Come Friday, and we will know whether India will be joining the exalted group of countries that have sent a space mission to Mars. The prospect of going knocking on the doors of our neighbour, the planet closest in its similarity to us in the solar system, has already set our hearts aflutter. It is not just good neighbourliness we are talking about (yes, yes we know that at this stage, only an unmanned orbiter spacecraft is up for discussion). After being brought up on a staple diet of violent Martians invading our planet to raze us to the ground - à la HG Wells in The War of the Worlds - or Earth-inhabitants destroying a superior Martian existence - as Ray Bradbury wrote about in The Martian Chronicles - we are wondering whether reality will match any of these mental pictures.
Thanks to Mr Wells, there is no escaping the image of an insipid biped coming face to face with an utterly hideous monstrosity, its gangly metallic limbs imparting a physical superiority that we are no match for. This is the nightmare scenario that we'd rather not dwell on: even as we are unfolding our carefully wrapped gifts (which can only be the latest Apple device, an Old Master painting and Justin Bieber, in that order), the Martian would have annihilated us to the point where we were but specks in the red landscape. Meeting creatures who look like us but are far more mentally agile doesn't portend well either; you are likely to overpowered through telepathy and turned into slaves before you can even whisk out your camera.
Since this is our very own spacecraft, we can, of course, equip those flying the mission with all the safeguards that prominent 'mangal watchers' in the country can throw up. Never-theless, the safest bet would be to discover that the Martians in question are nothing but tiny microbes that one can co-exist with without fear of being colonised.