Celestial non experience

MYSTERY, myth, superstition, even suspense - for the Table - October had it Irbe it the milk guzzling &Anesha or the spectacle ijlwMed by the solar eclipse. material for television, Wmay argue, with great bers turning to their TV 57to interpretwhat they and heard.

rThe milk miracle occured overnight and caught bowcasters unawares and dkrefore one could forgive 00 patchy and superficial &wwtion given. But what of !Ibr solar eclipse of October 24?

Each time one was witnessing the ultimate moment rther it was Neem-kaMa, Allahabad or Diaad Harbour, Doordarshan eclipsed the darkened with this written on the "Total Solar Eclipse: estial Experience".

It was a useful and timely tinder, as one was distracted as it were by the desperate attempts of Yashpal to singlehandedly keep the show going. He tried hard at balancing his role as studio anchor with what was really the television producer's job - instructing errant cameramen (who couldn't hear him), briefing 4scientists on how they were to appear on the programme (who too couldn't hear his exasperated counsel), even nudging the "culturally inclined Bengalis" at Diamond Harbour into some poetic outpourings and last but not the least, engaging in a harangue with the cameramen at Neem-ka Thana and yelling "show us the instruments, show us the instruments".

As the telecast proceeded, we sat with pinholes and pencil doodles to help our five-year-old daughter understand that what was going on was something more complex than a game of hide-and-seek between the sun and the moon. Un- fortunately, the television set was little help. Despite the several hours of Doordarhan coverage something as elementary as a lucid, diagramatic animation of the eclipse, was missing.

When some anxious caller articulated the phobia about the effects of the eclipse on pregnant women, it was promptly dismissed as an old wives' tale. The fact remains that dismissive pooh-poohing of irrational fears doesn't really work on the faithful.

The inadequacies in Doordarshan's coverage of the eclipse constitute just the surface, behind which several other issues remain unresolved. The chaos of those few hours is symptomatic of the shabby face that the scientific establishment in the country displays before the public. Some agreement at the policy level on what needed to be communicated was warranted.

Had this been the case, at least some of the scientific significance of the 'event would have got disseminated. Instead, each time a scientist appeared on the screen, it was a whole lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo about gamma-ray experiments et al being aimed at hapless viewers.

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