Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For every plus there is a minus. For every happiness, there is an attending sorrow. For every word there’s the antonym. And for this world we live in there is the…
He stared at the words he had jotted in the old scrapbook of his and scratched his beard. He had written them 25 years ago. When he was young, wore fresh suits and took bath every day. It was the one lasting thought that was to become his obsession and destiny.
* * *
“The next planet in this galaxy is just 2 lightyears away,” Morat said. He was the only inhabitant of Oasis, an outpost on the edge of their Universe.
“You don’t feel lonely here?” He asked.
“Initially yes. Not any more. The contentment of having my dream fulfilled helped me overcome it. Besides, in a very real sense, aren’t we all lonely.”
Yes. Living was all about achieving dreams. Even when they looked impossible. In the chase lay the ultimate happiness of all the intelligent and the living. And that would be his fuel too. To keep plodding optimistically and keep alive his dreams, his hopes.
“How long have you been here?”
“Oh, for some 15 years now.”
Like several space explorers before him, and to different planets in different galaxies, Morat had found a habitable planet, touched down and anchored with a few earth people.
Space had become an outland with many generations of earthlings dotting it, and interacting with mostly amiable and sometimes hostile species. And because they had unlimited resources and scarce populations to contend with, they faced a definite degree of loneliness which was the reason they greeted travellers from earth with warmth and cheer. It might change some day, when these planets too became densely populated but that day was still far-off. These explorers and their breed enjoyed a separate sovereignty and status. They were essentially earthlings but had rights to a different planet that wasn’t Earth. Trust between Earth and Oasis, as of now, was bilateral. There would be treaties and documents when the population reached a particular threshold. Till then there was no use of paperwork.
“All right then. It’s time to try my luck again,” he said.
Morat jerked his thumb. “You sure this old lady can take it?”
Morat was obviously referring to his spaceship.
“It’s been like this for many years now. And even if it doesn’t, what have I to lose?” He grinned.
“I understand,” Morat said. “The very thought I had, when I started off to space. And look, it paid off.”
“I can see that. You realized your dreams. I’ve yet to.”
“But get this antique serviced as soon as you can. Don’t push it too hard.”
His spaceship too had lost its sheen, just like him, and appeared battered and beaten. And like him it still had many light-years in it to travel, many more light-miles to go before it drifted into the dark woods of space oblivion or antimatter.
“You don’t look like a Titanium hunter to me.”
“No?” He smiled. “Looks can be deceptive!”
He got into his spaceship and took off.
* * *
Space-borne and into a cruise mode, he looked at his reflection in the broken mirror of his cockpit. Heavily lined face, unkempt beard and greasy hair. Yes, looks can be deceptive!
“They don’t reflect inner cravings and compulsions, buddy. Don’t let it fool you,” he said aloud, to his invisible companion.
It’s funny the way success or failure makes or breaks a person. Failure crushes the zany confidence you begin with and success, it nourishes and makes you brash and confident.
But who decides success or failure? The explorer or that referee with the stopwatch? Depends on the perspective.
“Admit it, Drake. Admit that you’re a loser!” His self-doubt once again found a voice. “Winning is absolute. Don’t fool yourself with perspectives.”
“No, I’m not!” He shouted. “And shut up. You can’t break my spirit. An Explorator is always just moments away from finding his biggest find. And the hope is what keeps me going.”
Yes, hope was the only thing that kept explorators going. Despite the loneliness they faced and the doubts that haunted them. And the failures that chased them, the premature deaths that followed them.
For every word there’s the antonym. And for this world? The world we live in, there’s the…
“Invertland!” He shouted.
For far too long had he suppressed the word with his silence. And now, he just screamed the word, to quell the self-doubt. There was no room for it, not in the cockpit, nor in his life!
“I will find my Invertland.”
* * *
As a teenager, when he was first introduced to science, the complex laws that explained gravity, potential energy, kinetic energy, every naturally occurring phenomenon awed him. How had the scientists found the means to explain how planets moved from earth and without travelling to space? How did they discover the laws that governed life?
But as he matured, this awe was replaced by a healthy cynicism. These laws explained what was already happening, after it had happened. Supposing the very phenomena they were trying to explain had happened the opposite way?
* * *
“What do you mean?” Dora had asked the first time he shared his doubts with anyone. He overcome the fear of being ridiculed. The bottled up doubts finally erupted.
He could see the day clearly in his memory, as if it was happening right now. It was one of those days with a special significance, etched deeply in the mind. He remembered the intensity of the sunlight on that pleasant October morning, the fluorescent green colour of grass blades, the fabric of the clothes she wore, her hair and her perfume. She was a buddy. A little dumb, very beautiful but a constant in his life.
“I mean what if the apple had gone up, instead of falling down. What if water had rushed from a lower height to a higher one? What if the planets had moved in rectangular directions? What if earth had spun across 2 axes, six months across one and six months across another?”
“It’s not happening, so there is no question of what if.”
“We didn’t create those patterns, nature did and as far as I see, for no reason. And suppose it had happened the other way round?”
“We would have different laws to explain them. Different Galileos and Newtons.”
“You mean all science is pure after explanation. But what about Maths? It’s fundamentally correct.”
“1+1 is infinity in a fission reaction. 2 divided by 2 is zero for a matter that cannot be divided. 3 apples of different sizes added with 2 apples of different sizes, don’t make 5, like currency notes would. These are some of the errors in mathematics I can see immediately. There will be many, if I give it some more thought.”
“Give it. It can be an exciting topic for research we can do together. ”
“And get that lousy doctorate you are so keen to get? Get a life Dora! I don’t have a dispute with what is going on in the Maths universe. I am curious to find my Invertland.”
“A place opposite of here. This earth.”
“Are you serious?” She looked at him incredulously.
“Yes I am.”
* * *
When his father died he didn’t feel the loss – he had lived his purpose and now, the time had come for him to seek his only purpose in life. He felt excited by the money that came to him. He now owned billions of dollars of his father’s empire of wealth and achievement and with it he could carry out his mission – of finding Invertland.
* * *
He bought the spaceship without telling Dora. He wanted to surprise her.
“Will you be my wife?” He asked her as they sat on the spaceship on that moonlit night, when they met. He played with the controls, half tempted to take it off for her sake. He thought of the exciting life they were about to embark on – among the stars and all those planets, waiting for them!
“Together we will roam galaxies and find this place, our Invertland,” he said.
“What if there’s no such place?”
He had turned to face her, sharply. She had awoken him rudely from the dream he had been dreaming.
“It exists beyond doubt.”
“Let me rephrase it. What if we are not able to find it?”
“What if we don’t find a meaning of living life here on this earth?”
“That’s not an answer. It’s a counter question.”
“But it’s also an answer. You are obviously asking what my life will amount to, without the discovery. But what will it amount to when I die here, managing my father’s empire and count his paper money?”
“Everyone is living here just like that. What you intend to do is different.”
“So different that it scares you?”
“So what do you want to do? What everyone is doing or what I’m doing?”
And that had brought about the turning point in their relationship.
“I have the ordinariness to live like them but not the courage to live like you,” Dora said in her characteristic softness.
Ironically, her resolve was as hard as granite and as unchangeable.
So they parted. He comfortable in his world of exploration and she in the safety of her academics.
* * *
He snapped out of his reverie. Long hours, loneliness and despair could take their toll on anyone’s physical reserves. But not his optimism.
15 days! Many lightmiles, hopes and expectations. That was what had ticked away, when he approached the planet after his take-off from Oasis. But a strange thing happened. It took him a huge acceleration to go down, after some time and when he shut off his engine, his craft began to take off! And stopped a few feet above the ground, just as a magnet suspended in air over another.
Whatever was happening to him, thrilled him.
He got down but instead of going down he went 2 feet up. And he floated in air, by wading through air on that planet.
* * *
For a long-time he saw nothing. Then he saw a river that flowed from the surface to the mountain!
His heart was beating uncontrollably by now. Was this his Invertland?
Where would the water go after reaching the source? He wondered, looking at the invertriver. Rather than follow the thought, he wanted to explore more things on this strange planet. He went closer to the river and looked at its surface. And saw a reflection of a woman! Her face reflected a strange glow that made her unusually beautiful. Her hair were spread in the air like a peacock’s plume.
Like him, she too was floating.
He turned to face her, instead of looking at the reflection.
“Who are you?” She said, without moving her lips – she was communicating through her thoughts.
“From earth. I came to search my Invertland and I have finally found it here.
He explained it to her.
“I don’t think this is invert, but Straightland!”
“Depends on your point of reference,” he laughed.
It was instant bonding, instant liking. He felt at home in her company. As if they had resumed a relationship, after a time leap that didn’t matter.
“What’s your age?” He asked the undiplomatic question.
“100?” He was shocked.
“We have long lives.”
* * *
She took him to her house and gave him water that came from a tap, but upside down.
A teenager came out and greeted him.
“Meet my father,” she told him.
“Yes. Oh! You wouldn’t understand that, would you. As we age we get younger and younger.”
”Become an infant, then a cell, and then disappear.”
“And how are you born?”
“No one knows. One minute we are not there and the next minute we are.”
“With no memory?”
* * *
He explored all those possibilities he had thought would exist and discovered them gradually with Era by his side. Even in Invertland there were schools and books and maths and physics that explained all that was happening in their part of the planet where most or everything happened opposite to that of earth!
* * *
And they fell in love and married, in the traditions of the Invertland. For him it was Invertland and for her it was Astralodee, that’s what they called their planet.
On the night of their wedding looking at the srats (that’s what he called his invert of stars!) and the Noom. He felt the happy high of achieving his dream. Was that how other explorers felt? All that desperation, hopelessness and doubt that had chased him, no longer mattered. He felt absolved.
* * *
Years passed by and people commented on their lack of progeny but he was not worried. To him Invertland was all that mattered. The find was his child!
* * *
“You are ageing,” she said one day. “Getting younger.”
“You mean older. And you are getting young.”
“You mean older.”
And they laughed.
“Maybe that is why no child is born to us.”
“Yes perhaps our mating neutralizes time.”
“But I won’t give up hope.”
“You want a child?” He asked.
“Your child. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
* * *
And then one day Dora walked into their world.
He stared at her, startled, his mouth agape.
“She’s our daughter!” Era said with pride.
“Dora!” He cried out aloud. But Dora looked at him without recognition.
“That’s a beautiful name. We’ll call her Dora,” Era said.
* * *
He was confused. No one knew where people’s consciousness went after they died on earth. No one knew where people came from, in Invertland. So was there a connection between the two worlds? Or the universe for that matter?
Was he looking at a cycle of life? And if yes, how many more cycles were there?
* * *
15 years later, Era became a teenager and he an old man. There was nothing he had in common with her and he realized the truth in the warnings of the elders, whom they had not heeded when they married.
“You are incompatible, but obviously hopelessly in love!” Her father had remarked then. “So travel along, as far as you can. But there will be a time when you will be companions no more.”
Yet he was grateful to Era. For the time they had spent together and when their company mattered to each other.
Now, she went out to play with grown up people – kids to him. And they had nothing in common. Dora, very similar to the Dora he knew, had her own life and academics to worry about. Maths was still her favourite subject. And he felt the loneliness he had felt in the cockpit of his spaceship. It renewed in him, the urge to explore.
He tried to live with them, for the sake of old times but then how long could anyone live in memories, when the present was, an ugly distortion. The love he had for Era became a mockery as Era came in and went out of their home resenting the age gap that separated at them. Dora’s indifference too increased.
* * *
So one day, he simply walked off to the far end of Invertland, where he had dumped his spaceship. It was dusty and most of its rubber parts were damaged.
Patiently, he began spending time on it, labouring over it and repairing it. The spaceship became his new obsession and making it space-worthy, his new dream.
* * *
At home, no one bothered from where he came and to where he went. So to save his time and spare them the bother, he began to sleep, eat and stay in his spaceship.
* * *
2 years later, when he pulled the controls, the spaceship purred. And he flew off! He left without a note or even a goodbye because their indifference would have stained the image of those beautiful times he shared with them. He preferred to exit from their lives without taking with him, their indifference.
It didn’t take long for him to reach earth because he had the co-ordinates stored. But on entry, the ship caught fire and he escaped by landing into the ocean, unscathed.
* * *
When he opened his eyes, he was in a hospital.
“You will be all right!” The nurse told him.
When he was better, he recounted to her, his journey. She was kind but he could see she didn’t believe him. Outside it was much worse. People laughed at him. No one believed him.
* * *
He approached the scientific journals, magazines and even newspapers but no one was ready to publish his exploration of space. He showed a few photos and films he had with him but every shot was explained by hotshot photographers and dismissed as doctored.
His blog was a hit though and his book. It sold six million copies and continued to sell on earth and other galaxies, but as fiction.
* * *
Then one day, as he passed a bookshop. He saw his book on the shelves and stopped. His book made him sad, of what it could have been and what it had turned out to be. Science Fiction! It was then he spotted the fairy tales section. Curious, he inched closer and rummaged through the titles. He browsed through Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and others.
Then, a sudden insight hit him like a thunderbolt!
He smiled and understood.
He had other journeys to explore.
The land of Peter Pan, Wonderland and more.
He had to discover other lands that explorers had found, which no one believed in and dismissed them as fiction! But these places surely existed, like his Invertland, dismissed as fiction.
“No use trying to convince disbelievers. No use at all. Better do something you believe in.” He said aloud and then was startled at his outburst.
The person browsing the books next to him looked quizzically at him and he felt embarrassed at being caught talking to himself.
“Pardon me,” he said and walked away from the baffled man.
* * *
Next day he withdrew more money from his father’s bank account. The accruing interest had made him richer than before. And this time he bought a bigger and more powerful spaceship.
10 earth-days later, he was space-borne! Back on a job he adored.
Another adventure, another world awaited him. And he would find all those places in those fairy tales one day.
Just like he had found Invertland.
* * *