Bells of Hope, Bells of Despair

The fire raged into the calm October sky. He was just a little boy, a jewel this Earth had been adorned with for only 5 years. Perched away 5 storeys high above the ground, trapped in a fire, shaking in a deadly cocktail of fear, anxiety and hopelessness, he dearly clinged on to his life.

All this while, in full view of this innocent little soul, a fire larger and deadlier than he had ever seen cooking food in the kitchen had usurped his apartment. The fire raged like a femme fatale in all her glory of destruction. The smells of burnt charcoal and sulphur reminded him of the time he used to smell pencils, tucked away in some forgotten corner of the classroom.

The smoke and the fumes were choking him. The heat was roasting him. The fear was killing him. Scared, afraid, about to die, none of his senses which otherwise so ably guided him were of any help. All he could do, with every expression of terror on his face, with the veil of hopelessness and despair increasingly turning day into night, was curl up frightened in one corner, and hope for the best.

**********************************

As light appeared to fade into darkness, the only faint cause of hope was a distant jingling of bells. It filtered above every other feeling of despair like a messenger bearing a potential message of hope.

He desperately held onto it for his dear life. It was the distant dong of the bells of an approaching fire engine: the sounds of a man sitting on top of an incongruously large piece of lip-stick red machinery, with the tingling pain in his arms, striking a gong with all his might; all a passionate appeal for the traffic to make way, in order that they might save a life or too.

But, alas! In a crowded city with an exploding population, it was only as good as an appeal to a snobbish, ineffective, lazy Indian bureaucrat.

The fire engine did arrive at last, much rather elbowing its way through traffic rather than driving. Some firemen quickly got onto the hydraulic lift, and as the engine raised its arms to perch these heroes five storeys above the ground, the bystanders looked at them helplessly as the last beacon of hope.

The boy was only vaguely conscious of being lifted by a suit in neon and brown, and lowered to the ground. He had finally been rescued.

Two months later, winter had set in. The cold, dry wind swept through the city as everyone wore sweaters, jackets and mufflers. His parents dropped him off at school, the last day before the winter vacation, all in good hopes of him having a fascinating time welcoming Christmas.

Life had been kind to them. They had lost much of their belongings, but had found a new home, a new life. Their wounds of that fated day had healed; or so the parents thought.

Throughout the day, as the school celebrated the arrival of Christmas in an exhilaration of joy, the little boy was exposed to the relentless sound of bells and trinkets jingling incessantly throughout the day.

Little did anyone realise, this was bringing back the deep, dark memories of that day to this boy’s fragile mind. With each jingle of the bell, the terror of that day cast a deeper shadow onto his mind.

After the first half of the day, he could bear it no more, and broke down.

When the counsellor finally came out of her chamber with the boy, succeeding at veiling the concern on her face rather wonderfully like every other clinical psychologist, she addressed his parents, “I’m sorry, ma’am. I regret to inform you that your child has PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

**********************************

I write on Launchora. Do check out my Launchora Profile for more stories like this.

Get this Clear: People Will Not Give Up Luxuries to Protect the Environment

As my summer vacation rapidly rolls towards its end, I’ve been busy drafting my Environmental Science Project.

Part of my research for this project involved pondering over documents and publications by the World Bank Group, the United Nations, WWF (not the one involved in wrestling, which I personally very much disgust), NASA, NOAA, WHO, and such other institutions talking freshwater, climate change and pollution.

It is my personal choice that I like quoting publications from authoritative sources. Being a school student, I am aware of many of my peers who would much rather, and do, quote sources that are essentially fit for a kindergarten class write-up, and the authenticity of many of their claims is worthy of being taken with a rather large grain of salt. But I stick to it, as I believe it to be good research practice.

Of course, Google baba is nevertheless indispensable, and I found it much more comforting to reach my sources through Google search results than through their respective websites. Consequently, I had to scroll through many such “kindergarten” sources that talk about water pollution. I took the liberty to take a glance at many of them. 

After reading through much of the so-called “solutions” they propose, I am indeed very much inclined to lay down before you what thoughts crossed my mind.

Background

Here in India, students are often made to study a compulsory subject commonly known as “Environmental Awareness”.

The introduction of this subject is a unique story in itself. It all began when M.C. Mehta, a renowned environmental lawyer, filed a Writ Petition in the Supreme Court of India and won. The judgment recognised that the “right to a healthy environment” is an essential facet of the “right to life” guaranteed as a constitutional right to all Indians by our Constitution.

Image Credit: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Inc.

Later on, this Court made it compulsory that all students be made aware of challenges to the pristine nature of the environment, and also possible solutions to the same, in order to “protect and improve the natural environment”. To safely ignore the many bumps on this road, this gradually led to the introduction of environmental education in schools across the country.

There is no faint inkling of doubt that the intentions of this direction are very much noble. Through this direction, the Court has recognised that the law lives in the hearts of the people – that the support and awareness of the masses is an essential component of successfully enforcing laws. In this instance, it is a recognition of the fact that awareness of challenges facing the environment is essential to protect it. 

The “Kindergarten Solutions”

It would probably not be an understatement that many would be appalled at the possible “solutions” proposed to the existing challenges our environment is faced with.

This, however, is not a denial of the necessity of environmental education (EE). The books do a rather wonderful job of educating schoolchildren about challenges to the environment. It makes kids aware of how our activities adversely impact the environment.

And to quote Bertrand Russell, “To understand the actual world as it is ….. is the beginning of wisdom.”

Some good ones I came across almost everywhere, in many different forms; in my own words:

  • Don’t litter about and throw garbage anywhere. Put them in their designated places: the proper garbage bin.
  • Do not keep the tap running when you don’t need the water – for instance, while brushing your teeth.
  • Don’t use detergents to wash cloths in a river, pond, etc. because it pollutes them.
  • Don’t leave lights and fans on when you leave a room, when no one needs it.

There were many, many other such simple, yet practical and fascinatingly ubiquitous ways to take care of the environment. I too was a kid who studied EE in school (and still do). I remember having gone through many such examples, all of which I fail to recall.

That being said, I am rather dismayed by some other solutions proposed in the environmental education curriculum followed in schools.

These are the type of solutions proposed that I am against:

  • Don’t use the shower while bathing because it wastes unnecessary water. Use the same, old, desi mug and bucket.
  • Similarly, don’t use the bath-tub for bathing, because it uses a huge amount of water that is utterly unnecessary.
  • Don’t use more lights than you need in your home.
  • Left unsaid was that you shouldn’t have a pool in your home.
  • And many, many other such solutions.

Subjecting these “solutions” to the tests of logic does not leave a flicker of doubt that these are indeed solutions. Very valid solutions.

I’m not saying they are not solutions. What I’m saying is that they are not ideal solutions. 

The Problem With These Solutions

Upon further inspection, it is noticed that there is one common thread that binds them all. They are all opposed to living in luxury. 

Before I proceed any further, do I need to strain my mind to tell you that humans are inherently sensual beings? We crave sex, intimacy, sensuality. We crave touch, that light breeze grazing across our back, someone running his/her fingers through our hair, the texture of the warm, cozy bedsheets on our naked skin, walking barefoot on grass, feeling the figure of our partner, the sights, the smells, and so many other wonderful, amazing things that are a treat to the senses.

On a personal note, standing under the shower, taking a long, warm bath just before getting into bed at night is the most amazing feeling in the world. I could spend hours just standing under the shower, enjoying the sensation of the droplets of water striking my skin.

This image is part of an amazing article on Lifehacker Australia, “10 Ways To Improve Your Daily Routine With The Power Of Science“.

I would love to live in a three-storeyed mansion with a pool, long glass windows, cool curtains, a huge living room and dining hall, reading rooms, exquisite bedrooms, and the like. And so would everyone else, if they could.

There is no power in the world that can deprive humans of their inherently sensual nature. We crave sensual pleasures, part of which is luxury.

So asking a human to stay away from luxury is akin to telling a cat never to run after a mouse, or asking a baby never to scream.

“You may as well forbid the mountain pines
To wag their high tops and to make no noise
When they are fretten with the gusts of heaven.”

It is impossible. 

There is yet another angle to this argument. Increasing luxuries humans subscribe to are a benchmark of human progress. 

I think it is despicable if we are asked to abstain not only from our primal sensual pleasures, but also from enjoying the latest advances of humanity, all in the name of saving the environment. And, just in case you thought we have a choice, I think we don’t.

But Sensual Pleasures Do Harm the Environment, right?

Right. Of course, they do. I’m not denying that. Before I answer this question, let me give you another example to drive my point home.

Any person who regularly keeps track of the news would be aware that in recent years, R&D into so-called “smart” devices has mushroomed. We are increasingly talking of wearable devices, stuff like Google Glass, smart homes and thermostats, refrigerators that can take care of themselves, automated coffee makers (I would love this), digital assistants (remember Siri and Cortana?), the Internet of Things, machine learning, and the like.

We are standing at a major crossroads in human history: technology is all set to revolutionise human lives. Now, what if I told you to abstain from the aforementioned because of privacy concerns?

Ah, the smartphone! Today, they are the Swiss Army Knife of everyday life.

There is a growing body of people that is bringing into attention possible privacy concerns that may be associated with using these technologies. They can be (and are) hacked. They can be used to spy on you. Entities can harvest so much “personally-identifiable data” to get you know so much more about you. And so on.

You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t abstain from using it, and I wouldn’t want you, or anyone else, to abstain from using it. Boycotting mankind’s latest advancements would be detrimental to human progress.

The Solution?

The privacy concerns associated with so-called “smart” devices and the Internet of Things can be effectively mitigated by providing a proper legislative and technological framework that would respect and protect users’ privacy.

Similarly, the adverse effects of luxuries and humans’ sensual pleasures can be effectively mitigated by developing technology that would minimise their impact on the environment. 

Green technologies are mushrooming today, and this is a great cause for hope. Governments across the world are setting up legislative and technological frameworks that are encouraging the shift from conventional, polluting technologies presently in use to “greener” technologies that pollute much less, or better still, don’t pollute at all.

Aww, nice home!

So go ahead and indulge in your senses. Indulge in your sensual pleasures. Enjoy the sensations. Use the swimming pool and bathtub, but recycle its water. Use decorative lighting, but switch to less power-consuming ones, maybe LED lights. Go ahead and buy a mansion (if you can), but use green technology. Go and get an amazing new car, but maybe something like a Tesla. 

Saving the environment is a fascinating thing to do. But let’s not do that at the cost of boycotting our primal pleasures and the latest advancements of humanity. 

What Do You Think?

That’s my take on the situation. What do you think? I would love a lively discussion about this, just don’t go about abusing people.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Why Black Money is a Menace

We all talk about “black money”. Those huge stashes of undisclosed money, mostly cash, tucked away secretly by certain individuals in safe havens.

We drool over it. We say it’s bad. We say it’s illegal, it’s unjust, it’s unfair, it damages the economy, and so on. We talk about everything but the point. But wait, hold on a second.

                   Image Credit: www.rvs.school.nz

There’s the reason why it’s a menace! The last point, up there. Yeah, it damages the economy, or, to put it a bit more quaintly, it affects the health of the economy. Few manage to get beyond accusing those with stashes of black money. As for the few who are able to surmount this first barrier, many get stuck at the second.

How does black money affect the economy? To get that, we first need to go through some basic economics.

What exactly is “Black Money”?

The first part is more of lexicography than economics. Yes, I’m referring to the metaphorical use of the word “black”.

Loosely speaking, when we refer to black money, we are referring to any form of money that the government can’t keep track of.

Image Credit: opinion.bdnews24.com

So, how does the government keep track of money? Through taxes. Rates of specific taxes are fixed. Suppose, you are paying 14.5% VAT on a restaurant bill. When this VAT gets deposited with the government, a simple back-calculation reveals the total bill amount.

For example, if VAT is the only tax charged on a bill, and the government receives 145 INR as VAT, rate of VAT being 14.5%, it knows that the bill amount must have been 1000 INR.

Same goes for other taxes: customs, central excise, service tax, and so on. So for income tax: merely by knowing the amount of tax you pay, the government knows how much you earn every month.

There are other methods too, such as, bank transaction records, credit card bills, and so on.

In fact, there is a separate branch of intelligence known as revenue intelligence, or financial intelligence, that keeps track of this paper trail you leave behind. And thus, it knowns how much money is circulating, in addition to where, when and how.

This is a complex system. Financial Intelligence is no cup of tea. And like every system, it has its own set of loopholes. When you manage to successfully exploit these loopholes and siphon off money with the financial apparatus of the State unable to keep track of it, such money becomes “black”.

Going “off-grid”

In today’s world of computerized banking, it is increasingly difficult to go “off-grid”. Most of our transactions no longer involve paper money or coins, it involves sending computer commands to update that imaginary value known as your “bank account balance”. And all of it is logged. It’s a gold mine for financial intelligence, it’s easy to keep track of.

What isn’t easy to keep track of is paper money, and coins. You’re using it everyday. You’re paying the bus conductor, the taxi driver, the hawkers, and so many hundreds of other people. Most of these transactions are not taxed.

So, it’s difficult to keep track of. Although there are ways, if you don’t declare to the government how much money you’ve transacted, and if you manage to do it properly, it often goes unnoticed.

That’s why, most of the black money is cash. It’s why criminals don’t take payment with credit cards (the sanity of one who does is to be doubted). It’s why bribes are given in cash. Paper money doesn’t have a GPS tag or an RFID chip attached to it to keep track of.

Economic Policymaking

Every country has what is known as a Central Bank, which is empowered by national legislation to use various measures to control the state of the economy. As for India, our Central Bank happens to be the Reserve Bank of India, its governing legislation being the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934.

The Central Bank is the chief economic policymaker of the country. Through various indicators, it monitors the health of the economy, and is empowered by legislation to accordingly take various measures (such as, modifying interest and exchange rates) as it sees fit to keep the national economy in proper shape.

Intricacies of this delicate game aside, knowledge is power. The key for the Central Bank to make appropriate decisions about maintaining the economy is being aware of what the hell is going on. And the fundamental element in that process involves keeping track of money (which is pretty much all economics revolves around): how fast it’s changing hands, how much leaves the country, how much enters the country, and so on.

Image Credit: in.reuters.com

Only when does it have a full picture is it able to make an effective evaluation of the economy and do what it has to accordingly.

The Art of Governance

The another, perhaps more important reason why governments cry hoarse over untaxed money is loss of revenue. 

The art of governance involves keeping money in circulation.

Your job as the government is to take money from the people, and then use that very same money to give services from the people. The people avail such services by giving you more money, and the cycle goes on and on.

Similarly, when people work for you, you’re paying them money. Some of it comes back to you as taxes, which you’re again using to deliver services and pay salaries, and……..

That’s all governance is about. Keep the money circulating. Because it’s job is to look after us. And this is how it’s all done.

The Problem

So, when you exploit loopholes in the system and go “off-grid”, the Central Bank effectively loses track of your money. And when it loses track of your money, it is unable to factor in the effect of such money when evaluating the health of the economy. What happens as a result is an erroneous analysis of the economy, which in turn leads to (slightly) miscalculated corrections that do not have the entire required effect on the economy.

Secondly, when you don’t pay your taxes, you are disturbing the money circle that is like a match made in heaven for allowing the government to do its job: deliver services.

No wonder governments go crazy about black money!

Image Credit: Tumblr

The Truth About Portraits

Photography is something that I have grown up being extremely familiar with. I am used to a camera with a shiny lens being pointed at me every since I was born.

I remember playing with cameras at an early age, the memories stimulated by the pictures of my own innocent childhood, which ultimately led to me to take my very first photograph at the age of four.

I have learnt much of my photography from my dad, and the rest by personal experience. One thing I very much noticed about my dad’s photography was what I believed to be his unique approach to portraits.

I always noticed that he liked more to take portraits discreetly, than with the person in the frame striking a pose for the same. Quite obviously, many were uncomfortable with this “odd practice”, often even scornful.

He had a logic for it. And I believed in it. I followed it, and I still do. I have no intention to budge from that in the near future.

Perhaps you have already noticed that most of my portraits are taken discreetly, with the person in the frame either not bothered, or perhaps he or she has not realised that I have pointed my 18-55 mm lens at them.

A discreet portrait, with the person totally unaware that I am taking her picture.

Another discreet portrait of my friend of my brother. She was totally unconcerned about me taking her picture, much like I am now totally indifferent to a camera pointed at me.

Another one such. Perhaps bro was totally unaffected, or perhaps he didn’t notice me. I won’t speculate.

That’s done with more or less some samples of my “discreet portraits”. Now then, let’s compare them to the “indiscreet portraits” which I have in my photography collection.

In fact, I, the photographer, was stimulated to take this photograph above when he looked at me in this way. And the next one too falls in the very same category.

Having gone through both the categories of portraits, which do you think are better. Alright, maybe not “better”, since that is an extremely relative term.

But I think the discreet portraits are certainly much more natural than the posed ones.

That was the philosophy my dad followed, and still does. And I too do.

I do not despise photographers who make people pose for their photo sessions. I actually like much of their work. But the truth is, if I am to make a choice, I would go for discreet portraits rather than posed.

Posing

Having said that, let me introduce you to the problems I often face since I follow this “out-of-the-world” policy.

Some people have a (crazy) habit of posing every time a camera is pointed at them, even when no one is asking them to.

You may be a stranger, a family member, a friend, an acquaintance…. doesn’t alter anything, at all. 

I find this especially irritating quite often, since many do not budge from their pose even when I request them to, for the sake of sticking to my principles.

Others are disappointed when I refuse to take portraits with them posing. They feel like that it is good to be self-conscious and put up a nice image of oneself to be documented to the world, which I feel lacks a bit of respect towards how an artist wants his or her piece of art to turn out.

At the end of the day, if you ask me which is better, I'd definitely 
say portraits taken discreetly, without the person in the frame 
being self-conscious of this appearance. 

We ought to respect everyone’s principles, even when they are antagonistic to ours.

The Tryst with Happiness

Argument for the day

If you are an atheist, you are bad. If you’re religious, you’re good. 

This familiar old debate, put forward by the believers,  has been ongoing for decades, ever since it was introduced among the masses during the period of the Renaissance in Europe.

Before I proceed further, let me set your expectations by publicly proclaiming that I am an atheist.

Nevertheless, I have sincerely tried to abide by the principles of fair debate. This is my personal take at this issue. I hope that the offended reader might forgive me.

Let’s make this argument in the spirit of the scientific method.

I, and anyone else who would try to use his rationale putting aside prejudices and bias, would say that the argument of the “believers” to defend their stand does not hold water.

Religion Does Not Preach Hatred

The most common argument used to defend believing in God, and religion, is that “religion makes you good”. The believers will then go on to cite several merely statistical examples of instances where the atheists have taken to all anti-social activities you can think of, and the believers have remained as they are………

Without even going into intricate details, I have a very simple question for them:

I can cite several examples of people taking to anti-social activities in the name of religion. How would you care to explain that? 

From my point of view, hitting out against humanity in the name of religion is a misinterpretation of what that religion preaches. No religion in the world preaches hatred for other human beings. 

Without going into religious philosophy, I am basing all my arguments with this firm belief in mind.

1. Being Good

Atheism makes being good impossible more difficult. 

This might seem hypocritic. But this is a fact in which I firmly believe.

If you would care to study the philosophy of all religions, you would come across one common point: all of them lay down certain guidelines by which its followers are expected to abide by. That is basically the fact that a value system is laid down before you, ready to be followed.

All people are not great. But the religions existent today were formulated by great (good) people. Therefore, the value system they laid down is what represents real values and good qualities. 

Besides, those believers who cannot intrinsically accept the value system laid down by their religion with heart and mind, often end up practising it due to the fear of God.

Whereas, if you are an atheist, there is no concrete value system laid down before you. You have to build your own value system. That is inherently more tough rather than following one already before you.

Every atheist is not a great (or good) person. The principles of the value system of his life, the atheist chooses himself, in its entirety. Thus, as a result, he may adopt principles or “values” in life that he believes to be good, which are intrinsically bad.

Whereas, what if atheists fail to formulate or believe in an intrinsic value system? This is where atheism suffers a serious disadvantage. If an atheist does not believe in a value system, the only way to keep him abiding by one is by the fear of something.

That ‘something’ cannot be God, they don’t believe in him. Our social system is such that it is easier to impart fear of God than a fear of something earthly. The job then becomes much more difficult. 

Those who can follow an intrinsic value system are the so-called “good atheists”, and those who can’t are known as the “bad atheists”.

THE CONDENSED IDEA
Religion makes you good. Atheism too makes you good, albeit with 
greater effort on your side.

Most people debating religion vs. atheism fail to proceed any further. Some do, and I too will.

2. Suicidal Tendency

Some people have even gone to the extent of linking (needless to say, unscientifically) atheism with suicidal tendency! In the following way.

Suicidal Tendency is directly proportional to the degree of atheism you embrace.

Hmm! Have we found any statistical proof for the same? I have never referred to, or even heard of any scientific research paper establishing such a connection.

I think I would like to slightly tweak that sentence quoted in bold.

One of the factors affecting suicidal tendency in a person is whether he has found purpose in life. 

Once again, religion makes it easier than atheism. It is so because every religion lays down a duty, a purpose in life for its every follower:

  • Service to self.
  • Indirectly, service to God by service to mankind.
  • And for some, only service directly to God.

Most believers take at least one of the three listed above as their purpose of life. Thus, every person who believes in God and adopts a religion automatically assumes a duty in life. 

When a man finds purpose in life, or he believes he has a duty to perform here on Earth, he thinks it worthwhile for him to live on Earth, and devote himself to that service.

When he does not, two possible things can happen:

  • He ends his life.
  • If not, he becomes an anti-social person.

Once again, atheism hits the court with a disadvantage. If you are an atheist, you need to find for yourself a purpose in life. That is once again more difficult than someone handing you a list of your duties you are to perform in your life. 

THE CONDENSED IDEA
One of the factors affecting suicidal tendency is finding 
purpose in life.

Religion makes it easy. If you're an atheist, you gotta
work it out yourself.

3. God gives us company

Perhaps the greatest human fear is loneliness.

We often embark in such conquests in life during which we fail to garner any support from people we are very close to, leave alone other people.

The greatest emotional breakdown occurs when we lose the support of the people with whom we have the strongest emotional bonds. The people on whom we depend for emotional stability.

We feel hopeless. Be it believers, or atheists. However, believers have an advantage. Religious philosophy says that God will always stand by you, if you do good. The believers ‘feel’ the presence of God as their emotional support.

Atheists cannot do that. The only way out of such a situation would be to have confidence in yourself. For that, you need to have a very high sense of self, which is easier said than done.

THE CONDENSED IDEA
God serves as an emotional support in times
of loneliness.

Atheists have to develop enough self-esteem
to go without anyone in times of 
loneliness on Earth.

4. Atheism tenders humanism

Arguably the greatest advantage of tending atheism rather than religion is that you remain totally grounded to the Earth.

Religion teaches us to pray to God in order to ask for what we want to accomplish. Yet, speaking of practical reality, both believers and atheists are aware of the fact that praying to God rarely accomplishes much. Once again, a victory for atheism!

Or is it not true? Well, from the point of view of psychology, praying does make you accomplish something. 

“Hooray! ” says the believer. “What did I tell you?” Whoa, not so fast, mate! I’m not done with my psychological perspective of the matter yet.

Praying works not because your prayers reach God, and he delivers on your requests. Absolutely not.

Prayers do work because of your brain. When you pray, you are actually convincing your brain to what you are saying as a ‘prayer’.

Perhaps contradictorily, therefore, I believe that atheists also should pray. Because of its tremendous psychological influence on your behaviour, which have often been demonstrated in scientific experiments.

A practical person knows that praying to God does not help. He knows that what he accomplishes in life is decided by he himself. He defines his future by his present actions. He knows that only he is responsible for what has happened, what is happening, and what is about to happen.

Practically speaking, God does not remote control humans. There is absolutely no evidence for that! If you wait for God to make you accomplish things in your life, you’ll never achieve anything.

By should you wait for something to happen to you which will never happen?

THE CONDENSED IDEA
Praying to God does not work. 

Be practical. You decide your present, and
therefore your future. No one else does.

The Conclusion

I personally believe that it would be unjust to definitely say which is a better choice: religion, or atheism. I believe that we should respect everyone’s choice, regardless of whether we agree with it. 

At the end of the day, the aim of the believer and the atheist boils down to one simple yet hard-to-achieve prospect: finding happiness in life. 

Those who cannot take the hard path of atheism take to religion. Those who can, they stick to atheism.

CLOSING NOTE
Religion and atheism are just two different paths 
to finding happiness in life, the former the 
easier, the latter the tougher.

We ought to respect every person's choice of 
either.

Mars now has a MOM

Remember the Mars Orbiter Mission? Yes, that’s the fancy thing that the Indian Space Research Organisation launched on November 5, 2013.

The Mars Orbiter being prepared for a pre-launch test, at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Image Credit: ISRO

The MOM was launched using the famous Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has so far been the most successful launch vehicle ever in Indian aeronautical history, and among the most successful in the world. Only its maiden mission was a failure.

MOM was put into Low Earth Orbit by a mission PSLV titled PSLV C25.

PSLV C25 lifting off from First Launch Pad of the only Indian spaceport in Sriharikota. Image Credit: ISRO

The Mars Orbiter Mission is equipped with a main engine known as the Liquid Apogee Motor, and six smaller thrusters. The smaller thrusters were simultaneously fired six times through the month of November to slowly raise the apogee of the Low Earth Orbit of the MOM.

A firing of the Liquid Apogee Motor on November 30, 2013 pushed the spacecraft hurtling towards Mars.

MOM has used an orbit known as the Hohmann Transfer Orbit to get to Mars fast, and at the same time, by using the minimum fuel.

A Hohmann Transfer Orbit. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This is the most efficient type of orbit to get to Mars from Earth. The spacecraft is first put into Low Earth Orbit by a launch vehicle, which is indicated in the infographic by the green line.

The thrusters are then fired to give a boost to the spacecraft, and therefore raise the apogee of the orbit, thus putting the spacecraft into a new, elliptical orbit, indicated in the infographic by the yellow line.

Another firing of the thrusters further raises the apogee of the orbit, and puts the spacecraft into a trajectory that would send it hurtling straight towards Mars.

Trajectory corrections besides these two main firings of the thrusters may be performed as and when necessary. 3 such trajectory correction maneuvers were planned for MOM, out of which only two were ever deemed to be necessary and performed.

Before leaving for Mars from Low Earth Orbit, MOM used its on-board camera to image home. Image Credit: ISRO
This fascinating image was shot on November 19, 2013, at 13:50 IST (08:20 UTC). I can safely presume I was then lazin’ away during the last period in school! It was taken from an altitude of 67,975 km, with a resolution of 3.53 km per pixel of the camera.
Meanwhile, towards the end of the long journey to Mars, ISRO began posting pictures giving a rare look in the processes involved in the manufacturing of the orbiter. They are available of the official Facebook page of ISRO.

September 16, 2014

ISRO issues a status update stating that all commands required for autonomous insertion of MOM into Mars orbit have been successfully uploaded to the orbiter. The 32 metre large antennae of the Indian Deep Space Network, commanded by ISTRAC (ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network) was used to send the commands to the spacecraft.

Image Credit: ISRO

A few days later, ISRO released another infographic on its Facebook page that detailed the ground stations that would be used by ISRO for the MOM:

  • ISRO’s own Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) ground station near Bangalore
  • 3 other ground stations of the NASA Deep Space Network (NDSN) located in Madrid, Goldstone, and Canberra
Image Credit: ISRO
Image Credit: ISRO

In this context, it would be worthwhile to note that the first messages sent home whether MOM has been successfully put into Mars orbit would be sent to the Canberra ground station of the NDSN, as it would be the first ground station to have the spacecraft in its footprint.

That would be before the spacecraft is able to feed back detailed information back to ISRO once it appears in the footprint of the IDSN.

Liquid Apogee Motor Test Firing

ISRO later announced that since the 3rd Trajectory Correction Maneuver had not taken place as it was deemed unnecessary, there was enough fuel to carry out a test firing of the LAM, which had been inactive since December, when it pushed MOM hurtling towards Mars.

It was deemed necessary as there were initial apprehensions among technicians that something might go wrong with it due technical issues involved with its long period of inactivity.

Image Credit: ISRO

 A Wonderful Infographic

ISRO later released another wonderful infographic detailing the precise steps that would be involved in inserting MOM into Mars orbit. 

Instead of me talking, let the infographic do it all for you.

Image Credit: ISRO
The infographic detailing the steps involved in inserting MOM into Mars orbit. Image Credit: ISRO

Another Status Update

This was posted on September 19, 2014, at 07:58 IST, on the official Facebook page of ISRO.

Image Credit: ISRO
Image Credit: ISRO

Another Informative Infographic

ISRO soon released another infographic on September 21, 2014. I say, ISRO is becoming social media – savvy with this mission, indeed.

Image Credit: ISRO
Image Credit: ISRO

September 22, 2014; 06:00 IST

ISRO declares that MOM has entered the Gravitational Sphere of Influence of Mars.

Image Credit: ISRO

LAM Test Firing Commences

ISRO later added that the scheduled test-firing of the Liquid Apogee Motor would take place at 14:30 IST on September 22, 2014.

Image Credit: ISRO
First step towards success. Image Credit: ISRO

The operation was then declared a resounding success, relieving the worried minds of many, including me.

Image Credit: ISRO
Success achieved. Image Credit: ISRO

ISRO indeed had a redundant plan should the LAM not perform as expected. However, that would have resulted in a partially successful mission. Nevertheless, that possibility has now been eliminated, and the mission proceeds as expected. 

Live Webcast

As of all major events, the Mars orbit insertion, which will go down as a historic milestone, shall be broadcasted live by the State broadcaster, Doordarshan.

10407656_1555502054673151_2570646093292577551_n

As this infographic says, a broadcast will be starting from 06:45 IST, or 01:15 UTC, on September 24, 2014. 

It is true that a live webcast would be available on the website of ISRO, but let me set your expectations by mentioning that it requires you to install a Windows Media Player Plugin, which comes with its own set of problems. In one word: don’t try it.

If you plan to watch on TV, well and good. Since the broadcast is being done by Doordarshan, a live stream of the same should be available on their official YouTube page:

http://www.youtube.com/user/doordarshannational


Update: Mission Successful!

September 24, 07:09 IST: ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network (ISTRAC) confirms that they have telemetry indicating that the Forward Rotation of the spacecraft has started.

“Forward rotation of MOM is essential in order to make the direction of firing opposite to the direction of motion of MOM,” explained ISRO in a Facebook post.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:12 IST: Spacecraft enters eclipse, meaning that it went into the shadow of Mars. The Sun was blocked, but telemetry to Earth was available, as Earth was still in MOM’s line of sight.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:18 IST: The Liquid Apogee Motor is expected to have started firing. Telemetry was instantly not available as it takes radio signals about 12 minutes to reach Earth from the Red Planet.

September 24, 07:24 IST: Spacecraft enters occultation, meaning that Mars comes in between MOM and the Earth, blocking all communication between them.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:30 IST: ISTRAC receives telemetry from MOM, thus confirming that the engine burn of the Liquid Apogee Motor is proceeding as planned.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:42 IST: A post on the Facebook page of ISRO says that the Liquid Apogee Motor is expected to have shut off by now. They have to wait till MOM comes out of occultation, and a further nerve-wracking 12 minutes for signals to be picked up by the Canberra ground station of NASA Deep Space Network.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:50 IST: Occultation is now behind us! Telemetry must have activated. Allow it another nerve wrecking 12.5 minutes.”

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 08:02 IST: Victory! ISTRAC confirms that MOM has successfully been put into the intended Mars orbit, based on telemetry received from the spacecraft.

Image Credit: ISRO
Image Credit: ISRO

For those who wouldn’t mind watching an excruciatingly slow (although not relaxing) documentary of the whole event, take a look at this recording of the live broadcast by State broadcaster, Doordarshan, on the official broadcasting website of ISRO.

http://webcast.isro.gov.in/

Footnotes

It would be worthwhile to note that the Mars Orbiter Mission has been criticised, apparently on the basis that $ 74 million was spent on this mission. Such critics hold their ground by asking what justification is there to spend so much money of an “insignificant mission to another planet”, when half of the population of India doesn’t have a square meal every day?

To those people, let me ask, “How do you justify India spending at least twice that amount just to burn firecrackers during Diwali?” “How do you justify much more money being spent to just make the Hollywood film, Gravity, as Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, had famously made note of in a statement?

What about the applications of the technology developed for this mission? At the end of the day, almost all components of this whole mission came from private contractor or public sector companies in India, the same technology which they are now using for their daily jobs. The technical spin-offs we get from this mission are worthwhile in nation-building, as PM Mr. Modi reiterated in his statement today.

At the end of the day, the mission cost every Indian a mere four rupees! I don’t think Indians are so selfish not to sacrifice their evening tea of a day for this historic leap into space. 

I end by quoting Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi:

“Mars now has a MOM. And I know that MOM never despairs.” 

Dilemma’s Done?

I opened my eyes in bed, and probably still half-asleep, looked at my phone. The lock screen said in bold, “05:43”. What the…? Had I woken up so early, that too without an alarm? I always thought of myself as a tight sleeper, who cannot be woken up save by my phone’s alarm ringing at least a couple of times. 

Quite, you could say, disappointed, I went back to bed. But I could not sleep. Had enough. I waited to hear a sound from my phone. Finally it did, at 06:15 in the morning, the time I am supposed to wake up.

Today was the Computer Theory examination. One of my most-admired, and quite ironically, also often the most-hated examination of mine.

Most admired because it is the only subject in which you are guaranteed an 80% aggregate without studying absolutely nothing.

The most hated because you often have to write down stupid things: such as, steps to open MS PowerPoint, how to do Mail Merge in MS Word, how to exit MS Word……. all that absolute bullshit.

Not to speak of occurrences away from school, the first question my dad asked me after returning home was, “How was your Computer Exam? Any stupid questions this time, huh?” I gladly (not to mention, truthfully) mentioned that there were not “stupid questions”, and the programmes to be written down were as simple as they possibly could be. 

Image Credit: hdwallpapers.com

Some people, which includes my brother who has spent 9 years on Earth, were partying today, celebrating “Independence Day”, as it is the last day of examinations.

To me, this is not I-day. I was always quite indifferent to examinations, and still are, and probably will be in the near future. So it doesn’t matter whether it the starting of exams, or the ending of exams, or the beginning of holidays, or the ending of holidays. I go about with the same spirit. 

Of course, not to mention that I do look forward to vacations, so that I can spend some time with myself, and do what my passions and interests dictate.

That’s precisely what I am up to, right now.

First thing’s first: robotics. (And, Java)

If you probably recall, I had bought a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Home Kit in August. In case you’re wondering, it is a kit that allows you to build robots of your choice with the famous LEGO bricks and elements, and then attach things like sensors, motors and gyroscopes to it. In a word, a LEGO model that can move by itself as you say.

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

I believe that the graphics on the box are a bit too glamorous for a starter. Quite obviously, and quite expectedly, the one most impressed by it was my brother, and I impressed upon him, with my dad as support, that let’s go step by step. 

Let’s not jump the gun, or make that thing according to the manual. Start with basics, and then move on. Which I already know how to, having attended a Robotics Workshop during my summer holidays this year.

So, basically, I a CAD concept of the robot I want to build on a software known as LEGO Digital Designer, and then actually build it. Programming is done using a totally GUI-based programming software, based on LabVIEW. Needless to mention, I dislike GUI-based programming software.

I have discovered that there is an API and interpreter available for programming this thing with Java. Praise the Lord!

So now, my primary task would be to learn Java well enough so that I can use the API to programme this robot using Java. That would also help be in my academic, in the very same subject whose examination I had to give today. Started already, expecting to finish soon. As soon as possible!

Second Thing’s Blogs.

I have in bag many blogs that I plan to draft, review, and publish. Now’s the time to put them all through the fast pace, so expect lot more literature here soon.

No trailers, please! And no special requests for trailers, too.

Third Thing’s Photography.

During these two (‘valuable’) weeks of examinations, I had done quite a lot of photography. Needless to mention, I’ve got a huge backlog, lots of pictures to stitch into panoramas, much more to be edited and processed, and embedded with the watermark.

Then uploaded, captioned, copyrighted, and shared. All this takes place during this following week.

And more.

I don’t possibly know what else. I am leaving for a nice two weeks’ trip to Bhutan next Friday, so I need to at least get all these targets fixed up for good by Friday afternoon.

Whatever happens, blogs and social media of mine will be woken up from today after a long slumber.

An Accident, Perhaps

We have conventionally been taught that accidents are bad, and should be avoided. Ok, admitted, I’m probably generalizing a bit too much, but it holds too.

Well, a different approach to look at the whole issue would be that accidents are good.  Sometimes, they can be.

For example, thanks to Alexander Fleming neglecting to clean his laboratory, he discovered penicillin. I believe that we must all be ready to accept the consequences of our accidents and mistakes. Mind you, they might just be good.

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

Want more examples? Sure is. This is an example.

A result of me mistakenly opening the Camera app on my phone, and then accidentally snapping a picture of myself in the mirror trying to close it.

Plattery

I remember a quote that had appeared long ago in an issue of the Better Photography Magazine.  It was something like this:

Sometimes, the most photogenic of scenes occurs when the only thing you have with you is your cellphone camera.

Very true. It has happened to me earlier. And it happened once again. And I am confident that it shall occur for innumerable more times.

This kind of incident occurs mostly when a photogenic scene appears suddenly, literally out of nowhere. In an observant photographer’s life, that can occur as frequently as once every single day.

I myself had often lamented the absence of my camera at times. And earlier, when I did not have a phone with me always, I used to get even more….

Luckily now, I have made a habit of carrying my phone with me always, even when I am inside my own home. You would rarely find my phone outside my pocket. 

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

Well, courtesy of my phone, I managed another nice capture while at a restaurant. I can’t explain why and how, but somehow I found this sight very inviting to my phone camera!

Fascinating Cocktail

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

Honestly, this is one of the clearest views of the sky I’ve ever got recently. I was seriously stunned after I finished the post-processing on this one. 

If you haven’t yet known, let me make it known to you that I literally “resurrect my images from the dead” with my post-processing.

Very few astrophotographers, which unfortunately includes me too, have the “fortune” of living in an area with horrific light pollution, moderate at best.

I pointed the camera almost straight up, and yet you can see the horrible pinkish glow of LP that has crept into the image, even after post-processing. I simply can’t help it, from the location from where I took this.

Yet, this is one of the most detailed and clear images in my collection of astrophotography done from home! Imagine my situation. 

Regardless of whether you are aware of it, let me inform you that I am horrific with identifying summer constellations. Yes, “horrific” is the word for it. So here’s the annotated version.

The annotated version of the same, generated at Astrometry.net. Click on the image to see more details of annotation.

Now’s the time for swallowing the “bitter pill”.

EXIF Data
Date: July 26, 2014
Time: 20:14 IST (14:44 UTC)

Camera Metadata
Model: Sony NEX-3
Focal Length: 18 mm
Focal Ratio: f/3.5
Exposure Time: 30 seconds
ISO: 200

Calibration Frames
Dark Frames: 3; at 30 seconds, 20 seconds and 10 seconds exposure
Bias Frames: 3; at 1/10 second, 1/20 second and 1/30 second exposure

Post Processing
Calibration: DeepSkyStacker
Histogram Stretching: Adobe Photoshop
Final Touches: Adobe Lightroom

Oh, and I’ve just realised, this was one of those photos which often pile up in a horrific backlog! Thanks to my fantastic shortage of time of coming online over the past few days.