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In a parallel universe, Palaniappan, a 12 year old kid peeping through his telescope from the roof of a water tank in a village in Tiruchirapalli district in Tamil Nadu makes a startling discovery at 5am in the morning. An asteroid, 500 feet wide, is hurtling towards India at 50,000 miles an hour. The kid calculates the speed and trajectory of the asteroid, takes into account the earth’s rotation, and estimates that the asteroid will hit Delhi at 11pm in the night, exactly 5 days later. The same day, The Hindu publishes this discovery in the bottom right corner of its 4th page.
4 hours later, Murugesan, a man from the same village, picks up a copy of The Hindu at a local tea-stall, cursing the stall owner for not keeping a copy of Times of India. Yawning, he flips the pages lazily, and stumbles upon the report on the asteroid. His eyes widen, he leaps from his seat and he rushes to the nearby Internet Café to Tweet about it. He eventually manages to Tweet a snapshot of the clipping after 4 hours of scheduled power outage and 4 hours of unscheduled outage.
By 11pm, the clipping of the news item goes viral on Twitter. ‘#Asteroid’, ‘#EndOfWorld’ and ’5 days’ become the top three trends on Twitter. Rajdeep Sardesai wraps up the day by tweeting, “We send satellites into space. Now space sends us satellites. Gnight!”
4 days to impact
By now, the report on the approaching asteroid has been picked up by all major print and TV houses except for NDTV which runs a day long report on the latest blow to Narendra Modi because of Supreme Court upholding the appointment of Gujarat Lokayukta. Reporters rush to Palaniappan’s modest home in Tiruchirapalli and trip over each other to ask the kid and his parents how they feel about his discovery, and how this has changed the boy’s life.
Meanwhile, folks on Twitter are having a ball plugging in puns and jokes on the trending topics. “Q: Whats common between Lance Armstrong and a Delhiite? A: Both were/will be destroyed by A Steroid!” tweets Twitter celebrity Ramesh Srivats. The tweet gets instantly retweeted by 490 others.
There is no response from the government yet.
3 days to impact
Subramanian Swamy creates a ripple by tweeting that the Home Ministry had received warnings from NASA about the asteroid attack months earlier, and has done nothing about it. An hour later, Arvind Kejriwal holds a press conference, and flashes documents that are purportedly responses to RTIs that the activist’s team made to the Science and Technology Ministry. “Government had details about this asteroid 6 months back. Why hasn’t the government made it public? Government has sold Indian democracy,” declares Kejriwal.
The revelation adds fuel to the already outraged public on Twitter, and there’s a spontaneous outpouring of people on the streets. Protestors gather at India Gate, Jantar Mantar, Chief Minister’s residence, Home Minister’s residence and the Science and Technology Minister’s residence, flashing banners and boards with messages such as, “Stop asteroid attacks now!”, “Hang Asteroid!”, “You have no right to touch my city, Asteroid!” and so on.
Within hours, Delhi police comes out in full force, and disperses the crowd using water cannons, tear gas and lathis. Several are injured and taken to the hospital. Photos of lathi wielding policemen make it to Facebook interspersed with pictures from earlier, unrelated police crackdowns in other states of India. The pics are nevertheless liked and shared freely on Facebook further fuelling the outrage.
Meanwhile people on Twitter ask some strong questions: “Why aren’t the ministers coming out and speaking to the protesters?”, “Why is the police using disproportionate force on peaceful protesters?”, “Why isn’t Rahul Gandhi coming out to address the nation?” and so on.
2 days to impact
Rahul Gandhi finally comes out and speaks to the media. “It is very difficult to stop every single asteroid attack. 99 percent of the attacks have been stopped. 1 percent may slip through,” he says, and walks off with his entourage in the direction of a Dalit household to understand how the family is affected because of asteroids.
Later that evening, the Chief Minister of Delhi appears in an interview with Barkha Dutt and breaks down, telling the audience through tears that it bleeds her heart to watch her subjects suffer in fear of the approaching rock. Barkha herself is nearly moved to tears.
Leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj slams the government for inaction on such a serious issue, and demands that the government show absolutely no mercy on the asteroid. She adds that she has spoken to the Prime Minister and demanded a special session of Parliament to examine the laws regarding asteroids. “But my demand was rejected by the PM!” she fumes.
Later still, Sagarika Ghose tweets, “BJP engages in blame-game as asteroid approaches. Will BJP be the end of us all? On FTN tonight.”
1 day to impact
Less than 24 hours before impact, Dr. Manmohan Singh addresses the nation, delivering yet another robotic speech ending again with ‘Theek hai?‘ and an obsequious phone call to Sonia ji, all relayed live by DD and ANI.
The government acts on Dr. Singh’s promise of “stern measures to counter the asteroid attack”, and announces the formation of a special Task Force to look into the safety of Delhiites safety, and a Parliamentary Standing Committee to review the steps taken by the administration on the issue so far. Four hours later, the committee holds its first meeting and summons the Science and Technology Minister. The Minister however doesn’t make it to the meeting as he’s vacationing in the United States.
Meanwhile, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweets that the asteroid should be named “Palaniappan asteroid”, after the kid who discovered it.
2 hours to impact:
The asteroid now looms large in the sky, visible to the naked eye in most of North India. Those Delhiites who haven’t fled the city, brace themselves for the imminent impact, huddling close to their loved ones in their homes. Some of them pray. Some stare blankly at the approaching rock in the sky from their terraces. Some others tune in to Times Now’s Newshour for the last hour of entertainment in their lives.
The camera zooms in on a sombre but outraged Arnab Goswami. He stares at the screen, as a haunting soundtrack plays in the background.
“As we speak, a 500 feet wide asteroid comes hurtling towards our national capital. It will hit Delhi in exactly 2 hours, causing large scale destruction to life and property within a radius of 20 kms. Today, in Newshour we ask the question, is this attack on India justified?”
The screen splits into several panels.
“We have with us in the studio, Ms. Renuka Chaudhry from Congress, Mr. Chandan Mitra from the BJP and eminent lawyer Harish Salve. Joining us from outer space, for the first time on national television, is the entity which is threatening to destroy us – Mr. Asteroid. Let me remind you ladies and gentlemen, your channel is the first to bring you quotes directly from the asteroid.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, with your permission, I’d like to put forth a few direct questions to Mr. Asteroid.”
Arnab takes a deep breath and turns to the rock on the top-right panel. “Mr. Asteroid, why are you striking Delhi?”
The rock stays unmoved.
Arnab raises his voice a touch. “Mr. Asteroid, what were you thinking when you decided to attack Delhi. The nation demands an answer, Mr. Asteroid.”
Arnab raises his voice further and unleashes a flurry of questions at the hapless asteroid.
“You cannot stay quiet Mr. Asteroid, not after threatening a nation like this…. The people of the nation are asking you a direct question: Why are you attacking millions of innocent citizens?…. Are you able to hear me Mr. Asteroid?”
The asteroid begins to shake, mildly at first and then violently. Arnab moves in for the kill.
“ARE YOU TRYING TO DODGE MY QUESTION, MR. ASTEROID? THE NATION DEMANDS TO KNOW WHY YOU ARE ATTACKING A PEACEFUL CITY??”
The asteroid bursts into smithereens, sending pieces of rock flying in all directions. Several fragments burn to ashes as they fly through the earth’s atmosphere, while the rest rain on the earth’s surface harmlessly, each piece no larger than a marble. Within a matter of seconds, there’s nothing but blackness in the top-right panel of the screen.
Arnab looks on, his face still contorted in rage. A second later he turns to the camera, and says, “Looks like we’ve lost Mr. Asteroid. I want to get in the other panelists here…Mr. Chandan Mitra…”
And life in India goes on.