In my desperation to provide 12th April an anchor in Indian brains; I looked everywhere, from movie stars to cricketers (that, by the way, amounts to “everywhere”), but none obliged. From Kareena to Shahrukh, from Mithali (who is she!) to Sachin, every famous Indian has steadfastly avoided doing anything significant today, making it a nondescript date that I can give no real reason for you to remember.
I often wonder about the date on which fire, i.e. controlled fire, was lit for the first time on this planet. What a momentous date it would be to remember, to celebrate and to bask in our collective glory as animals that moved to a new level in the annals of life on earth?
I really have a grudge against the uncouth Homo erectus to have not bothered to keep record of this (though Billy Joel surely gained from this laxity); but, from a Homo erectus, a brute, how can we modern and civilized men/women expect visionary understanding of far reaching impact of what he/she did!
I keep thinking of similar events in human history that brought a paradigm shift in us as a species (and wonder about how exciting it would be to be alive during such a period of change).
We invented wheel and moved beyond the limits of natural locomotion. We invented metal-processing and transcended biological strength in our tools and weapons. We invented electricity-generation and moved past the limits of biological or mechanical power. Very recently, we invented processes to harness atomic energy whereby opening up the ultimate power source in the universe; and now we have invented computing that takes us past one of the ultimate frontiers i.e. ability to process information beyond what our biology could do.
Impressive list it is, but which one qualifies, may be symbolically, as the biggest day in the history of life on earth?
From wheel to computers, we have taken life on earth to a new level with every step that we took. Starting from a strand of biological material replicating in a primordial soup, we are now poised to be composite beings that transcend a lot of biological limitations. We can now claim that we have taken the life a long way. We have given a new meaning to life itself.
But, the phrase “life on earth” has an unnoticed dimension. Since last 4.3 billion years, life has been on earth. Earth means a world to life, the only world, the continuum of its entire existence. Our other achievements may have changed life, but earth has remained an unchanging constant through the entire existence of life.
But, on 12th April 1961, it changed. Life broke free from its last paradigm, the earth.
It is the day a life-form, voluntarily and with choice to return at will, left the planet. Yuri Gagarin went to space in Vostok-1. He escaped the bound of gravity of our insignificant speck of a home-planet and made us, Homo sapiens, proud citizens of the universe.
I personally can’t think of anything more awe-inspiring that can happen to any life form. For me, it was The Independence Day, for the entire Life on Earth.
The scientific community (in its typical understated way) celebrates this date as “Yuri’s night”, but the date never seems to resonate in mainstream in India. May be it is because it was a Russian achievement that had (if you can be petty enough to use the word) “beaten” now-mighty USA by mere 23 days or because we still consider scientific achievements as useless (in our beloved context of being poor), but I doubt if it is half as popular as Kareena Kapoor’s birth date for the men (women can’t be that interested in Ms. Kapoor!) on the street.
But, to me, there is no doubt that, in next couple of thousand years, we will either colonize space or will become extinct trying to do it; making our first step into space, symbolically, the biggest event in not just human history, but in the history of life itself.