Science, Creativity and Imagination

I was 15 when I read Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke and discovered space fiction! What a story that was even though some concepts were beyond me. Recently, I was reminded of the key aspects of the book when I read about the interstellar object that passed through our solar system.

At that time, Star Trek and Cosmos were broadcast on our television screens. Carl Sagan talking about the wonders of space. Every episode left you with a sense a awe and inspiration. I came to know about Voyager spacecrafts journey across our solar system at that time and have kept abreast of the latest till their last recorded moments in our solar system. The technical feats achieved with such early-stage technology fill me with a sense of awe. The real merged with the reel with Captain Kirk seemingly continuing the mission of the scientists of that time.

Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian cosmonaut in space. He and Ravish Malhotra were household names. I remember the Insat-1B and the SLV3 missions and followed them with as keen an interest as the information of that time allowed. So the world of space in the form of Cosmos, Star Trek had an Indian connection.

The idea that the rockets that carried humans to the moon were outdated and soon to be replaced with the space shuttle was quite exciting then. The shuttle went up like a rocket but landed like an aircraft and in that year the space shuttle Challenger seemed to indicate it was safe too. It went into space multiple times that year. There were also the Soviet Soyuz T11 and Salyut 7 to dream and discuss.

In that year, I re-discovered the 1977 edition of the Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. This was found in an old bookshop by my father and it had been there in our collection. It had a lot of pages, very heavy to lift but it was fascinating. Every single aircraft by a country was listed there. I remember reading about the Marut. Comparing features of some of the world’s best aircraft was a good past time. It had photographs, illustrations, specifications and so much more. I felt rather grown up! This was also the year the Indian Light Combat aircraft was announced or at least came into my field of exploration. It felt good that India would develop an aircraft for our own use!

And then there were ads! How could you not like the ads? They were better than the programmes that one got to see on TV. I longed to somehow record those ads in my collection but I did not have the means to do, till much later in my schooling. It certainly sparked an interest in marketing and brands!

We’d won the world cup a year earlier and the Indian cricket team had visited our school. I remember recording the anecdotes on a dictaphone and sharing with colony friends. It had a micro-cassette and that was very interesting to me. A neighbour wanted me to test it. He worked for Indian Airlines and was part of the programme that would induct one of the first Airbus planes in India. I still remember the Airbus stickers on his bags!

While I read a lot it was mostly Soviet classics and comics. But I was introduced to computers in a magazine called Computers Today. It seemed to discuss things that sailed over my head. It would leave a lasting impression despite not understanding mainframes etc. Here’s an example of the tech coverage of that time.

I signed up for the after-school computer programme based on the BBC Micro. It was basic but it was thrilling to hear sounds, see some of the text art as graphics on those screens. Went on to learn Basic and felt like a genius!

There was awe and I wanted to explore more. So the books at the British Council and American Center libraries came in handy. Even though most of the concepts were way about my level.

Oh and music! It was still the era of records and one made sure that the record was not scratched. Cartridges required special care as well. It was fun to find a way to take the line-out of the record player into another music system. Primarily to create mixtapes. It was an early stage experiment that would continue to grow. Mixtapes would grow on to become a big interest for me. Another thing that I learnt was to open the music system and figure out its belts and gadgetry etc. There was the soldering iron to explore with. Some of it known to the family and some not. But frugal mix and match was the order of the day.

All in all, a time of inspirational moments in space, mind opening science fiction, first steps in technology that would become central in my life. The idea of recording mix tapes, recording events would come back later. It allowed me to get comfortable with my interests and not just scholastic activities.

There was a curiosity to learn then and it has only grown bigger. Some of the curiosity gets transferred into work solutions but there is still the same core foundation of interests that form a part of my conversations and exploration.

Now imagine a child who is going to be 15 in about another 9 to 10 years. It is fascinating to think about what she is going to experience . What will inspire her and what will become a lifelong interest-

In a world filling up with technology where anything can be 3D/4D printed, will she turn to handcrafted experiences?
Will the first generation of humans have already settled on Moon or another planetary outpost? What will be the stories from there?
What will serendipity bring to her musical or creative interests?
Will she learn with holographic images much the same way that the holodeck offered in the Star Trek?
Will humans have overcome the more significant issues of the current time?
Will she have any aspiration to drive a car in a world of seemingly autonomous vehicles?
What will she want to tinker and will the machine be her connected assistant?

Writing this was good nostalgia but imagining the next 15 year old’s inspiration, one thing is certain the Future is not more of the past.

Also available here as part of the Linkedin #WhenIWas15 series