First time lucky, my foot

A recent post by The Economist was simply ludicrous, to say the least, considering that India has become the first country in the world to successfully put its Mangalyaan Mars orbiter into the Martian orbit. While many people have lauded Indians, some people want to view it a little differently. A little difference of opinion is fine; but when this extends to downplaying the effort and success of the brilliant scientists and engineers who have put us into the Hall of Fame, leaving behind the technologically advanced “rich” countries such as the US and the UK, it just makes me gape at the ill-advised self-proclaimed superiority of people.

Let me explain.

On November 02, 2013, The Economist put up this article – Red Planet, Red Rival – in which the focus was on highlighting the ambition of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), India’s space agency, to compete with China in its space programs. Three days before Mangalyaan took off on its journey to orbit around the red planet, The Economist put up its “thoroughly analysed” view that the underpinnings of the space program are rivalry with China, whose flag is mostly in red. They even went on to say that in the article:

Indeed, the mission has the air of trying to outdo the Chinese. Mr Radhakrishnan waves away talk of rivalry, declaring that “we are only in a race with ourselves to excel in this area”. Yet Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, announced the project last year shortly after a joint Chinese-Russian mission to Mars had failed.

Unfortunately, the “competition” didn’t end there. It went on in another piece on November 04, 2013.

In fact the main concern is rivalry closer to home: to show that India’s space plans are not entirely outclassed by China’s.

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Source: Seradata

Who came up with the notion that we are competing with the Chinese? When the Head of ISRO, Mr Radhakrishnan, clearly states that we are competing with ourselves, why does this non-existent rivalry flame catch the spark on its way through the press? If our then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the project in 2012, shortly after the Chinese and the Russians failed in their attempt, does that correlate those events? Can’t they just be coincidences that only seem to be related to each other? Haven’t you heard of spurious correlations?

Secondly, why is it necessary to “compete” with the Chinese on every front? When India and China do something along the same lines, we are fighting for supremacy and outpacing each other. But when the US and the UK do something starkly similar, they are on the mission to achieve global peace through their contributions to humanity and shared vision. The US and the UK are brothers-in-arms, with Mr Obama and Mr Cameron the two sides of the same coin but Mr Singh (or Mr Modi now) and Mr Xi Jinping are enemies willing to go to any length just to outdo the other. Great logic…

Oh, and by the way, here is a line from The Economist’s recent piece on Mangalyaan, published a day after it successfully entered the “red” orbit.

A 2010 feasibility study led to federal approval in 2012, with Mangalyaan launching the following year. In part, this rush was down to cosmic timing: the alignment of planets that permits an energy-saving “transfer orbit” only comes around every two years or so. If Mangalyaan had missed its November 2013 date, it would have had to postpone until early 2016.

That is the reason Mr Singh got the project approved in 2012. Clearly, as far as my uneducated, limited, shackled brain can think, this is a case of spurious correlations. There is no relation between India and China on this front and seems most likely a case of coincidences, giving the press to interpret it according to its own will.

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Source: India Today

The other point that I want to make is the incessant undermining of our efforts to do something meaningful and succeed in it. In the same piece on November 04, 2013 – How can poor countries afford space programmes? – The Economist states:

But as the Mangalyaan begins its journey, many might wonder how a country that cannot feed all of its people can find the money for a Mars mission. How can poor countries afford space programmes?

As if to put the question out there and then clarify, The Economist further writes:

What if the 16,000 scientists and engineers now working on space development were deployed instead to fix rotten sanitation? And why should donors bother to help tackle poverty where governments have enough spare resources to think about space?

Let me try to answer that in the most rudimentary way possible. The 16,000 scientists and engineers working on the space development program are the pristine brilliant minds of the country that have succeeded in putting the orbiter in the appropriate path in their first attempt, when even the technologically proficient US and wealthy (and snooty) UK could not. They were born to bring glory to this country, not to fix its sanitation.

We are a country of over a billion people; I am sure there are thousands, if not millions, others who have the facilitation of hygienic and good sanitation for all as one of their life’s top priorities. These scientists and engineers are better doing stuff they are good at, the same way I am, presumably, good at criticising this point of view and you are good at drawing rivalry inferences when there are none.

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Source: Slate

Moreover, if this point of view is taken into consideration, then poor countries should only concentrate on poverty alleviation and proper hygiene, reserving the “rights” to develop space programs only for the elite and rich countries. How much more sinister can one be !!!

Oh, and while on the topic, let me just remind you of some “shit” that you might want to look at back “home” – UK has one of the highest teenage pregnancies, increasing unemployment (despite the mass “throw-out” of many nationalities), alcoholism problem and until recently, the fragmentation worries that would crop up with the separation of Scotland. But that’s perfectly fine because you have toilets for all; it doesn’t matter if people die from drug overdose, you have unemployment benefits !!!

I am not of the opinion that India has no problems and is the epitome of modern-day advancements, but when others take up the stand that we should just stick to providing food and hygiene, it just makes me question the very foundations of the word “aspiration”. The criticism for our achievement is not warranted and is totally uncalled for.

Finally, when the title of the latest post on September 24, 2014, attributes all the success of ISRO to “luck”, it just confounds me. Are we still talking about rocket science or have we switched the topic to roulette or the slot machine? I am no expert in rocket science, but I am quite certain that it is very much an exact science, requiring the most diligence on even the most laborious and complex calculations, considering so many factors that even computers take ages to figure out. So, taking all that credit away and proffering it on luck just makes me think that this newspaper thinks that things just fell into place for India.

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Source: Extreme Tech

That makes ‘perfect sense’. After all, India is a “poor” country that cannot feed its poor, has no hygiene, lives in poverty, survives the terror, fights and competes with the Chinese, does not pay taxes, steals from its own people and has no sense of where we want to go. We just get things on a platter while the rest of the world toils for even a slice of bread. Yeah, right !!! (If it isn’t obvious, sarcasm is totally intended)

That’s also why brands are begging (yes, they are begging) to enter India. IKEA, WalMart, Amazon, Starbucks, Singapore Airlines, Apple, Microsoft, P&G, Unilever, Toyota, Volkswagen and several others, have, at some point of time, tried their best to enter the “emerging land of opportunities”. Some have succeeded; some have not. But I am sure that as senior international businessmen, we all know that when the world talks about the “next billion”, we aren’t referring to the West anymore.

We may not have the resources to fix up proper sanitation for the needy; we may not have proper healthcare; we may not have systems, institutions and policies; but we do have the brains to put up our own space program on the global front, when the technologically most advanced country spends nine times our cost. Sure, they have a larger agenda and they are much more sophisticated. But the fact that they have iterated and have much more experience in the field than “minnows” like us should give them the cost advantage as well. Reuse and experience should bring down costs, not spike them up.

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Source: BBC

So, stop comparing us. We have our own battles to fight, as do you. We aren’t always fighting with our neighbours and their neighbours and their neighbours.

We are just happy that we have made possible something as brilliant as this as economically as this. When our Prime Minster “likes to boast” of it, as cited in the article, it is because he has earned the right to boast of it, even if his only contribution to the entire program has been to take credit for something he may or may not have been actively involved in. But I digress…

We aren’t “first time lucky”; we have just made our own luck.


15 thoughts on “First time lucky, my foot

  1. Views- nicely put.
    I would not have read the article if I missed your post.

    The attitude of “don’t do space programs because there are hungry people in your country” is downright stupid if I must say.
    There are thousands of students battling poverty (literally struggling to find a single meal per day) and yet manage to find the courage, time and money to study hard, build a vision and achieve it. I have seen cases of the son of a office clerks, security guards working hard to get into prestigious roles in their life.

    Oh, did they do something wrong? Were they supposed to work harder in their poverty aiming only for 3 square meals a day and stocking up rice for rainy days? I don’t think so. Doing it might only put their lineage just 2 to 3 centuries back into poverty. Forward thinking is something that is a necessity to the developing (Country or individuals), and though it might look like a sacrifice on the then necessities, that is what will transform the individual or country from developing to a developed one.


  2. A fine retort put forward with finesse. The Economist and NYT have virtually run down our MOM success obviously because they couldn’t bear to see ‘the land of snake charmers’ join the elite group on Mars.

    Hope this post echoes its sentiments in the western press. Yes, we in India have our own share of mighty problems to grapple with (like any other ‘advanced’ country), but we are no pushovers in sectors that model our future. Ask those MNCs who are making a beeline for our shores.


    • Thank you Dad. Yes their retorts have been uncalled for, mostly because they couldn’t digest the fact that we could do something successfully the first time when they failed several times, despite the ‘brain drain’ that has plagued us for decades.
      The Western and most of Indian press might and will choose to ignore this, but it is my (and our) duty to vent out what we think is right and what we think is uncalled for.
      Glad to have you around… 🙂


  3. I totally agree with your views Siddharth. Why should we always take things lying down and allow someone to criticize us when the scientists and their teams truly deserve praise for the untiring efforts and the passion with which they pursued the ‘Mangalyaan’ mission? People really can’t digest India’s success. They still view India as a poor country of illiterate villagers and snake charmers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes that apparently seems to be the case here as well. Even in the NYT case, we were branded to have a cow with us while the rest of the developed world enjoys the luxuries of modernity. That is absolutely not true. This is my attempt to retort against that mindset.


  4. Good One Siddharth..Successful Chandrayaan 1 , putting 6 satellites in orbit in one go and then Mangalyaan sucess….all these cannot be sheer luck…Its hard work and eventually they will have to accept it…If they dont who cares…let them make their own perceptions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes exactly. There is barely any luck in rocket science. After all, that is one of the most advanced fields of exact and perfect science, so we can’t attribute any luck in it.
      I agree that everyone has an opinion, but when that opinion becomes judgemental and inflicting, then I take a stance against it as I have done here.
      Thanks for stopping by Sir/Madam. Glad to have you around…


  5. Very well written. I had read the article in The Economist that you quote and these were exactly my thoughts on the subject. (albeit not supported by relevant statistics on poverty/food shortage you provide here!) So glad you were able to put into words the thoughts of so many people like me who don’t have as good a sense of rhetoric as you do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gaurav, thanks a lot for reading. It gives me immense pleasure from the fact that bright intellectuals such as yourself read me and appreciate the viewpoint I wish to bring across.

      Regarding the last point of my rhetoric, well, I wish to discuss that with you. Check mail.

      I am glad that you liked it buddy. It is really gladdening and inspiring. Hope to see you around for more such inputs… 🙂


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