Prof. James Pickett, a prominent theoretical physicist at the Sorbonne University, Paris, was following the live e-announcement of the first photograph of a black hole (the holy grail of the field) in a distant galaxy. As the first picture began to appear on his computer-screen, he adjusted all the control buttons (magnification, brightness, and orientation) to feel as close as he could be to the real thing. The background announcer explained how in the illuminated lower portion, the forceful gravity was bending light to enter into the central death-zone of total darkness in the middle, from where nothing could escape. What amazed him most was the intergalactic entanglement of light and darkness. Prof. Pickett felt a shiver flowing down his spine.
Later in the month, Prof. Pickett flew to Mumbai, India to deliver an invited lecture at the country’s prestigious atomic research institution BARC. His hosts arranged for him to stay in one of the prominent hotels of the city, frequented by foreigners, popular movie stars, and cricket players. However, this multi-religious and multi-ethnic, but secular country had been on an emergency alert, due to a recent border-confrontation with its religious neighbor and subsequent fear of any extremist group’s infiltration.
Due to his tight schedule on the lecture day, Prof. Pickett came down for an early breakfast to an almost empty dining area. He found a young gentleman drinking coffee alone, while looking into a magazine. Both exchanged pleasantries, when the youth (introducing himself as Shahid) invited him to join him at the table. Prof. Pickett found Shahid smart and curious. He had finished his higher studies in physical sciences overseas and returned home. In fact, he was looking into the recently released picture of the same black hole in a science magazine. That led both to get into a deeper discussion on black holes. Slowly, more hotel-guests began to arrive and a line began to form for the buffet-breakfast.
Soon Prof. Pickett was picked up by his hosts. Later in the day, while he was presenting his lecture, several simultaneous terrorist attacks would rock Mumbai targeting three upscale hotels and the cricket-stadium where an international match was being played. In the initial count, 300 people perished, with more unaccounted for. To his utter shock, Prof. Pickett learned that one of the targeted hotels was where he was staying. A “Breaking News” on a flat-screened wall-TV began to display a short video, culled from security cameras from same hotel. From one camera, it appeared that the attacker had waited until the line for breakfast was well-formed. From the shot of a second camera, it became clear to him that the attacker was none other than Shahid. Pulling out a dark backpack from under the table, he would join the breakfast-line, and detonate the hidden explosives.
Wondering why he was spared, Prof. Pickett suddenly visualized the image of the distant black hole where bright light entering a dark abyss of no return. He also learned the word “Shahid” in local language meant “a martyr”.
By Sankar Chatterjee
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