanced sound system which gave a theatrical effect to the small living room of his house.

Chandan sat down while looking at the live news report.

Before seeing this new television in front of his eyes, he had never bothered to take a look at the old one. There was hardly anything there for him on television. He chose to spend most of his time with friends over a game of cards at night and the rest of the day reading newspaper and solving crossword puzzles.

But the appeal that his son had bought his most expensive gadget yet was fancy enough to pull his legs in front of the television. Behind him, at least twenty people spread around the 12’*12’ room. Chandan didn’t care who was here and who wasn’t. It did not take much time for him, actually, to start enjoying the new TV. With its superior display, colours and sound system, this was the best experience entertainment experience he had experienced.

He stood up every time there was an exciting event being reported on the news channel. Most of them were what he had read this morning in the newspaper, but watching news was much more intriguing than reading the modest newspapers. The style of news anchors, the pulsating background music and the flashing of pictures and videos were all too good to believe. He had seen news on television back in the day when TV news was only Doordarshan, which was not so exciting.

“Finally, we have a big update coming from America…” the news anchor announced. This country had influenced the world of fashion, movies, music and even education. From what Chandan could tell, the American culture was destroying the younger generation with too much freedom and little thought.

But he did acknowledge that America was responsible for a lot of the technology that was used at his house, for which he had always admired the great scientists and technicians there.

His ears were alerted soon. As if they had grown into elephant’s ears, he listened with the utmost attention for the next ten minutes, looking at the footage of a rocket being launched into space. Chandan was hooked to the story, despite people behind him screaming at him to sit down so that everyone could enjoy the TV.

“Wow, how could someone think like that?” Chandan wondered. From what the world was currently experiencing, the news made perfect sense. He somewhere knew it was a matter of time before someone started sending humans to space for tourism. How beautiful Mother earth would look from up there? He had seen so many pictures over the years showing the colourful planet in the most beautiful way. The darkness that surrounded the earth would just add up to the colours- just like it was shown in the pictures clicked by satellites.

Astronauts, according to Chandan, were the luckiest people on the planet. They got to see heaven from so close. And then come back to the sad reality of earth. It was coming to an extinction all because of humans.

After the news report had finished broadcasting, Chandan started lamenting at once how beautiful life was back in the day. At least some trees could be seen. Today, none of the forest cover around the village was left anymore. Everything was either converted into a farmland, a road or a warehouse to store grains and vegetables.

“I am going to be on the first flight to space for tourists.” He announced to the crowd. Most of the people dismissed using either a chuckle, a smirk or nodding their heads sideways. “This news is not true, Chacha. No one is going to space.” One of the younger ones from the crowd replied.

Chandan had several problems with his health. He had undergone a bypass surgery last summer and got cataract surgery done just three months ago. While his vision and his heart were functioning properly, the doctor’s advice was to stress neither of them. He had allowed himself to watch the television today from up close but knew very well that the excitement would wane off slowly.

“Such news is just made up for the sake of it, you see. People like you will watch the news and the ads as a result.”

“But I know it is true this time. I am bored of playing cards now. I am bored of reading the news now. I have anyways saved enough for the Char Dham Yatra. Might as well use the money to go to space.” The seventy-year-old knew about his limitations, but had made up his mind.

“But your health is not great! Going to space requires a lot of training,”

“Don’t worry. I do Yoga every day for one hour. That is more than enough to train you for everything. I can manage.” The old man adamantly stated.

His son had not spoken a word, knowing for sure that the old man’s wishes would subside in a few days if not in a few hours’.

But how wrong could he be?

The next morning, when his son woke up, Chandan had already packed his bag and was wearing his slippers.

“Where are you headed, Baba?”

“Sheher,” Chandan replied. “From there, I will head to the USA to meet with the company who is making the tourist rocket.”

“But you cannot leave just like that. It needs planning.”

“Who do I have to plan for? I have nothing left of me here. Don’t worry, I will be back as soon as the ride is completed. I imagine it would be about ten days.”

“But…”

“But what?”

“You need a visa to go to the US.”

Chandan’s face was filled with sadness as reality struck him.

“Don’t worry, I’ll go to Delhi and get a visa.” He replied, completely unaware of what all was needed to get a visa.

“But your doctor is here. What if you fall sick on the journey?”

“I won’t. Don’t worry. It is like going to Char Dham. When the calling comes, you need to go. My calling is here. I’ll go there and ask someone to click a picture with the earth behind me. It’ll be so good!”

“Which god will you find up there? There is no god up there!” his son picked up the bag and headed back into the house.

“Take my bag away. But I am going for sure! I want to be on the first flight to space.”

“Haven’t you heard? There are no toilets up there. Your muck keeps floating in the spaceship all the time. Do you think you’ll find god in such a place?”

“I’ll carry plastic bags and make sure I throw them out of the windows. There will be no dirt.”

The old man was unrelenting. A group of young kids who were playing nearby had gathered at the front porch where Chandan was now sitting. His white shirt had lost colour over the years and his wide-bottomed pant was old-fashioned, to say the least. The fresh smell of dirt lying in front of the house was more prominent because of the early morning dew.

“They don’t allow plastic bags in space, unfortunately. Also, you cannot open the windows on a spaceship.” His son announced as he came back from the inner room.

“Look at this son, people!” The old man started screaming hysterically. “He has all the money in the world to buy fancy TV sets, but when his father tells him that he is going on a trip, he doesn’t allow.”

The son felt a little embarrassed but knew very well that he was the only one who had to control the situation.

“Baba, can we talk inside?” He asked politely.

“What’s there to talk? I told you I will manage. I read in the newspaper that a lot of Indian students are heading to the US for studies these days. I can tag along with one of them. Someone will take care of me.”

“But who will make tea for you?” The old man was finicky when it came to his tea. He needed just a spoonful of milk in the boiling water, otherwise, he would not even have one sip.

The old man thought about all the reasons for almost a minute while looking at random faces in the crowd. “They don’t allow plastic bags, seriously?”

“No, they don’t. You will not be able to carry any. Also, you need to use toilet paper over there. You cannot use water.”

“That I have heard. Don’t worry son I’ll manage.” He promised his son.

“But…”

“Go get my bag from inside. I am leaving right now. From here to Delhi, then to Florida to be in time for the flight launch.”

“Do you know when the flight is launching?”

“No, but I want to be there on time. The news mentioned that the plan was to launch three years later.”

“Don’t fool me, son. Why would they show news if it was three years away from now?”

“How would I know that?”

He looked at the kids gathered in front of him. None of them was moving their heads. The kids were all looking at the live entertainment, feeling motivated that something big was about to happen in this village. They were looking forward to the farewell party that would be planned, the tasty sweets and savoury snacks they would get to eat as a result.

Also, they were looking forward to the day when Chandan Chacha would join the ranks of astronauts. In the name of Chandan Chacha, they would get school holidays, which meant more time to play.

Kids had their own ideas while the elders in the crowd had their own. But everyone was looking forward to some sort of a celebration as the old man went away, probably to never return to the village. Only his son cared to keep him here, it seemed. A few of them tried to show concern but none of that really mattered to the old man.

“Call the owner of the company right now. I want to talk to them. Book my tickets now.” Chandan ordered his lad.

“It is night-time in America right now. Everyone would be asleep. If we disturb them right now, you will surely miss out on the opportunity.”

“I don’t care. Call them right now and find out how much money it costs. I will tell the bank manager to break all my FDs.”

“But that will not be enough.”

“Did you call? Find out the rates. I have a lot of money, don’t worry.” The old man looked towards the house behind him.

“Are you thinking about…”

“I will not if you call and find out what the exact cost is.”

His son pretended to call, held the phone on his left ear for a few seconds and then announced to the old man that no one was responding. Probably everyone was asleep as it was night time in the US.

“Never mind. I will leave right now and give them a call on my way. I don’t have any time to waste here.”

“But Baba, think about us. We need you for support and guidance. What will I do if not for you?” His left eye turned watery. “You remember the time how you beat me when I did something wrong? If I have done something wrong, go ahead, beat me all you want, but don’t leave us like that.” He paused. “I don’t know from where this idea got into your mind, but I don’t want you to go. I know you’ve done enough for me and want to live your life, but this is not the way.”

The old man turned around after listening to his son’s rant, looking appeased after a night full of deliberation and pretence of going away.

Everyone needs attention and a sense of importance. To the old man who no one in the village appreciated- everyone only complaining about his foolish and erratic behaviour time and again, a little bit of appreciation and respect was all it took.

Chandan removed his slippers and headed back in.

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