Mars of the mindhttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/mars-of-the-mind/

Mars of the mind

Mangalyaan gives rise to an intriguing possibility — Martians.

Mangalyaan gives rise to an intriguing possibility — Martians.

At the turn of the 20th century,H.G. Wells wrote “intellects vast cool and unsympathetic,regarded this world with envious eyes”. Ever since The War of the Worlds,in which Martian fighting machines descend on Earth and decimate human civilisation,a not so friendly visit from the inhabitants of the neighbouring planet has seemed imminent. Orson Welles’s 1937 broadcast,where he warned of aliens landing in New Jersey,managed to create widespread panic. But this time it will be our eyes on Mars,and one of the objectives of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission is to find methane,which could indicate the presence of life on the planet. Mars is all very well. But let’s face it,it’s Martians we’re after.

It all began with Percival Lowell,a 19th century astronomer with a powerful telescope and a fertile imagination. The canals and oases of Lowell’s drawings gave rise to the idea of an advanced civilisation that died out as water on the planet dried up. Since then,Martians have given rise to both alarm and envy. Wells’s Martians are no charmers — greyish with “oily brown skin” and a lipless,V-shaped mouth. Neither are the skeletal marauders from the 1996 satire,Mars Attacks!

But along with the horror,there is a curious tug of affinity,a sense of kinship with the dwellers of our neighbouring planet. The author Edgar Rice Burroughs has his hero,the swashbuckling John Carter,fall in love with the red Martian princess. And in the film,Mission to Mars (2000),the astronauts who land on the planet find out that human beings are really the descendants of Martians. Maybe what we really want is for Mangalyaan to prove that men are,in fact,from Mars.