From transplanted organs to test tube babies, vaccines to vehicles in space – every modern-day advance in science has been beyond the pale of imagination till it happened. Any imaginings about such possibilities much before the time of such inventions would have been considered the stuff of fiction. No imaginings provoked the inventions of modern science. It is politically incorrect and rationally impossible to claim that they did. But one may be permitted to ask: could the ones who imagined have gone on to invent too, if they had the opportunity to do it or to inspire another? Surely, the ‘two cultures’ are not all that distanced from each other! Did not those magnificent mortals who once fooled around with flying machines go on to land Philae on comet 67P, letting their unmanned flying machine wander in space for ten years before it found an opportunity to do what they had imagined it could? Had mortals never tried to fly, God having decided to make them wingless creatures, would we have vehicles vying for space in space? While the history of modern science and science fiction can be satisfactorily debated, the same does not hold good for the possibilities and potentialities that prevailed in pre-history of even recent vintage.
Take the case of coffee, a compulsory aid to scientific endeavour: We know a little bit of its history. But it boggles the mind to imagine that out of all the plants that were around, someone should have chosen this one to try brewing a decoction after subjecting the seed to a multiple level processing: stewing, separating fruit from seed, drying, roasting, powdering, decanting after pouring boiling water over the stuff. Surely, the inventor of coffee did a certain amount of ‘science’ though the chronicles of his experimentation are lost in the mists of myth. But this is far simpler stuff, it seems than the creation of the laddu – a permanent fixture on the politician’s palate: not only has a particular legume to be processed and powdered. It has to be subjected to a medley of cooking processes and mixed thereafter with spices in sweetened syrup, which in turn has to be of a particular consistency, and the whole allowed to marinade before being shaped into spheres. A culinary invention merely, true, but a complex one nevertheless, that might have called for a scientific spirit at least, if not science as it is understood.
When there is so little we can know even about the simpler everyday things of life, how much more distanced may we be from the more complex happenings in the life and times of our myth-makers!