Thursday, 20 March 2008

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke: The end of an era


March 20, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, the man who saw tomorrow and treated the world in early 1940s with a virtual feeling of satellite communication decades before it became a reality, is no more. He passed away in his “adopted” country Sri Lanka at the ripe age of 90, leaving behind a legacy of science fiction, which held the young and the old alike in awe and reverence. With his death a glorious era of science fiction has come to an end.
Arthur C Clarke was arguably the greatest sci-fi writer of modern times. He was an inventor and great humanist too. Together with HG Wells and Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke formed the trilogy of visionary science fictionists, who captured the imagination of the common man with predictions that appeared quite simple, yet hard for scientists to accomplish.
Some of Arthur Clarke’s predictions have become a fact of our daily life now and the world waits with eagerness for other predictions too to come true soon. For, he had prophesised a world of peace, comforts and safety, including travel to the outer world standing or sitting on elevators with much ease. After all who does not want to travel beyond the Earth and explore what lies out up there in the azure sky?
As sci-fi writer par excellence, Arthur Clarke could paint on the vast expanse of his mind the ideas that even great scientists failed to conjure up in their big brains. The space travel of Arthur’s imagination that began in 1968 with the “2001: A Space Odyssey” continued via “2010: Odyssey Two” and “2061: Odyssey Three”, before concluding with “3001: The Final Odyssey”.
He predicted how one day computers would interact with man, dinosaur-servants would be quite handy, extending man the much-needed support, and how man would be able to climb up the sky through giant elevators fixed at the Earth’s equator. The dinosaur support will be nothing short of the genie of Aladdin’s magic lamp that comes with no
strings attached.
His marvelous achievement notwithstanding, Arthur Clarke was quite a simple and humble man that he did not see his great predictions as great. In fact, he hated the term, “prediction”, and loved to use the word, “extrapolation”. He used to say quite often, “If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run - and often in the short one - the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative”. But scientists vouchsafe that Arthur Clarke’s predictions are not conservative and indeed hard, if not impossible, to accomplish.
He foresaw man meeting intelligent creatures from other planets and stars by 2030 and scientists discovering the secrets of immortality by the fag end of this 21st century.
Arthur Clarke had been living in Sri Lanka for more than 50 years and had survived the 2004 devastating Tsunami, though his diving school bore the brunt of the nature’s fury.
His residence in the island nation is a sort of electronic cottage with all types of modern gadgets that enable him to keep touch with the scientific community the world over, despite his confinement to a wheel chair for more than three decades. He suffered from childhood polio. His foundation named after him functions from Washington DC and Arthur Clarke used to operate it electronically sitting back in Sri Lanka. The United Kingdom, his mother nation, honoured him in 1998 with the
knighthood recognising him as one of the pioneers of science fiction in English, and his adopted nation Sri Lanka described him as “an asset to the nation”. Three months before his death, Arthur Clarke said he would like to be remembered most as a writer, “one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imagination as well." He cleared his last publication, The Last Theorem, only recently and breathed away before it could be published.
Even before he began writing books in 1950, he used to discuss his ideas and theories with a group of dreamers, which met to find out whether it was possible to send man to the Earth’s natural satellite, the Moon. Initially, he limited himself to non-fiction describing the early space flight, but he did not look back after he shifted his focus to science fiction.
If there were any popular author, who had bridged the gap between arts and sciences, fiction and non-fiction, theories and realities and the present and the future, it was Arthur Clarke. It was also he who told the humanity that there’s a world beyond the confines of the Earth (of course, he loved to call the Earth, an Ocean because it’s all of water and water and less of land).
And it is for us all to explore and give a new meaning to our life. Good bye, Sir Arthur C Clarke, Good bye.

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