| Mission Mars: Sanjeev Gupta. Courtesy Imperial College, London
An Indian mission to Mars
After Tejinder Virdee, who worked on Higgs boson, another British Indian academic has taken centre stage in the biggest scientific story of the day.
Professor Sanjeev Gupta is one of only two UK scientists taking part in the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission which has succeeded in gently dropping a one-tonne robot, Curiosity Rover, on to the rocky surface of Mars.
It had taken 36 weeks to travel 352 million miles to reach its destination — “it’s like getting a hole in one from Los Angeles to Scotland”.
Gupta, a geologist in the department of earth science and engineering, also at Imperial College London, has gone to Pasadena, California, where he is among scientists analysing the stream of data being sent back by the robot.
By studying rock formations he will be able to tell whether Mars once had enough water to sustain life.
“Sedimentary rocks are the history books of a planet, preserving information about past environmental conditions,” he explains. “Now that the MSL has landed we can get to grips with some remarkable science. I am really excited to be working with such a distinguished team in a completely new work environment on such an immense project.”
With the landing of the robot on Mars, we are entering Arthur C. Clarke country — I interviewed the legendary science fiction author in Sri Lanka one year.
“The Songs of Distant Earth is my favourite novel,” I said.
“Mine, too,” he smiled.
The tale is of lovers who have to part in space after a journey from Earth.
The big question for Gupta to resolve is: will Mars be ready one day to take a population overspill, mainly from India and China? Jokes about Indians opening the first CPM politburo on the red planet are not in good taste.
| In memoriam: Daniel Pearl
A charity concert will be held in London to mark 10 years since the tragic events surrounding the kidnapping and beheading of the American journalist Daniel Pearl.
He would have been 48. His wife, Mariane, gave birth to their son, Adam, after he had been killed — the boy is now 10.
The concert, “Ascension: in memory of Daniel Pearl”, will be held in a famous church, St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, on October 12.
Daniel was based in Mumbai for The Wall Street Journal when he went to Pakistan to cover the aftermath of 9/11. In Karachi in 2002 he fell into a kidnap trap laid by Omar Sheikh, a British Pakistani released from Tihar prison in 1999 (along with Maulana Masood Azhar) in exchange for the hijacked Indian passengers on IC 814.
Daniel’s assassins later released a video of the beheading.
In March 2007, at a closed military hearing in Guantánamo Bay, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al Qaida alleged mastermind of 9/11, claimed he was the one who personally beheaded Pearl.
The concert will be part of the process of “healing and reconciliation” between countries and religions, I am told by musician Andrew McNeill.
According to an announcement from the church, “this candlelit charity concert includes the world premiere performance of Elegy for Daniel Pearl by David Heath, commissioned by Daniel Pearl’s father, to be performed by saxophonist Andrew McNeill and organist Daniel Moult. The work was first featured in a documentary, The Journalist And The Jihadi, broadcast on HBO in 2006.”
I remember the night in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino when we were about to film Daniel Pearl’s parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, for the documentary three of us — Ramesh Sharma from Delhi and Ahmed Jamal and myself from London — were making. Our cameraman Kabir Khan (just about to release Ek Tha Tiger) was about to light up when a sudden power failure plunged the whole valley into darkness.
“I can see you are Third World! Load shedding! We have that in India!” I said to Judea, who had earlier been seeking all sorts of legal safeguards.
He laughed, relaxed visibly, put his trust in us and made very few demands other than I would not use a clip from the beheading video in The Journalist and the Jihadi. We had already made that decision. Perhaps it was a dereliction of journalistic duty on my part not even to view that video (before doing the interviews and later when writing the script) but it’s a promise I haven’t found difficult to keep.
Maybe it is time for someone, possibly Kabir, to make a movie about IC 814. Perhaps the Indian government’s capitulation to the hijackers — Jaswant Singh flew to Kabul with Omar Sheikh and Masood Azhar — laid the groundwork for the Mumbai massacre.
Britain has learnt the hard way there is only one rule to follow with terrorists: no surrender.
| Reel roll: Mira Nair directs Riz Ahmed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Venice is one of the most expensive cities in Europe where you need a credit card to buy a cup of coffee, especially in St Mark’s Square. But a number of friends are threatening to go over to the Italian city for its 69th film festival.
This is because they think there is going to be one of those “must gatecrash” parties around Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which will open the festival on August 29.
Venice is a happy hunting ground for Mira who won the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, in 2001 with Monsoon Wedding.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, to be shown out of competition, is adapted from Pakistan author Mohsin Hamid’s enigmatic novel.
Sushmita Sen says she may stay away from Greece “perhaps forever” after the theft of her suitcase, hand luggage and handbag from a trolley at Athens airport. She lost her passport, mobile phone, iPad and credit cards.
I sympathise with Sushmita. Two years ago in Delhi, my taxi developed a puncture just before I arrived at my hotel. A bystander encouraged me to get out of the taxi, while his accomplice slipped round the side of the vehicle and gently took out my hand luggage containing all my valuables. Together they made off in an autorickshaw, confirming Delhi’s reputation among outsiders as the thieving capital of the world’s biggest democracy.
“If it can happen to a public person like me,” protests Sushmita, “it can happen to anybody.”
This may add to her distress but it is unlikely the thieves recognised her.
| Honoured: Pelé in London
Edson Arantes do Nascimento but better known by his nickname, Pelé, has been awarded an honorary degree by Edinburgh University at a ceremony held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The Brazilian football legend, now 71, his country’s roving ambassador for sport (surely Sourav Ganguly should be given a similar job) is being honoured for his “significant contribution to humanitarian and environmental causes, as well as his sporting achievements”.
“I thank not only my family, but all my friends, my players, because you cannot do things alone,” said Pelé modestly. “I have a lot of people who helped me to be here.”
The university is opening an Office of the Americas in Sã Paulo, Brazil, in an effort to attract much needed funds from foreign students. With more Brazilians students, Edinburgh obviously hopes to specialise in soccer, beach volleyball — and parties.