Thursday, August 24, 2017

Without me

What you see is a comic book published and sold in 1950, and this surprises me and a lot of baby boomers that are still functional this side of the grass. This issue qualifies as part of the Golden Age of comic publishing, sold at 10c, containing 52 pages, and sort of expensive now. But that is not the reason for our griping -- it is that the world had already been functioning even without waiting for us to be born into it. We missed two World Wars and their heroes and villains, like Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler. At least we got involved in the Cold War, though not actively; the 1969 moon landing, the Hubble telescope which expanded out view of the universe.

This universe has been going on for at least 15 billion years, and the Hubble reveals very distant galaxies that range from a close seven million light-years, practically a cosmic neighbor, to the distant cluster of more than 10 billion light-years. Of course the images that reach us are very, very old, so old that those galaxies, nebulae and whatelse do not look like that now. And they keep changing at distances that even light, with its tantalizing speed of 186,000 miles per second, cannot hope to update us. Many images are older than the Earth, which is estimated to be a toddler 4.5 billion years old. So, in a cosmic scale, our planet, like its baby boomers, had been left out of the preliminary game.

All these data hinge on the fact that we Earthlings believe that the half-life of Carbon 14 is accurate enough to determine the age of things that existed before this planet was borne out of cosmic dusts. We also place our faith that photons, light particles, live forever and can travel through the vast spaces and time to reach our eyes. There's a caveat though: we can look into the distant past, but not into our immediate past. So we cannot see how Jesus looked like about 2017 years ago; whether he looked like a blunt faced, shaggy haired, slightly crossed-eyed Arab, like most people in the Middle East looked at that time and locale, or is he the brown-haired, bearded, handsome idol that was painted by an European much later. We will not know who instigated Oswald to shoot Kennedy, if Marilyn Monroe really died of overdose, where the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were located, if it's true that Russian soldiers found the Fuehrer's corpse and Stalin had it shipped to him. A consolation is that we will not see people having fun even if we were not here yet. What is offered is the events that occurred before the whole planet joined the galaxy. The Milky Way did not wait for the birth of the Earth; in turn, this blue globe is not waiting for anyone. A cosmic tit-for-tat.

I have framed some magazines having Einstein in the covers. He died months before I was born, and I'm sure many people, born weeks or months after he died, had entertained the notion that the genius' soul had reincarnated in them. That notion died in me years later, after I got my report card and saw Math and Physics gasping for breath, just hanging on by a thread to keep from failing the grade and making the teachers smug with their "I though so!" smirk. And I realized I was not alone in thinking myself particularly special, destined for great achievements and honors. A fad appeared, when seers and psychics made a bundle by claiming to see people's past lives. Many Hollywood stars declared that they had been Cleopatra or at least a high personage in her court, or they were Mary Magdalene gasping as Jesus' face materialized in the handkerchief she had wiped his face with, or Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Czar Nicholas, Genghis Khan, Shakespeare. Not one is a stinking peasant of the Middle Ages, gap-toothed, lice-infested, ignorant and superstitious. 

And so I awoke from my delusion: this Earth can do well without me, and I don't want to be a part of its hoary past, when cavemen hunted not only bisons but those of other tribes -- for food. Europe in the past was a mud-hole where citizens spat on the squalid alleys and in their hovels, where water was not sanitary and more likely a source of typhus, pigs and dogs and horses defecated in dirty streets, where night soil of citizens were thrown into the mix. The past offered only a filthy, stinking, disease-ridden existence. Even in the royal courts, lice crawled all over the queen with her hair piled in a high bun sandwiched with honey and attendant insects. Princesses, princes and other members of the nobility believed that taking a bath is detrimental to one's health, and they kept bottles of scented water to ward off their grimy smell. It's not Games of Throne, where every character is fashionably coutured, hair groomed with fragrant shampoo, where women appear ravishing to gallant, full-toothed dukes or earls. Hygiene in medieval time is TV fiction. Truth shows many pigsty palaces and germfilled homes.

I'm only consoling myself, I know, from an imaginary and indulgent slight. Now I think of the million sperm cells I bested decades ago: they lagged behind, then swam in confusion, then died off, never seen nor heard nor thought about. And I, survivor of the race for life, grew up, fooled around, wasted 25% of my lifetime in enforced slumber and, now, at old age, grumbling about how this cosmos did not make me its fair-haired boy, had not led me to the Yellow Brick Road, or bestowed me with the facility of a bard. Anyway, I will settle to be a petkeeper, with an occasional kitten to keep me company. I never heard a kitten whine like me. Kittens are better than humans.

Diffident but lovely Tintin

1 comment:

Swapnil Narayyan said...

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Keep up the good work.