IV. The Fifth Element
At 8.28 p.m. on December 15, 1987, six-year-old Kamal Pant stood on the terrace of his Dehradun home and observed a large, red light soaring directly overhead.
“No, it wasn’t a plane, helicopter, or prank,” he says, before you’ve asked the question. “Whatever it was stayed there a while and made no sound.”
The incident would spur the self-professed ‘sky watcher’ and fan of Star Trek, The X-Files, mythology, and conspiracy theories to scour the internet for all things UFO and ET. Then in 2014, he photographed and filmed what he claims is “a mothership taking off from and landing on the moon.” From thereon, Pant goes full steam ahead.
“I even mailed NASA about it, but didn’t hear from them. Until a month later, when I got an email from someone in Houston asking me to ‘stay away’,” he claims.
“Do you have this email, or a snapshot of it?”
“No. My system got corrupt a day later, and some of my videos vanished. My computer had been tampered with.”
Pant, a computer science lecturer at a private university in Dehradun, is what naysayers would call a tinfoil hatter (conspiracy theorist). He believes NASA and the US are involved in a cover-up, and that alien technology was obtained from the Roswell crash. He also claims to have CE-5 communication with ETs – that is, telepathic communication between himself and aliens.
“My mother and wife have seen everything and know I’m not lying,” Pant says. “Distant relatives call me sanki (madcap), but it doesn’t affect me.”
The 36-year-old father of a toddler, who works with both Disclosure and TOP Research Group, is currently looking into sightings in Ranichauri village, Tehri-Garhwal district. “The events are so common, locals call the beings pariyaan (fairies). They also tell their children not to step out after dark lest they be taken away.”
His colleagues at the university, Pant says, have no qualms with his interests and theories. And even if they did, he wouldn’t break into a sweat.
“Every time I look at the sky, I feel like something, and someone, wants to communicate with me,” he shares. “No one can take that away from me.”
V. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Pushkar Vaidya likes his coffee cold and his feuds hot.
From 2007 to 2015, the astrobiologist was embroiled in a scientific tug of war with astrophysicist and author Jayant Narlikar. The bone of contention: Narlikar’s hypotheses supporting panspermia – the theory that life exists throughout the universe and is distributed through asteroids, comets, and meteoroids. In short: life on earth may have come from external sources.
A truce was eventually called when Vaidya founded the Indian Astrobiology Research Centre (IARC) in Mumbai, for which Narlikar now serves as mentor.
“I’m open to the possibility of ET microbial or intelligent life. I just didn’t think there was enough evidence,” says Vaidya. “If anything, panspermia research is one of IARC’s focus areas.”
Vaidya is no ufologist. The 36-year-old straddles the no-man’s land between belief and scepticism. His bond with Arthur C. Clarke, one of the world’s most prolific sci-fi authors, has much to do with it.
“When I was 16 and studying in Sri Lanka, I wrote In Search of Aliens. Arthur Clarke lived in Colombo and as an ardent fan, I went to his home because I wanted him to pen the foreword to my book,” he laughs. “He didn’t write it, but that kicked off a two-year association.”
Vaidya credits Clarke for bringing wonderment and adventure to science. “Science is now increasingly taking on a tone of finality, especially when it comes to the search for alien life,” he feels.
But he also throws the gauntlet to ufologists.
“The UFO phenomenon is real from a research perspective. The problem is how people go about it. If you look at everything as alien, you’re better calling yourself a flying saucer investigator,” he reasons.
A long discussion touches upon everything from cattle mutilations to the Kardashev Scale, which hypothesises that the most intelligent civilisations can harness energies on a galactic – even cosmic – scale to partake in astral travel.
There’s a lot Pushkar Vaidya believes in. What he’s waiting for is substantiation.
“As they say in The X-Files: ‘I wanted to believe, but the tools have been taken away’,” he smiles.
Want to review the evidence? Here’s a reported UFO sighting from Chennai