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India's Moon Mission
One is apt to react with a start at the news of India’s lunar launch — why go to the moon when you have millions of poor who need immediate succor?
However, while accepting the validity of that critique, this is a good moment to salute the milestone achieved by India’s scientists. The scientific breakthrough in itself is remarkable: India now joins a very select club of Asian nations — China and Japan are the other two — with the technological muscle to send a probe to the moon.
Even more heartening is India’s broad, communitarian attitude — who in today’s competitive globalized edge invites scientists of other nations to send their scientific payload to ride piggyback all the way to the moon?
The result is a remarkable international comity with tests being done for some of the world’s most distinguished laboratories — the Jet Propulsion Lab at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., Britain’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Md., and Germany’s Max Planck Institute.
Nor is India reinventing the wheel — its cutting edge scientific experiments include mapping the moon in its entirety for the first time.
Chandrayaan-1 will study how volatile elements and compounds — possibly including water — get transported to the poles from the hot lunar surface during the day; produce a digital elevation map with 5-meter resolution both vertically and horizontally which will enable scientists to select potential sites for a future base; and produce chemical and mineral maps of the moon. The mineral spectrometer will measure signals up to 3 microns in the near-infra red portion of the electromagnetic spectrum — data that has not previously been collected — giving scientists new information about water and possible organic compounds at the poles.
“Simultaneous photo-geological, mineralogical, and chemical mapping will enable us to identify different geological units, which will test the early evolutionary history of the Moon,” said Narendra Bhandari, who until recently headed ISRO’s planetary exploration division.
This month’s cover story has more details.
Far from the gaze of the cheerleaders of India’s economic growth, far from its glitzy metropolises surrounded by malls, multiplexes and designer accoutrements for the super rich, something sinister is going on in India. The backward but mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh is now a battleground where ordinary folks, mostly adivasis are caught in the crossfire. For years, a radical leftist Naxalite insurgency has taken hold of this region. The state government has decided to throw caution—and any semblance of judicial propriety—to the winds as it has set up a rightwing vigilante group called the Salwa Judum which has wreaked havoc in the countryside.
Matters got really heated in Berkeley, Calif., recently when scores of activists showed up at a conference on justice and law in India and accused one of the speakers, Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan, who was nothing if not brazen: He was steadfast in maintaining the fiction that the Salwa Judum was a spontaneous movement, and the police were doing their best to maintain the rule of law, despite numerous independent human rights reports saying the exact opposite.
This month’s issue has a critique of the police and state government stance in Chhattisgarh.
Ahmed Faraz was arguably one of the greatest living Urdu poets until he died recently. He also was one of the most passionate and honorable champions of the ordinary person during his lifetime.
Given the vagaries of subcontinental politics, it should be no surprise that although a Pakistani, his poetry was much loved in India, where he had many warm friends; whereas in Pakistan the powers that be were annoyed by his disconcerting habit of truth telling. Consequently there was a time when he had to accept self-exile.
Literary experts can — and undoubtedly will — take an analytical look at finer points of the great wordsmith’s artistic achievements, but we want to take a moment to pay homage to the man behind the poetry.
Faraz is a representative of a vanishing breed — the public intellectual, the artist who is the keeper of his people’s conscience. He brought down Urdu poetry from its rarefied heights of ephemeral artistry and got it to also reflect upon the ordinary person’s existential challenge in the face of oppression and economic deprivation.
As a result, he was not only acclaimed by critics, he was also adored by the ordinary folks. Faraz was a poet who was very widely read, and he cherished that.
In this month’s issue, our correspondent Ras Hafiz Siddiqui pays tribute to the man and the poet, reminiscing on the various occasions when he met Faraz during his trips to San Francisco Bay Area.