It was pitch dark at 4.30am, when 18-year-old Nakshatra stepped out of her medical college hostel in Pondicherry. Within a few minutes, she boarded a bus to Chennai. She was on her way to visit her grandparents, who stayed in a beach-house on East Coast Road, just outside Chennai.
Nakshatra always got excited at the thought of spending time with her grandparents. Though she loved both of them, she was closer to her grandfather, Mugilan, than to her grandmother, Lakshmi. Till she joined college, Nakshatra stayed with her mom, Daamini, in T.Nagar. Living with a single mom meant she got some fatherly love only during weekends, when they visited her grandparents.
Nakshatra had special love for the beach house too. Mugilan, who was an avid Douglas Adams fan, had named the house ‘The Bhateu’, which stood for ‘Beach House At The End of the Universe'. Though she had no clue who Douglas Adams was, Mugilan’s wife had accepted the name only because it sounded like the Batu caves in Malaysia, which houses the world famous Murugan temple!
The Bhateu was just a small villa, but it stood on a huge 6-acre ground. Nakshatra’s great-grandfather had bought 10 acres of land for a throwaway price, several decades back. Mugilan had sold off four of those ten acres, to manage the expenses of constructing his dream house, 22 years back and for Daamini’s wedding, the next year.
Mugilan had designed it to be the perfect place for them to stay after his retirement, making sure it suited well for his interests (astronomy, reading and birding) and his wife’s (gardening, reading and spirituality). The terrace housed his homemade 10-inch reflector telescope. A mini library inside the house had a computer and more than a thousand books. There was a cosy prayer cum meditation hall for his wife. A small kitchen garden, a flower garden and a lotus pond covered a small portion of the open land, while the beach and a scrub forest (home to many birds and small animals), formed the rest of the area.
Sitting alone on the bus, Nakshatra’s thoughts wandered off to the times she spent with her grandfather at The Bhateu. Mugilan was knowledgeable in several fields of science. If Nakshatra wasn’t staring at the stars in Mugilan’s company, she would be listening to his lectures on science – if it were electronics one day, it would be quantum physics or life sciences or evolution the next. It was because of Mugilan that Nakshatra developed such a deep interest in science. Though she lived with her CA mom, Nakshatra was “allergic” to anything related to accounts and finance.
Her train of thoughts wandered around several childhood memories and she started reliving one particular evening, when she had upset her grandfather immensely. She could remember it so vividly. It was a rainy day in 2003. She was munching hot bajji and listening to Mugilan talk about NASA’s Voyager space missions and the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence program. The interesting discussion came to an abrupt end, as Mugilan stopped speaking suddenly. She saw his face lose colour. Daamini, who was in the drawing room too, rushed towards them. Mugilan got up and slowly walked towards the easy chair in his room.
Daamini looked really angry, and told her off. Nakshatra had no clue of what just happened. Nakshatra, just 9 years old at that time, could not understand why her innocuous little question had created such an impact. She had just asked him, “There’s a boy in my class believes aliens and UFOs are real. Complete nonsense, I told him. What do you think, thatha?”
She didn’t dare to ask her mom for explanations that day. Or, for the next few years. She didn’t even want to ask her grandfather, who encouraged her to ask questions and answered all of them. Not until her 18th birthday, did Daamini talk about it. However, she didn’t get into details. She kept it quite short.
“Nakshatra, listen. I know you have been curious about thatha’s UFO connection. Yes, there was a UFO sighting in Chennai. It was more than 20 years back. Several people saw it. Newspapers reported it too. However, the police and the government convinced everyone that it was not any alien ship. Everyone, except thatha. He stood firm. He pushed it too far, ended up in jail and lost his job. Now don’t ask anything more about this. All of us have forgotten about it.”
This part-knowledge made had her even more curious. She’d gone off to college and hadn’t met her grandfather after that. Should she ask him directly? Her grandfather answered all her questions and cleared all her doubts. Will it become uncomfortable like the last time, when she talked to him about UFOs? With these confused thoughts in her mind, she got down from the bus and walked towards The Bhateu.
It was about 7.30 AM when she entered The Bhateu. She felt restless. She didn’t know what, but she knew something’s wrong. She walked in to find her mom and grandmom in tears. They’d just discovered that Mugilan had passed away in his sleep. Nakshatra broke down like she had never done. Mugilan was the closest person to her in her 18 years. She couldn’t believe he wasn’t with her anymore.
Within no time, Nakshatra’s aunts, uncles, cousins and several other relatives started coming in. Nakshatra wanted some peace and quiet. She just wanted to be alone. She went into the library room, not to read, but just to be alone. She just wanted to sit there and not do anything. But, one thought kept haunting her - her grandfather, a man of science, couldn’t have stood firm on his theory if he didn’t have proof. What did he know?
The more she wanted to keep her mind blank, the deeper her thoughts wandered. “If he was indeed right about the UFO, he had died carrying a lot of burden in his heart. For a man who breathed science, it would have really hurt him to be discredited by a bunch of morons who understood nothing of it. Just like how Copernicus or Galileo or Giordano Bruno would have felt when the Church discredited their work. Centuries later, as other scientists showed concrete proofs, Church had to admit that these great scientists were right. But, who will find proof to clear up my grandfather’s name, if he was right? It has to be me. I was the closest to him”, she thought.
Nakshatra, being an UFO-skeptic, didn’t want to believe anything till she found proofs. She tried to summarise what she already knew. She hardly knew anything, other than the fact that it had happened more than 20 years ago. Though not very hopeful that she’d get anything useful from the Internet, she walked to the computer table, moved the mouse and brought the monitor to life.
She searched for half an hour, with no luck. Then she found this entry in a long list of “UFO sightings”.
Mass sighting of large, silent, low-flying black triangles. Similar to the Belgian UFO wave. Dismissed as sightings of Planet Venus/Shooting Stars. Mystery still unresolved.
This could this be it. The time-period and location matched. She couldn’t find any other entry pertaining to Chennai, during that time period. After searching for several more minutes, she gave up hope of finding anything else on the web.
Where else could she find more info? Asking her family at this time would be inappropriate. She knew Mugilan was not in the habit of writing diaries. She started going through draws in the library. There were several old books, a few files and lots of old documents, all covered a thick layer of dust, accumulated over many years. She browsed through the old pile without finding anything. She almost gave up, when an old envelope with “Confidential” written on it, caught her attention. She immediately checked the date – 23/06/1990 – just a week after the sighting. Her heart started beating faster. Could this be it?
She suddenly felt the room to be stuffy. Long time spent in the small room and the excitement of the letter made her suffocate. She needed fresh air. She stormed out of the house clutching the envelope tightly in her hands. She felt better with the cool evening sea breeze gently brushing against her face. As she came out, she saw a group of workers digging up a grave, for the funeral that was to take place that evening. As Mugilan loved the beach house, the family decided to bury him in The Bhateu premises.
She opened the envelope. It was from the sub-editor of a popular weekly, and a good friend of Mugilan.
My apologies, first. Your UFO interview isn’t getting published. I tried my best, but the editor doesn’t want to clear it, as there is pressure from the Government and the Police. All this is between you and me.
My sincere advice, as your friend – Forget about the UFO. You have no idea of who you are up against.
PS: I’ve attached the final edit of your interview. Just as a keepsake. Do not publish it anywhere.
She hastily opened the attached sheets and skimmed through to the part she was looking for.
Mugilan: I was returning home after spending a night overseeing the construction work of my beach house, near the VGP resorts. It was around 4.50am. I had barely reached the main road, when I saw a huge triangular object with lots of lights, in the Eastern sky.
Nakshatra’s concentration was disrupted by a sudden ruckus the workers were creating. She just couldn’t focus. She walked away from that noise and continued reading.
It was losing height quite rapidly. It looked otherworldly. According to me, it’s a UFO, which crash landed. I couldn’t see where it crashed, but judging by the distance, I think it fell into the Bay of Bengal. I wish the government commissions a search operation.Interviewer: The official take on this is that, the public saw planet Venus and mistook it for a UFO. What do you have to say?Mugilan: It’s a common explanation used all over the world, to rubbish of UFO sightings. That’s nonsense. I’m an amateur astronomer. I observe Venus everyday. There’s no way that was Venus. It was as big as a bus. I know it was a UFO. I will try to find proof to substantiate my claim.
As she finished reading, she wasn’t sure how she was feeling. The interview had answered a few questions, but had raised a lot more. She was surprised and excited to know that the UFO had crash-landed somewhere close to ‘The Bhateu’. If it did crash into the sea, how did Mugilan think he could find proof? Did he find anything? Was he arrested before that, and he gave up?
As she was pondering over these questions, her mom asked her to join in for a few rituals, which were to be performed before the funeral. Later, Nakshatra joined the other male members for the burial, despite strong opposition from her mother and grandmother. As people started leaving the grave after the burial, she just stood there, in tears.
Barely anyone heard her farewell to her grandfather, in front of the grave. “Thatha, there was so much knowledge you gave me. But, there’s so much I do not yet know, I wish I’d asked you. I really want to solve this mystery and clear up your name. I don’t know where I’d find more clues, but I will do it for you, Thatha.”
Little did she realize how close she was to the secret. She was also not aware that she had just walked away from the truth, while she was reading the interview, earlier that evening. Had she stood there, she’d have learnt what the workers were excited about.
“There’s some metallic object, poking from the side. I haven’t seen anything like this. Don’t know what it is”, a worker had shouted. This had caused lots of excitement among the workers and they’d gathered around to have a look at the strange object that was jutting out through the mud. But, their boss had chided them for wasting time, asking them to cover that up that trash and finish the work quickly.
The UFO, or at least a part of it, had fallen right in their land, and had been covered up all these years. The secret was still lying there. Mugilan had carried the secret with him, to the grave. Literally.
PS: Today being World UFO Day, I dedicate this story to all those people who have gone through great miseries, due to governments rubbishing UFO sightings. These people have lived their entire lives with a 'liar' label on them, unable to prove their claim.