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Home > Tamil National Forum > Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Dear Astronomer Halley ... A Futuristic Year 2050 letter
Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
11 October 2000
Foreword by Sachi Sri Kantha:
"Dr. Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam's autobiographical reminiscences of his childhood entitled, 'Ode to My Village' was a heart-warming piece of writing. Not many Eelam professionals are blessed with the skill of penning what they experienced with self-deprecatory humor and humility. Stimulated by Ethir's lead, I have presented to the readers, something of my own, which I wrote last year for an essay competition sponsored by the journal Science. Essays were solicited on the theme, 'A Day in the Life of a Scientist in the year 2050'. My autobiographical piece touches on the topic of cross-cultural courtship and marriage, which is one of the causes of concerns to Tamils living in the diaspora. I'm neither an advocate nor an opponent on this delicate practice. I have just presented my experience.
Since the readership of Science is an international one, I wrote this reminiscence in the template of an imaginatory letter to the famed English astronomer Edmund Halley, a contemporary and friend of Isaac Newton. Only tangentially, I have mentioned my dream of an Eelam science laboratory in Trincomalee, and here I have presented only excerpts (omitting the technical details) of my submitted essay, which was one among the 160 essays submitted from all over the world.
My dream is that when Halley's Comet pays its next visit in the year 2061, Eelam will have its place in the geographical maps, adjacent to Sri Lanka, and the TAMIL lab will be a reality, bubbling with bee-hive like activity."
14 January 2050
Dear Astronomer Halley:
308 years have passed since you breathed last at Greenwich, England. I'm a 20th century descendant of your chosen profession, and thus I feel a sense of close relationship to you as my ancestor, though I was born in a tropical island 96 years ago, which was known as Ceylon then. During your times too, Ceylon was its name and it was a Dutch colony.
You may be interested to know that the British navy (under the guise of English East India Company, which was set up by Queen Elizabeth I) making use of your pioneering contribution of 'isomaps' showing the global distribution of winds, pressures and tides, attacked the Dutch garrisons in Trincomalee, in 1795 and made Ceylon as a colony of Britain. Trincomalee remained in British hands until soverignty passed to the people of Ceylon in 1948. I was born in 1953. In 1972, when I was a freshman at the University of Colombo, the island changed its colonial name Ceylon to that of its ancient name, Sri Lanka.
After spending the active phase of my scientific career from 1991 to 2030 in a couple of non-profit and for-profit research institutes in Japan, I returned to my native land. I'm a BEAKER now. This acronym, which I coined to describe my current activities for the past 20 years, stands for 'Blame-proof Economical Aviary Keeper for Experimental Research'. Pigeons, parrots and other pet birds are my speciality. Currently I'm a consultant to a for-profit research institute, which carries out contract research to wealthy clients in industries and universities located in the Temperate regions. This institute is acronymically known as TAMIL - 'Tropical Asia's Matchless Innovational Laboratory'. It is also a play on the name of my mother tongue, an ancient Dravidian language, spoken by millions in India and Ceylon of your days.
The TAMIL was established in Trincomalee in 2018 from the contributions of Tamil diaspora who left their ancestral land in 1983 to search for their rainbows in Europe, North America, Oceania and Japan. 345 years have passed since you made your memorable wish regarding your comet in your Astronomiae Cometicae Synopsis.
You wrote in 1705, "...wherefore if according to what we have already said, it [the comet] should return again about the year 1758, candid posterity will not refuse to acknowledge that this was first discovered by an Englishman."
Yes sir, candid posterity has been kind to you, and your comet is now a household name with the tag, 'Halley's Comet'. Your comet has visited us four times since your death, and we expect its return again in 2061. I remember very well the year 1986, when your comet visited us last time.
1986 was the year of my courtship with my (then) future wife. She lived in the country side of Japan, and I was a neophyte to Tokyo. She was a star-gazer, while I was not. This is how, I became interested in your comet. I was in love. Call it coincidences, but subsequently I came to realise that it was my karma, that some important events in my own existence were linked to the two visits of your comet in the 20th century.
Both my maternal grandparents were born in 1910, in Point Pedro [the northern tip of the island Ceylon], when your comet made its first appearance in the last century. On Dec.31, 1985, when your comet crossed the orbit of Earth, traveling at slightly more than 40 km/sec, I had just completed my doctoral defense exam in Food Chemistry at the University of Illinois, and was wondering whether to pursue my professional career in USA or to move to Japan, where Saki (my pen pal-turned-romantic interest) was residing. By Feb.9, 1986, when your comet passed the perihelion at 0.59 Astronomical Units from the Sun at a speed of 55 km/sec, against the wishes of my parents, I had crossed the Pacific to locate myself in Tokyo. On the day it made its closest approach to the Earth - April 10, 1986 - my mom celebrated her 50th birthday.
My fiancee and I badly wanted to get married in 1986 to celebrate the visit of your comet, against parental opposition. Parents of both of us, being traditionalists, felt that we were under the influence of the sinister spell of your comet and were so dumb to tie the knot in a cross-national, cross-cultural marriage. Somehow, Saki and I married in January 1987 and our first child Sachiko arrived in 1988. I'm glad to attest to you that as far as our marriage was concerned, your comet did not cast a sinister spell, as our parents had believed then.
Last night I received a phone call from Sachiko who now lives in Sendai City, Japan. She is now 62, and is an astronomer-physician at the Fukushima Medical College. She is also the secretary of the Japan Chapter of International Halley Watch program. She gave me the message that Japanese astronomers, in collaboration with Japan's space agency, is planning to send a human space mission to offer a 'handshake' when your comet visit with us next time in 2061. I'm somewhat certain that by 2061, big axe would have fallen on me. But I'm sure that my great-grand children will be singing the age-old quatrain,
'Of all the comets in the sky
There's none like - Comet Halley
We'll see it with the naked eye
to welcome it on my behalf. My wish, as a Hindu, is that I accumulate adequate quanta of good karma in this life, so that I'm reborn again to enjoy the visit of your comet, with my biological descendants.
With affectionate greetings, I sign off.
Sachi Sri Kantha