Friday, February 20, 2009

Flight of the milkweed

She felt so glued
Doomed and marooned
Upon the plant she grew
This meager seed
Of milkweed
Was a curse that angels threw.

No color, no smell.
This didn't go well
With the seed that felt so low
No wasp, no bee
No lovers had she
Amidst swans she was a crow!

Until that day
When blew her way
A breeze that defied all law
And off she flew
Like bubbles do
From kids with soap and straw.

She soar and flew
To places new
For she was light and dry
And then it hit -
All that deficit
Was so that she could fly!

Glossary -
Milkweed - A plant species that grows its seeds in follicles. Follicles contain soft filaments attached to individual seeds. When the follicle ripens, the seeds are blown by the wind, each carried by several filaments.
Also known as "म्हातारी" (Mhatari) in Marathi.

Acknowledgments -

Painting illustration - 'Milkweed' - Caroline Putnam

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Riky chiktic

(Breach of contract)

Kaza: Tikeer toc. Zhik jakoor zhus.
(Yes Master. I'm all set.)
Zui: Diktic flshh stet. Zibber zab.
(Switch on your language translator. We need to act like 'humans' henceforth.)

It was A.D. 2159 & Zakurs, the inhabitants of Gliese-581-c were slowly inhabiting planet Earth, the 3rd rock from 'the Sun', an ordinary yellow-dwarf star, in the inner rim of the Milky Way Galaxy's Orion Arm. It was a controlled & a peaceful induction and no humans (the original inhabitants of planet Earth) were conveyed about this to avoid panic. Only the highly placed sources of the US & European Space agencies, the UN & SETI were aware of this. Gliese-581-c was one of the 3 extra-solar planets orbiting the red-dwarf star Gliese-581, in the constellation of Libra. The reason for this transit was that the temperature of Gliese-581-c was fast increasing due to the runaway greenhouse effect. The Zakurs seemed to have no control over it & this forced their eviction.

In October 2008, members of the networking website Bebo, had beamed a high-power transmission at Gliese-581-c, using the RT-70 radio telescope belonging to the National Space Agency of Ukraine. This transmission had arrived as a ray of hope in the Gliese-581 system's vicinity by the year 2029. They had intercepted & decoded these signals correctly. They beamed back with SoS signals that reached earth in 2049 and had thus triggered an interstellar dialogue. After years of communication and finally coming up with a mutually understandable protocol of communication, some ice broke between the two. The Zakurs had found the Earth to be an ideal habitable place. Being technologically way advanced, they were in every way capable of destroying humans & taking over the planet. But the fact that they themselves had survived this long, inspite of their prowess, implied that they were a tolerant-specie. It seemed that they believed in 'live & let live'. Also the fact that the Earth had in fact offered an olive branch initially, radically changed their outlook.

The Zakurs were an interesting specie. They were somewhat shorter than the humans (probably due to higher levels of gravity on their planet), hairless, grayish-blue with larger head & eyes. They had appendages similar to humans that differed essentially only in the number of toes. This made disguising them as humans easier for the US agencies. There was one unusual thing about them though. They were unisexual. A group of, one may say, all-females that reproduced my means of parthenogenesis - its eggs required no fertilization, and its offspring were exact and complete genetic duplicates of the mother. The offspring were born self-sufficient and after a few years of caring were independent. The bonds between parents & kids hence weren't strong. They seemed very low on the emotional-quotient or perhaps the range of emotions they experienced belonged to a different spectrum. However 'not harming each other' did seem to be a part of that spectrum too. Why else would they have survived for so long?

As per the pact, the humans had agreed to accomodate a limited number of Zakurs. The Zakurs had to strictly abide by a contract. The rules listed therein disallowed the Zakurs to converse in their own language ever in public. They were also disallowed from harming any human or developing acquaintances with any. And by no means were they supposed to reveal their true identity ever. They were tagged by a tracking device embedded in their wrist and were traceable to a specific secret agency of the US. It was imperative to keep check over them. Also the Zakurs were not to tamper with this device & were supposed to keep to themselves as much as possible.

The first batch of 300 Zakurs had arrived months back. They were also fitted with a chip that contained all necessary, sharable historical & geographical information of planet Earth as well as information regarding mannerisms & procedures followed by humans. This was to help them gel-in quickly & also to make them indistinguishable for laymen. These 300 Zakurs were now in-charge of training further batches arriving in turns. The 2nd batch had brought in Kaza, the clone-daughter of Zui. Zui being an eminent scientist amongst the Zakurs, was included in Batch-1. Zui had ramped Kaza enough with the theoretical know-hows and now it was time for Kaza's practicals. Zui was to show Kaza around and get her familiar to humans, the most advanced specie on planet Earth.

Zui drove out of the secret labs in the Mojave Desert and hit the road lined with Joshua trees that cut through the arid yellow desert & took them to LA. Zui parked her car and decided to take a walk with Kaza down the crowded market. The more the stimuli, the more the learning, she was convinced. Kaza seemed excited, though it was a little difficult for humans to gauge the emotions of the Zakurs.

The chips embedded in Zui as well as Kaza were fast retrieving information & were matching various objects that they were seeing. Flowers and fruits for sale, the air-filled colorful balloons, the giggling kids encircling the clown, humans interacting and also the dogs which belonged to another specie tamed by the humans. All seemed so amusing!

The first observation that Kaza made was that humans, like so many other species of this planet, had two sexes. They lived in close groups and cared for their offspring for way longer than the Zakurs did. Human faces also showed such a vast range of emotions! They also indulged in leisure, which mostly included doing nothing worthwhile. No amount of lab-sessions had prepared Kaza for such a cultural-shock.

The next observation that Kaza made was that of the myriad things out there for sale. Things with distinct taste, texture, aroma... The sensors fitted within their suits helped them enjoy all of these. "Food", said Zui. "It nourishes all the inhabitants of this planet".

Kaza also observed the paper-currency exchanging hands of vendors & customers. "Money", Zui said. "It was created to facilitate the barter-system, but evolved into something very complex. With countries trading with each other, it has grown into a behemoth system. But one thing remains unchanged. The more one has it, the more he's respected, honored & is eligible to the luxuries of this planet. People kill for money."

Just then the church bell rang & drew Kaza's attention. "Religion", Zui said. "Remember Kaza... there are many religions followed by humans from various parts of this planet. They are essentially a set of thoughts that humans created for themselves, perhaps for better ways of living. All have their goods and bads, gods & daemons. As per the pact, we are not allowed to question them. We need to be tolerant of every stream of thought. You need not follow any but do not disrespect them. Remember we are guests."

"I understand, Master. But I am very curious about their concept of ‘God’. They too are baffled by those cosmic questions of 'Who are we?'! We aren't much different in that sense. Could their Gods & saints have been alien visitors like us... 'Humans' with superhuman powers?"
"Maybe, but don't promote this thought", replied Zui. "Intolerance of religion, caste & community has caused many a war amongst people of this planet. It is as destructive as the greenhouse effects destroying our mother-planet".

A little further, they came across a couple that seemed very much in love. The lady had a rose in her hand too. Kaza seemed amused. "Oh, humans, they say, are overwhelmed by this strong emotion, they call 'Love'. It's a crazy cocktail of chemicals within them. They say it makes them do crazy things", said Zui. "Ok, but what's it's significance?” asked Kaza. "To keep them bonded, to make them tolerant and caring, to urge them to reproduce & then to get them to take care of the offspring. Love appears in various forms. It's life's way of surviving & thriving", Zui replied clinically. Kaza seemed touched, perhaps... but then, it was so difficult for humans to gauge the emotions of the Zakurs.

Zui made sure that they walked on till the end of the road, marked by a graveyard. When they reached there, they noticed a group of humans standing around a casket and lamenting. Kaza seemed struck. "Death", informed Zui. "Essentially, nature's way of cleaning the old to make way for the new. But disease, accident, money, love and a hundred other reasons cause death too". "Yes, but what's this outburst amongst these humans?" inquired Kaza. "It's called weeping", said Zui. "Human-body is sometimes unable to cope with this over-weighing burden of emotions. Emotions of loss or even of joy. That's when their body weeps. Often marked by tears that flow through their eyes. Some weep silently too. They are the restrained lot".

Kaza seemed overwhelmed with this information which was rather unusual as their chip was capable of churning way higher volumes of data than this. She seemed quiet throughout her journey back to the labs. Then for a few days she visited the market-place all by herself. Her face seemed to be getting more expressive, but even then, it was so difficult for humans to gauge the emotions of the Zakurs.

All seemed fine, till one day, alarm bells were sounded by the US agencies. A breach of contract had occured. Kaza was missing. After a frantic search & help from Zui about her possible whereabouts, she was located at the market-place that she frequented so often and was arrested. She was caught conversing with a human male and also had a rose in her hand! She had earlier sliced off the tracking device from her wrist.

Zui visited Kaza in her detention-cell. "You realize that you have breached the contract, don't you?” questioned Zui. Kaza turned towards Zui. Tears had swelled in her eyes, most unusual for the Zakurs! Were it the emotions of love & attachment that had overwhelmed Kaza, wondered Zui. Was it the next-step in the evolution of the Zakurs? Had it taken Kaza a travel of 20 light-years and a single interaction with beings from an alien planet to experience this silly emotion, humans called 'Love'? Was she turning out to be, tch, humane? Zui was perplexed.

Kaza stayed quiet & didn't utter a word. She was experiencing feelings that she had never known before. It had become so difficult even for the Zakurs to gauge the emotions of fellow-Zakurs!

Acknowledgments -
My frustrations with the stark limitations of my telescope & not to mention all the mushiness & fuss regarding yesterday's V-day :-)