Saturday, December 22, 2018

Please read this short story - "My Mother is a Lunar Crater"

by Salman Hameed

There are very few writers who can provide a nuanced critique of politics in different cultures, bring science into their stories, and write a beautiful prose. All of these elements are present in the short story, My Mother is a Lunar Crater by Uzma Aslam Khan. A full disclosure: Uzma is a good friend of mine and also a wonderful colleague at Hampshire College. Sometimes it can get tricky if you know a person but don't like their writing. Fortunately, Uzma always makes this really easy for me (plus, don't take my word for it alone. This story was awarded second prize in Zoetrope and was a runner-up for the Margarita Donnelly Prize for prose writing in Calyx magazine). The local setting of the story is an added bonus for those who live in Western Massachusetts.

You can also see Uzma's ability to beautifully weave science into her prose via her 2009 novel, The Geometry of God (if you have a chance, please read it). While the protagonist in the novel is a paleontologist, her current short story is centered on a Pakistani-American astronomer. What is really cool here is the way she anchors her story around a crater named after an 11th century Muslim polymath, Al-Biruni. And along the way, you also get to learn about lunar libration. As you will notice after reading the short story, I have not said anything about the central theme that is urgent, important, and also tragic.

Here is the beginning of the story:

My Mother is a Lunar Crater
by Uzma Aslam Khan
My mother is a lunar crater by the name of Al-Biruni. The crater lies on the far side of the moon, away from Earth. It can only be glimpsed by a loving eye when the moon sways. As I watch my mother on our way to the science museum, I want to tell her the name for this slow oscillation: lunar libration, from our zodiac sign libra, Latin for scales. 
     She sits in the passenger seat, tense, nodding very slightly from the tremors that doctors say are nothing serious, her right hand clutching the armrest, her left clutching prayer beads. A libration, I want to say, permits us to peer just beyond the moon’s eastern edge. Even then, however, Al-Biruni appears only in profile, never head-on. 
     “You drive well,” she says after a time. Moments earlier she had sucked in her breath at the speed of cars at that tricky intersection between Springfield and Chicopee where interstates merge and the GPS says to turn right and then left and the lanes go from three to two to four. I was in the wrong lane and the man passing us gave me the finger. Because she was there, I did not give him the finger back. “How scary,” she had said, releasing her breath. That’s when she began to clutch the armrest and the beads. 
     “Thank you,” I reply. 
     This is her first time visiting me in western Massachusetts. This is my second time seeing her since the deaths of my father and sister in Karachi. I could not make it for the funeral. By the time I arrived, they were already buried. While I was there, each time our friends came to the house to condole, my mother said how glad she was that the bodies had been identified, sometimes they never are. When she had kissed them on the cheek—first my father, then sister—they seemed to smile, she told the guests. I wondered if she shared this detail only when I was present. I wondered if she knew what it was to not be able to touch the faces of those you love to say goodbye. 
     I cannot remember which exit I am to take. My iPhone rests to my right, in the cup holder beside the hand brake, charging. It is hard to see, and the GPS voice is mysteriously silent. I decide it is Exit 7 not 8 and stay in a middle lane.
Read the full story here.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Launching a new initiative: Kainaat Astronomy in Urdu

by Salman Hameed

I have been making popular astronomy videos in Urdu for the past couple of years. I, myself, got hooked onto astronomy after watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos - on Pakistan, and it dramatically altered the direction of my life. For this reason, I have always appreciated the power of visual media. I am now making an effort to bring astronomy videos to audiences in Pakistan and other places that understand Urdu. There are three YouTube series that I am engaged in:

Science ka Adda+ (Café Scientifique): An in-studio episode about recent discoveries in astronomy.

Kainaati Gup Shup (A Chat About Our Universe): A video podcast about astronomy recent astronomy news.

Hamari Kainaat (Our Universe): A more detailed discussion about astronomy between me and Pakistan's leading amateur astronomer, Umair Asim.

Now all these series will be under the same channel: Kainaat Astronomy in Urdu

So first of all, please subscribe to the channel. It is free - but with subscriptions, we can say that there are others who interested in the channel.

Setting this up has been a fascinating experience. I used to think that all you have to do is make good content videos, upload them, and people will get to them. But that was so 2016 thinking! There is a whole YouTube ecosphere that you now have to understand and appreciate the fact that close to 300 hours of content is uploaded on YouTube every minute!! I think this is completely nuts - and the number is going up fast. And I am not helping!

One more thing: If you don't understand Urdu, that is okay as well. The video podcast, Kainaati Gup Shup will soon (January 2019) be in both English and Urdu. This will not be dubbed or sub-titled - but rather recorded separately. Stay tuned.

In the mean time, here is a recent Video podcast about Oumuamua - an asteroid from outside our solar system:

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