By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bill & Joe : Lunar Linguanauts!

Having talked in a tight sequence (from Feb. 7 onwards) about French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Copernicus, the Common Market, and the fine art of playing with words and names, I just can't resist the temptation to share with you an article I wrote 40 years ago, which was a delightful mixture of all those elements.  So here we go!

Shankar's Weekly
7 January 1973
Lunar linguistics  

IT is reported that newspapers in Italy went crazy over the fact  that Astronaut Harrison Schmitt spoke two words of Italian on the moon.

 All that had happened was that Schmitt, on spotting a nice little piece of moon rock, exclaimed "Mamma Mia!  (My mother!)"  in Italian instead of "My God!" in English.  But the editors in Italy apparently didn't think of it as a trivial event.  "Italian spoken on the moon!"  headlines seem to have screamed all over that country. 

Since one of the main objectives of the Apollo missions is to promote peace and goodwill among mundane men, it may not be a bad idea to require future astronauts to get a smattering of several foreign languages , for compulsory use on the moon.  If necessary, they can be supplied with phrase books appropriate to the lunar environment.  They can even be taught some songs in foreign languages during their training.

I hope the NASA  authorities will give serious consideration to this suggestion.  If they implement it, the whole world can have something to rave about!


Paris, July 27:

All France went wild with joy today, after Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise announced this morning that French has been spoken on the moon.

It happened when astronaut Bill Concorde stumbled and fell when negotiating a steep gradient near the crater Copernicus.  Astronaut Joe  Goodfellow told him: "Ne marchez pas si vite, mon ami! Vous vous casserez la tete!  (Don't walk so fast, my friend!  You will break your head!)".  Getting up, Concorde said:  "Cela m'a donne un vrai coup!  (That gave me quite a turn!)"

All evening papers in Paris today carried banner headlines proclaiming the news.  Meanwhile, crowds were already celebrating the event all over the city, and champagne flowed freely in the restaurants. 

A large procession of students marched along the Champs Elysees in the evening, shouting "Vive la France!  Vive l'Amerique!".  The procession ended in front of the Arc de Triomphe, where a Torch of Friendship was lit by the students.

An official spokesman said that fresh thinking was going on in Government circles regarding the question of admitting America to the Common Market.


Moscow, July 27:

There was wild jubilation in the Soviet Union today, following Moscow Radio's mid-day announcement that Russian has been spoken on the moon.

During their lunch at 8-30 hours GMT today, Cosmonaut Goodfellow told his colleague:  "Ya ochen goladyen.  Ya brassayoos na zakooski!   (I am very hungry.  I pounce on the meal!)".  Cosmonaut Concorde replied:  "Ya ne goladyen.  Oo menya galava baleet  (I am not hungry.  I have a head-ache)".

Shortly afterwards, a ground station in Siberia picked up the strains of the Volga Boatmen's song, which the cosmonauts were singing when they set out on their second moonwalk.

Reports pouring in from everywhere indicate that the Soviet Union rejoices that two Americans have spoken the moon's native language on its soil.

President Brezhnev has sent a cable to President Nixon, assuring him of continued Soviet hospitality in outer space.         


Buenos Aires, July 28:

Enthusiasm for the Apollo-18 mission ran high in most parts of Latin America today, as radio stations flashed the news that Spanish has been spoken on the moon.

The following conversation between the astronauts had been picked up this morning by a ground station in Chile: 

"Que hay, Bill?  (What's wrong, bill?)"

"No me encuentro bien, Joe.  Estoy mareado.  (I am not feeling well. Joe.  I am feeling sick)."

"Digiere Usted bien?  (Is your digestion OK?)"

"No se.  No aguanto el calor.  Yo quisiero banarme!  (I don't know.  I can't stand the heat.  I would like to have a bath!)"

"Por Dios, amigo! (For God's sake, buddy!)"

Wildly cheering crowds thronged the Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires this afternoon, shouting pro-American slogans.  Senorita Eulalia Rosario, prima donna of Latin American cinema, has sent a cable to Apollo Mission Control, inviting Bill Concorde and his colleague to enjoy a luxurious shower in her Buenos Aires villa on their safe return to the earth.


New Delhi, July 29:

All Union Government offices were closed at 2 p.m. today to commemorate the fact that Hindi has been spoken on the moon. 

Announcing the Government's decision to close the offices, All-India Radio said in its afternoon news bulletins today that American astronauts Bill Concorde and Joe Goodfellow spoke to each other in fluent Hindi, two hours before the lift-off.

The following is the text of the conversation:

Bill:  "Dekho yaar, kitnee khoobsoorat hai hamaaree  duniya!  (Look, boy, how beautiful our world looks!)"

Joe:  "Haanji!  Bahut achcha hai.  (Yes, sir!  It is very good)."

Bill (singing):  "Chanda O Chanda!
                          Kiss ne choorayee
                          Teri meri nindeeya?
                           (Moon O Moon!
                           Who has stolen
                           Your sleep and mine?)"

Joe:  "Chchodo yaar!  Bahut kaam padaa hai baakki!  Thoda concentrate karo naa?  (Stop it, man!  There's a lot of work to do still!  Concentrate a bit, will you?)"


Postscript : 2013  
Space station and moon song 

There are several reasons why this is one the most memorable articles I have ever written: 

 (1)  The Apollo-17 Mission of December 1972, which was the specific context in which I had scribbled this text, was the last time men had landed on the moon.  Apollo-18 never materialized, so the expression exclusively remains a figment of my imagination.    

 (2)  On the other hand, my hilarious report that the Soviet Union had assured the United States of America of extending its hospitality in outer space (which was an inconceivable scenario in the scheme of things prevailing at that time) came spectacularly true before the end of the 20th century, in the evolution and operation of the International Space Station.  

 (3)  This was the first article in which I had featured the twin astronauts Bill Concorde and Joe Goodfellow.  (They went on to figure repeatedly in my writing later on). 

 (4)  The song Chanda O Chanda! from the Hindi movie Lakhon Mein Ek, which was reverberating all over India in the early '70s, is one of the most beautiful and memorable pieces of music ever figuring in Indian cinema.  I hope the first Indian astronaut landing on the moon will let the legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar's exquisite voice echo the song back to earth from the lunar surface!  Meanwhile, you can hear it right now on YouTube!  

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