‘My Mission Is To Listen To The Possibilities Of How My World Will End’

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Swapna Kona Nayudu

Illustration: Samia Singh

TRAILING GARMENTS, an errant lock of hair, a moleskin that’s seen rough days, pashmina that could be fury, wealth, woe. We’re at a talk. We’re about to have an epiphany. We’re about to see the world’s end. There’s a clock, we’re told. It tells the time when all time will end, we’re told. If I were six, I would have gaped in horror. That’s a lie. If I were six, I would have been thrilled to my very bones. The end of time can mean only one thing for a six-year-old — no more schoolwork. But I’m not six, sadly. I’m 26. And my sole mission tonight is to listen and learn with reverence to the many possibilities of how exactly my world will end. I’m rubbing shoulders with political elite, people of genuine eminence and I’m being cool by association. But, I’m still gaping. I thought my world ended last Tuesday when those jeans didn’t fit right, or fit at all actually. Apparently, though, there are worse catastrophes one could face. Of course, one couldn’t actually endure them as, we’d be radioactive waste by then. But, that’s not entirely comforting, is it?

So, we’re here today to listen to a beyond-brilliant physicist explain how the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences was first conceived and how it works. The professor is a man of sheer brilliance and achievement, having joined the ranks of Einstein who himself once walked the annals of said bulletin. The professor is on the review board that deliberates what events could change the positioning of the clocks’ hands. Simply put — when there are bad things that happen in the realm of nuclear weapons, the clock moves closer to midnight. That is a bad thing. Midnight is bad. Midnight is the end, utter annihilation. But, when good things happen, the clock’s hands move back, sometimes by a whole minute! This is cause for celebration. And so, the world lives on, with the hope that one clock will never tick too fast.

To make matters far more complicated, the concerns of climate change have been added to the calculation. Thus, the clock now looks not only at nuclear weapons as possible doomsayers, but also at climate change. How exciting. Just when we thought we had nuclear science conquered.

The clock moves closer to midnight when bad things happen in the realm of nuclear weapons. Midnight is the end

Half-an-hour into the lecture, I hear much shifting. Yes, we’re all getting uneasy. No, it’s not the air-conditioning. The professor is chiding us in a way only a professor can, for using air-conditioning, playing silly war-games with Pakistan, worrying about their weapons. As he puts it, why target India Gate when you could go for Vasant Kunj — the population density is much higher. Good heavens. Uncontrollable twitching. Many images come to mind. My paan-eating broker convincing me Safdarjung was better, friends from Vasant Kunj, the two new malls that look like five, cafes, chocolate! Wait, what? I’ve lost the thread, damn it. Oh right, panic. It all comes flooding back. Someone’s talking about South Delhi. No, wait, that’s South Asia.

People are asking questions. Yes, people still want to know more. I am slightly out of breath and eager to go back to the TV where elected representatives of the government hurl furniture at each other. Bless me, I always thought that was doomsday!

I circulate at the end of the talk. I leave, I check my phone for messages, I make dinner plans, I cross the road. I do the Nazi arm, no one pays any attention. The world goes on. No autos. A colleague waits patiently. He is courteous. Auto stops. Autowallah is not so courteous. I text my mother to say I’ve forgotten to pay my phone bill. She texts back to say, relax, it’s not the end of the world.

Swapna Kona Nayudu is 26. She is with the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi

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