Go Wherever You Like
Pritha Choudhuri takes a vacation to space
by Pritha Choudhuri
“Don’t pay any attention to it, go wherever you like.” The captain dismissed the warning sign put up on top of the bay. There weren’t that many places to go to anyway. The ship was built of modules, each about the shape and size of a bus, and you could waft about among them and grab a seat in one, inside a box about the size of an airport toilet stall. It’s not like each module had a different view. The ship was a tube suspended in space, a hundred and fifty kilometres above the earth, and I was a space tourist.
Yes, it's expensive. I remember back when Blue Origin first started someone said it took thirty million dollars to get to space. That would have been a bit much even for us. I can’t believe that was just ten-fifteen years ago. It’s much more affordable now. Of course, it isn’t like we can go to space every month like it’s the US, but still.
When slots became available this year, I said to Alok, “We must go.” In a year the kids will be out of home. Kavya already has a list of the colleges she wants to go to, and you know how brilliant Karan is. When his time comes, I have no doubt he will get any college he wants. He’s already cricket and debate captain at school – not sure if cricket will count in the US, but even so. Sometimes I think his problem is going to be what to pick.
Anyway, Alok keeps grumbling about not being able to be away from work for too long, but I told him this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Imagine the value the kids would get from having this experience so early in their lives. For me, of course, the best thing was that phones don’t work – where else could I take my family and not have them stare into their phones all day long?
The kids were easy to convince and here we are. I had thought there would be a lot more preparation – I had heard about capsules that get you used to the acceleration and having to learn to float and all that sort of thing. All we had to do was sign the papers, do the medicals, pay the money and then wait for clearances while we watched what we ate. And we got lots of visitors. I think people thought we were on some sort of suicide mission or teerth yatra because everyone would come home and take selfies with us, preferably all four of us, as though they were convinced this would be the last time they saw us. Mamiji even got us her special theplas.
On the day, we strapped ourselves into our seats and waited for lift-off. The acceleration pressed us down and I felt like I was being sucked into the earth by a giant vacuum cleaner as the floor fell away. It was just like those rides you do on roller coasters, except it seemed to go on and on. And then suddenly we were free.
I can’t describe to you what it means to float around. You are not in control. You’re bumping around against everything. You’re trying to go in one direction, and you end up going in another. Part of my preparation for this trip was to watch space movies, and I had imagined I would do what movie astronauts do: swim straight as an arrow, gliding from hatch to hatch. Instead, I try to launch in the direction of something and get entangled between someone’s legs, or scrape against a corner, or misjudge the hatch and bump my head against its side.
Anyway, today was our exploration day and the ship was open. The captain asked us to ignore the warning signs and go anywhere we liked. The communication and navigation pods were out of bounds anyway. We bumped our way into the sleeping quarters – phone booths laid flat into which you strap yourself at night. We looked in to the pantry – banks of shelves stacked with foil boxes of pre-packaged meals. This was a deluxe flight, so we could choose between 4 types of meals for dinner. It didn’t make much of a difference because only the saag paneer was edible. We were encouraged to look at the view. The first time you looked outside, you got goosebumps – a black void everywhere and a blue ball somewhere far away. Looking down at your own planet like that felt like a sin, like we weren’t supposed to be able to look at it like that. But we had been looking at that view for a while now. This was the fourth day of a seven-day trip, and every single time I’ve looked out at the view I’ve seen the same thing. The thrill is gone. I imagine even God might get a bit bored of God’s view if that was the only thing He saw.
Our routine on the ship is quite straightforward. We get up at a certain time and queue up for morning ablutions. This is a ritual in itself, I can tell you. They don’t advertise this particular aspect of space travel, and with reason. Try brushing your teeth in zero gravity. Better still, try doing your business in zero gravity. Take it from me – it's all spray and pray and plenty of toilet paper.
Once you’ve cleaned up your mess and managed to get everything into the vacuum toilet, it is time for breakfast. Foil-packed eggs or upma, choice of juice or tea. Then some sort of infotainment in the recreation module. Usually something about space. This was interesting on the first day, but after a while the big numbers just bounce off your head. A hundred and fifty thousand miles sounds much the same as a hundred and fifty million miles and I found myself nodding off after a while. I gave up after the second day. After infotainment hour you can play video games or watch movies or things like that. Since you’d have to be strapped in for these, you can’t really sit around a table together while you do them. So much for a family holiday without phones.
The kids disappear for a bit every day. I’m not sure where they get to, but Kavya is suddenly very friendly with the young man whose label says ‘Comms Specialist.’ As for Karan, I haven’t the slightest idea where he is. Anyway, it's only a tube with about five things to do, so neither of them can get up to much. Alok has found a friend – they talk about bond yields all day while staring into the void. Being in space doesn’t change the things that really matter.
We seem to be the only family on this trip. The rest are much younger, and really quite fit. And single. Everyone gushed about what a good idea it was to come as a family. I made sure to tell them whose idea it was.
We have three more days of this. After that we strap ourselves back in and get back to earth. We’re going to parachute down into the sea and get picked up by a ship. I’m looking forward to that. Space and sea travel on the same trip!
So there you have it. I’ve begun to think of it like a wildlife safari, except there are no animals. And it is much more uncomfortable. You sleep tied into little boxes and you eat out of packets and you come back with bruises. You do have something to talk about at the end of it – my Insta followers should go up three times at least once I put my pictures up. But next time I want a real vacation, I think I may just go to Lonavla.
Pritha Choudhuri is a some-time entrepreneur who now spends most of her time dabbling in projects that strike her as interesting.
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This story was written in response to the following prompt:
Random Sentence: Pick up the nearest book of fiction. Go to page 124. Read the fourth complete sentence on that page. Make that the first line of your story.
The book closest to Pritha was A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende.
Art by Simahina.
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