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Monday, February 8, 2010


In days of lore, people sailed on boats across rivers and seas.  There are many days which in recent times have been associated with some thing and have gained significance – today is something differently associated being the birth day of a writer.

Loire is the longest river in France with length of 1019 km having many tributaries. Its banks are characterized by vineyards and chateaux (houses of nobility) in the Loire Valley. Nantes is a city in Western France located on the river off the Atlantic coast.

Science fiction is a genre of fiction. It is not fantasy though it is imaginary, the elements would largely be possible within the scientifically postulated laws. The fiction largely would have settings in future, alternative time lines or historical past contradicting known facts, can occur in outer space or would involve technology or principles contradicting laws of nature.

8th Feb 1828 was the day when Jules Gabriel Verne was born. This french author was a pioneer in science fiction best known for his novels “A Journey to the centre of Earth”, ‘From Earth to the Moon’, ‘the mysterious island’ etc., He wrote about space, air and underwater and mostly based them on travel adventures.

Remember a time when Doordarshan ruled the roost – with no satellite channels to compete. In days of B&W television, you would be surprised to know that programmes would start only in the evening and would run only for a few hours. DD used to telecast a very famous serial ‘Around the World in 80 days’.

Close to his 60 years, Verne returned to his home and was shot twice by his nephew who suffered from paranoia. The man who wrote great details of impossible travels of his time had to limp rest of the lift. In 1905 he lost his fight with diabetes and passed away.

I remember something of the DD serial based on Verne’s opus “around the world in Eighty days” – something unthinkable in the days of 1870 when it was written. This was later made into movie also. It was an adventure film of Michael Todd Co released by United Artists, directed by Michael Anderson.

The story starts in London on October 2, 1872. Phileas Fogg is a wealthy English gentleman who lives unmarried in solitude. Despite his wealth, which is of unknown origin, Mr. Fogg, lives a modest life with habits carried out with mathematical precision. He is described as dismissing his valet for bringing shaving water 84°F instead of 86°; his new valet is Frenchman Passepartout.

At Reform Club, Fogg gets into a heated argument of opening of a new railway section in India. He accepts a wager for £20,000 from his fellow club members, which he will receive if he makes it around the world in 80 days. Accompanied by Passepartout, he leaves London by train at 8.45 P.M. on October 2, 1872, and thus is due back at the Reform Club at the same time 80 days later, on December 21 the same year.

The story is all about the travel and his brainy ways getting out of the knot. Fogg & P reach Suez in time. At Egypt, Mr Fix, a scotland yard detective watches him. Fix mistakes Fogg for the robber of the bank and he follows them. They come to Bombay. In one of the episodes, Fogg gets struck inside a hall with 80 odd gates- only one of them has way and rest are closed ones. Though there are keys, due to paucity of time, he cannot open each and every door. After some struggle, he lights a candle and goes near the peeping hole on each door, the door which has opening on the other side has air movement, which puts the candle off. There is even a mention of sati. They travel to Calcutta – board a steamer to Hongkong. Fix arrests Fogg in Calcutta but Fog jumps bail. They go to Yokohama, San Francisco, get onto a trans-american train encountering a number of obstacles. He turns up at Ireland in time but in British soil, Fix produces a warrant and arrests Fogg. The story ends with Fogg gaining a full day having crossed the International Date Line. He is able to accomplish the mission and marry rich Aouda.

Though I have not read many science fictions in English, my heart fondly remembers the great SUJATHA – the greatest of Tamil writers who had a penchant for science fiction. Srirangam Rangarajan born on 3/5/1935 wrote over 100 novels, 250 short stories, books on science, stage plays, poems, topical columns and story line for some hit films.

To me his “Sorgatheevu” was one of the finest fictions ever written in Tamil. It simply was not a story but almost a reality. It is all about an obscure kingdom where a group control not only the Government but all the subjects. Everything is mechanised and rationed. The citizens would stand before a machine and the pin prick pre set by the rulers would determine what they should do. With their minds bleached, the subjects live as slaves whilst those in the higher echelons enjoy all comforts including womanising. A group rebel silently and some of them get killed ruthlessly. Iyengar, a genius computer engineer is abducted from Chennai to this land, to correct some malfunctioning in programming of their master computer. Though he gets all comforts during his stay, it is obvious that he is under house arrest and not allowed to meet any other citizens. A small group of rebels are somehow able to establish contacts with this outside man – a couple of attempts to change the system promptly fail. The day comes when he has to return apparently not able to help the freedom cause though he otherwise wants to do so.
The story ends with the last para where he upon returning states of a small change done to the programme which would make the machine administer only water drops for a few more days.

The logical conclusion is ‘if by a malfunction some started thinking, the non administration of the medicine, should certainly allow a lot more to think freely, rebel and get the much sought after freedom’. What a great ending provided in the last few lines !

The story “Thimala” is in great futuristic sittings – there also the man is engrossed in office all the time. The family applies for a leave and after great formalities – the Govt sanctions leave and a visit to their place of their choice.

They travel in air taxi in free way, pass through the city of chennai totally inundated in water. Their talks mention of a great city which existed till 21st century but goes underwater due to a deluge (is there another greater tsunami on the waiting or is global melting, rising of sea water level or a great deluge !!)

They travel to a serene place where there are hills – everything is automated and regulated. They get their chance in few hours and move quietly with air of expectation. As they reach the sanctum sanctorum, the voice emerges describing the beauty and greatness of Lord Balaji in Kulasekara Azhwar pasuram urging them to have drashan of that Great Srinivasar.

He could see science everywhere and in Perumal Thirumozhi of Kulasekarar there is a pasuram “vallalal aruthu chudinum” – which means the physician would cut the body with a knife and hot burn it whilst treating it – still one would not be averse to them……………… sujatha states that this is mention of surgery in such early days.

This post  gives a remorseful feeling as we near the 2nd death anniversary of this genius writer – who passed away on 27th Feb 2008.

A great fan of Sujatha

S. Sampathkumar.

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