by Parth Pandya
The thud on the ground was loud, but no one noticed the frame of a man squatting on the floor where nothing existed a moment ago. The man got up feeling dizzy and disoriented. He banged into a wall of vessels erected on the edge of the shop by the shopkeeper. The vessels tumbled onto the street. The incensed shopkeeper let out the choicest invectives for the man, who wasn’t focused enough to apologise either. He just stumbled along into a bylane, where the crowds seemed to recede. Haltingly, he made it to the end and slumped against a lamp post in the corner. A young man of eighteen, Mayukh, followed him with a mixture of fear and curiosity. He bent over to see the man, who lifted his head and stared at him with a quizzical look.
“You are Rakesh Verma, aren’t you?”
“How do you know about me?”
“I read about you in school. You were the first Indian man to land on moon. Every school kid knows your story. You went in space in 1989, touched down on moon and never came back. What happened to your spaceship?”
“I must have forgotten to buy a return ticket”, said Rakesh, a dry sense of humour returning along with some colour to his cheeks. And then it occurred to him to ask the most obvious question. “What year is it?”
A moment of silence passed over them as each man contemplated which question to choose from among the many swirling in his head.
Mayukh went first. “What happened? How did you get here?”
Rakesh said “We were on our way back to Earth, when something went wrong in the spaceship. The communication went down, then the power. All the pieces started falling apart one by one. Those damned cheap parts that we got from the Swiss company. Then, all went blank, till today.
“Twenty-four years I have been gone. I wonder where they all are – my family, my friends. So much has passed by.”
Rakesh was too dizzy to walk. He told Mayukh to be with him till he felt better, after which he would reach his family. “Tell me”, he said. “How did my story get so popular? How did they explain in textbooks to you what happened to me?”
“Well, they spoke about your virtues of patriotism and heroism. You have streets named after you in Haridwar, where you were born. There was even a movie made on your story”
“A movie?? On my story??”
“Yes, you went to the moon and were on the way back home. Then, the spaceship gets attacked by aliens.”
“Yup, green coloured men ripping apart your spaceship”
“What happens then?”
“You do what a real hero would do in this situation”
“What? Kill the aliens?”
“Yes, in the name of love. The love of your life Sanjana is on the flight. You eject her and the other folks from the crew via parachute and trap the aliens in your spaceship.”
“A parachute ejecting folks from space. That’s absurd.”
“But it all seemed so real. Women cried buckets of tears when you let go of her hand. Of course, the director laughed all the way to the bank”
“How did it end?”
“It ended up with you blowing up the ship with the aliens in them. I tell you, the scene where the Indian flag flies out of the spaceship, gets to earth and lands right in front of the feet of your blind mother was mind-blowing!”
Stunned, Rakesh asked, “Is there more absurdity in India that I should know about?”
“Well, we are richer as a nation since we opened up to the world.”
“So poverty is gone…”
“No, the poor are”, said Mayukh, trying to be wise. “Truth be told, everything has gone up a notch. The money, the expenses, the scams”
“Yes. It is all about the G nowadays”
“No. 2G. I’d be surprised if anyone could get the number of zeroes right in the scam amount”
“Well, the cars have gotten better and faster, but the roads are more congested. We have multi-nationals in the country now and our own companies are becoming multi-national. We are connected like never before with the rest of the world.”
“Yes, we like the rest of the world so much that we stay up talking to them in the night!”
“But phones stay up all the time? It is so difficult to get a line!”
“Ha ha. Life has changed. Everyone has a cell phone now. From your watchman to your vegetable seller. He can do the job over the phone itself”
“What, give you vegetables?!!”
“Not that, at least not yet.”
“This century is unrecognizable to me. Is the country peaceful at least?”
“Well, yes and no. No major wars, but there is always something going on. People rip each other quite often, terrorists seem to like us so much they keep showing up uninvited. Sometimes it is a miracle the country continues to function normally!”
“I suppose that’s life. Can we find a phone to call from?”
“You seemed to have forgotten – I told you that everyone has a cell phone now. Here you go.”
Rakesh’s memory however failed him and the phone number eluded him. They decided they’d walk over to Mayukh’s home in the adjacent building and figure out.
Unbeknownst to them, a rumour had spread in the market around the appearance of a ghost. A ten year old had spotted Rakesh appearing out of nowhere and had told her mother who in turn decided to call up a television channel. Her regular viewing of ‘Anokhi Ghatnayen’ had primed her to never ignore such comments. The mother and daughter had followed the two near Mayukh’s building, and in no time, the building was surrounded by television cameras and satellite vans. It had all the makings of a thriller. Reporters jumped over each other to build up an environment of suspense and fear. In lieu of anyone else, the befuddled watchman was asked how he was feeling at the moment.
Mayukh had held back a million questions in his head. What happened to the other astronauts? Had he been abducted by aliens? Was he really alive? The noises coming through the window caught his attention. He peeped out to see the big ruckus downstairs. Startled, he ran back and turned on the television. It was national news, broadcast live and he was in the middle of this. He was wondering what to do next. Should he shelter Rakesh? Or expose him? Would he be harmed if he did? It would be a matter of time before the cameras and microphones would be stationed outside his door. Mayukh, the new adult, panicked in the absence of his parents. Mayukh had left Rakesh in his bedroom and asked him to lie down. He now approached the room readying himself to make a decision. He heard murmurs right then, whispers seeping out of the room. He approached closer and peeped through the keyhole. There was ‘Rakesh’, cell phone in hand, talking to someone, “Yes, I recorded everything. We have a story. Come to the third floor now. Our exclusive is ready”. A disheartened Mayukh watched as the national hero adjusted his fake moustache. He withdrew away from the door as he heard the final words being uttered: “Story chal jayegi. TRPs guaranteed. Yeh India hai boss.”
Parth Pandya is a passionate Tendulkar fan, diligent minion of the ‘evil empire’, persistent writer at http://parthp.blogspot.com, self-confessed Hindi movie geek, avid quizzer, awesome husband (for lack of a humbler adjective) and a thrilled father of two. He grew up in Mumbai and spent the last eleven years really growing up in the U.S. and is always looking to brighten up his day through good coffee and great puns.
 The story will be a hit. This is India, boss.