(Published in Business Standard on August 25, 2012)
Every so often, when the world has a fortnight like the one just gone, I think about Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy of four books. If you haven’t read them, please put down that copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and start immediately. It is the most useful guide to life ever, after the instruction manual that comes with the average phone, which today looks much more like a NASA console than any NASA console ever did.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide chronicles the adventures of Arthur Dent, the last human to get off Earth before it was destroyed by Vogons to make way for an interstellar bypass. Arthur, along with his friend Ford Prefect from Betelgeuse, ricochets around space in the spaceship Heart of Gold with Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed President of the galaxy, who happens to be on the lam, and depressive Marvin the Paranoid Android, with a brain the size of a planet and pain all down the left side of his diodes. Marvin’s forty million years of being stranded on Squornshellous Zeta—the planet where all of the galaxy’s mattresses grow—has got to be the gold standard for patient resentment. (“The first ten million years were the worst,” said Marvin, “and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million years I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.”)
Being a homeless person in space sometimes looks better than hanging around on earth. What can you even say about people who upload malicious morphed photographs and send out threatening texts, or an emasculated law and order mechanism that makes thousands of people run rather than risk relying on it? What can you say about the property dealer in Bangalore who, as the Hindustan Times reported, set a ten-year-old daughter on fire because her father dared to file a complaint against him for stealing Rs 10,000? What can you say about a government that can’t lift a finger because of the pong coming from its underarms? Or an opposition that prefers disruption to debate?
What can you say about a prehistoric American Senator who comes up with a whole new field of female biology (Shutthatwholethingdownology) to explain something he calls ‘legitimate rape’? What can you say about the Wikileaks founder, who came to prominence for journalistic integrity, but who now looks very much as if he’s hiding from charges of sexual misconduct? What can you say about the photos on the internet of the wildflower of British royalty, totally starkers, with his hands over some of the family jewels? (I’m not among those who think he shouldn’t have been playing strip poker, but I do think he should learn to pick his random Las Vegas girls better.)
Usually, when bad things happen, I get agitated/pissed off/sarcastic/outraged. At the moment, though, I am so defeated by the scale and variety of badness that I’m just sort of giggly. Everything seems to be falling apart with such gay abandon that getting on a spaceship, however rickety, seems like a really good idea. On the upside, Curiosity—the rover that Earth just sent to Mars—is leaving cute little tire tracks all over Mars in its quest to see whether it is the sort of planet that can support life as we know it, that is, the sort that takes over planets and then behaves like a retard until everything looks the way that Mars does.
I hope NASA scores enough funding to get to Squornshellous Zeta in my lifetime; right now I’d gladly pick being stranded there for forty million years.