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TRAVELS IN SPACE AND TIME

The Martian has always been a favourite. Whether one of those little green men, or a reddish being with enormous eyes and twinkling antenna-like appendages sprouting on both sides of a too-large, ovoid head, the Martian persists in the imagination as an almost domesticated extra-terrestrial. And he may have been there sometime. It is now clear that Mars had water and carbon dioxide in the past. India is about to probe deeper in its first Mars mission, sending its Mars orbiter spacecraft with scientific instruments into space later this year. One of the chief objects of the search will be methane, a gas that is produced either by some microbes during the digestive process, as in cows, or by geological processes.

Feeding cows well is a sure way to produce lots of methane, and that, according to Mohanrao Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is the best way to “inculcate values”. That is, values that would prevent rape for, according to him, crimes against women happen only in India, or that part of Bharat influenced by Western culture. Given Mr Bhagwat’s preference for methane and the extra-terrestrial quality of his observations about sex crimes in non-Westernized Bharat, it would seem rather unfair that John Gray’s interesting — and highly popular — thesis, that men are from Mars and women from Venus, suggesting that the two sexes belong to different planets in attitudes and values, should have been so firmly dismissed by scientists. The RSS chief’s affinity to Mars seems undeniable, even if it is a Mars of the past. After all, the water and carbon dioxide have vanished from there.

Mr Bhagwat has companions in his concern about values. Not just cows, but devoted brothers-in-law, too, may do the trick. The minister from Madhya Pradesh, Kailash Vijayvargiya, conjured up Ravan, waiting to abduct Sita as she, presumably, forgot her dignity and stepped across the invisible boundary Lakshman had drawn for her protection. Presumably — because Mr Vijayvargiya is talking about women violating their own maryada, which makes Sita rather less than ideal. (But of course, that was what the ordeal by fire was all about.) However that may be, the gloss to his slightly confused — and confusing — epic vision is provided by the senior Hurriyat Conference leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Without modest dresses and with mobile phones, Western influences and co-education, women are the sole cause of aggression against themselves. If left to these three wise men and their followers, India would perhaps try to make a cumbrous turn back to times when Mars maybe had water and carbon dioxide. Scientists, though, are used to negotiating contrary pulls. Their thrust towards Mars would be a thrust into the future.