Communication : Human, Cosmic and back to Personal

There are some professions, which provide you ample time, scope and if you have the temperament, to become a philosopher or a person speculating of problems of Nature or Metaphysics. I think it was Einstein, while troubled by the busy and regimented life of University Lecturer (while contemplating on the problems of Nature) once commented that he wanted to be a keeper of the Lighthouse. What would have been a highly boring job for us mortal remains a wonderful opportunity for a mind extra-ordinarily tuned. Here I beg to state that I don’t use extra-ordinary in the euphemistic sense but in a sense we say extra-terrestrial. Now, my readers might guess that this disjoint reverie might have been due to effect of some smooth intoxication of some wine and here, I discover a connection – all these are related somewhere during my last travel in the Western Ghats of India. Starting from my visit and training at India’s oldest, largest and perhaps remotest Satellite Earth Station at Arvi/Pune, then to the Metre Wave Radio Telescope (GMRT – Giant Metre Wave Radio Telescope at Khodad near Arvi and then to Chateau Indage, a vineyard and Champagne Crafting Plant near GMRT. The Keepers of Satellite Earth Station, the Keepers of Cosmic Radio Receiving Stations and the Keepers of the Wine, all three professions share one thing in common – a profession that requires patience, habit of remaining in relative solitude and the power of living in an abstract world.

Such professions teach us directly that great lesson of having our inner capability to disengage ourselves temporarily from the prison of our own self and the mind changes its function of scrutiny from microscope to telescope.

The Radio Telescopes at GMRT, Khodad.

Radio Telescopes are used to receive the radio signals that our cosmos produces due to varied number of reasons, some known and some unknown. With those elegant objects lying in the midst of as if nowhere, radio astronomers listen to the stories of stars, galaxies, nebulas, pulsars, quasars and also of the cosmic history, written in the alphabet of radio-energy. Sitting some few kilometer from the Radio Astronomer, my colleagues of VSNL, Arvi have been doing the the similar job with almost identical looking antennas since 1972 with two fundamental differences – first, they not only receive but send and know perfectly where to and secondly, they mercilessly reject the same radio-energy that GMRT astronomers are trying to catch by putting 30 dishes of 45 m diameter. What is one’s man’s food is another man’s poison can never be as true as for my colleagues managing their Satellite Antennas talking with Satellites overhead and GMRT astronomers collecting an amount energy, regarding whose magnitude, Raleigh’s sentence is as scientific and as poetic – The total amount of radio energy collected by all the radio telescopes all over the world is less than that of the energy of a snowflake striking the earth.

The twin antennas at VSNL, Arvi. The Antenna in the foreground is beaming at 359 deg E and its radio beam is almost grazing the Earth’s Surface before hitting a Satellite at 36,000 Km away.

Even though the object of love of VSNL antennas and that of GMRT are different and mutually exclusive, they employ almost the same techniques to embrace and send their greetings to the distant sources. As a matter of fact, their history is somewhat related. The Satellite Communication owes its birth to an idea of Aurther C Clarke and Radio Astronomy was somewhat accidentally born. The Satellite Anetnna you see in the upper picture is locked with another antenna in a satellite, lying approx. 36,000 km away, revolving and rotating at the same speed that of earth and hence remains stationary with respect to the ground antenna. This locking of the two antennas requires little explanation so that your respect for scientists and engineers may little improve. Roughly, it is something like this – you are sitting on a moving car along an Indian Road and hold a laser gun. (that you sometimes see people focus on cinema screens) Then you are asked to focus that point on a dot printed on the backside of another car, lying on a flat highway some 5000 km away. (if such a plane highway exists !). The actual locking of antennas is much more complex and involved than this.

wordsmith with one of the antennas in VSNL, Arvi

If you observe the antenna in the background, you will see that it is a parabolic structure supported by complex mechanical assemblage. The purpose is to support, maneuver and keep it under lock in different atmospheric conditions. The tracking mechanism is simply to observe the Radio Beacon from the satellite, convert this into a scaled reading and depending on the direction of movement of the beacon strength, a circuitry swings into action and sends a DC current in different directions of an AC induction motor whose direction of rotation reverses by the change of the reversal of direction of current. This mechanism’s generic name in engineering shorthand is called as feedback control system. It is controlling the input to a system by mixing a part of output so that a desired output level is maintained. The most commonly used and the most delicate system of feedback system that comes to my mind is a love affair where emotional input(s) are adjusted harmoniously so as to maintain a desired output.

VSNL antennas carry bundled, nicely packed slices of voice, data or video and after amplifying properly for its journey upward, it makes all human emotions invisible. Watch the antenna tip properly, from this point hangs an invisible beam where all our hellos, all our @ s are suspended – the emotions of this planetary species passing through the blue pavilion, passing through the cold cosmic space and then snooping to the Earth again – our only Home in this vastness of Space and Immensity of Time. GMRT antennas, on the other side of Pune-Nasik Highway is listening to metre wave radio waves emanating from all parts of this cosmos. They have designed it such a way as to simulate an antenna of some 1000 metre diameter by a process called Aperture Synthesis. Now if you can pardon my error in considering Aperture as diameter and coupled with the knowledge that Gain of an antenna is square of its diameter, you will immediate understand why it is so better to use a large diameter antenna. Now, GMRT people would have been happier to have an antenna of some 1000 metre diameter so that they may get maximum gain as the energy hitting the earth’s surface in metre wave radio is too feeble in the all kind of background noise, including everything that we consider useful – mobile phones signals for example. But no engineer recommended a 1000 metre diameter antenna. So they did something very intelligent by synthesizing an antenna of so much diameter by doing correlation in time and space and thus providing a mathematical antenna of 1000 or so metre diameter behavior. Here they used FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) Method and I was delighted to know that they are using Red Hat Linux as Operating System for their Co-Relator System. If some other civilization in space, some Extra-Terrestrial Life has been observing our planet in Radio Spectrum for some thousand years or so, then it will find heavy activity in Radio Waves for last 100 years or so and since 1972, their receiving antennas will detect heavy HF and later Ghz emission from the Arvi village of India, from planet Earth. We have been producing radio waves for a century, Nature has been producing it for aeons.

In the late 1940’s, while testing a High Sensitive Receiver, an engineer detected a noise that he cannot eradicate fully. Later, it was found that this radio noise is coming from all directions and was fast becoming the experimental evidence that Universe was created some 20 billion years ago from an explosion called Big Bang from which sprang all matter and energy of this universe, including its so far known interpreter – we, the human species. There is a Sanskrit proverb – if you find some smoke, the fire will be nearby. So thought George Gammow. He said if such a massive explosion happened sometime back, search for the smoke, it will be found everywhere in the cosmos. Not only that, Eddington’s expanding Universe and Edwin Hubble’s observations all pointed to the fact that we are possibly living in an Universe that expanding from the singularity of Big Bang. If that is so, Gammow reasoned that all traces of that primordial energy might have Doppler Shifted to higher wavelengths and hence Radio Waves. Radio astronomers and also fascinating objects like Pulsars and Quasars detected this cosmic background radiation, which would have been unknown without the technology of radio astronomy. This was really found and after Second World War, a lot of military radars antennas became radio telescopes. Other than exploring the Mother of All Queries – Who we are? Wherefrom do we spring ?

And Metre wave Radio waves holds a tremendous link – the emission line of Hydrogen atom lies at 21 cm and hydrogen atom is the simplest of all atoms. If Mind of God loves simplicity and order – a thought loved by Freeman Dyson, while listening to the ticks of radio waves hitting the planes of Khodad GMRT antennas, we are not only getting radio signatures from very distant cosmic objects but also encountering the infancy of our Universe itself.


Western Waters of my country witnessed a decade of my misspent youth and this time Western Ghats offered me memories to cherish. Below are two landscapes of Eastern side of Western Ghats which could have been easily captioned as my friend Selvam would have said – "These view(s) of Southern France was shot at the Western Ghats"

Mr. Thdanai, my friend at VSNL, Arvi who came their to arrange our training from CPI , a very young man, double my age also ignited my imagination by telling that the meadows and the weather both can deceive grapes into thinking that this is not Burgandy or Riviera but Western Ghats. Some blessed person has smelt this message and set up a Wine Crafting Plant nearby with a beautiful name – Chateau Indage, where Western Ghats grapes are transformed into wine and share the table without shame with their cousins at France. I remembered looking at the cellar where some 5% wine evaporates and Frenchmen says – that’s angel’s share and in Burgundy, I was told by a French Doctor on board a French Ship CS Vercors (please read wordsmith’s ocean voyage in connection with undersea optical cable laying of SAFE – South Africa Far East at that after the first harvest, the grapes are put in the vat and village maidens come in long white gowns and crush the first grapes barefoot, standing on the vat. I could only ejaculate – "Blood on Marble". The French Doctor corrected me – "Blood on Greek Pillars." The pillars of my body, my knees trembled!

The Vineyard at Western Ghats

As I was driving along the Pune-Nasik Highway, overlooking the feminine meadows of Western Ghats, interspersed by small hedges, a golden yellow radiant kiss of the sun on the hills, vineyards, I felt that I am being transported and cycling in Tour de France. I believe my readers and here I confess that in the midst of those enchanting atmosphere, I remembered the face of a young, very soft-spoken and shy woman, whose name remains la belle dame con merci and hence, I went to my office and when I made the call, the Antenna there dutifully and accurately beamed it to the destination and there was the Ring. In the Beginning was the Ring and then They spoke. For some moments, there was only the Call, the Caller and the Called. I looked at the GMRT antennas far away and thought of our human plaque on-board Voyager which have gone past our solar system… If Voyager ever comes across another civilization in the cosmic womb, they will find that picture of a man and a woman, designed by one of my heroes of youth, scientist-humanist Dr.Carl Sagan, and I wonder what they will figure.

A garden at Western Ghats – Gifted by Nature, Nurtured by Man

What will that civilization think about all the hopes and aspirations of us ? What message we will be to them? As a very bright evening was closing in and I sat in the garden you see above, I felt a great hope for us. We, in spite of all straight or crooked path, strong or tottering steps are searching for that Beyond – with us, within us and Us everywhere.

wordsmith acknowledges his debt to Mr. Raybole of GMRT,Khodad for his co-operation, to Mr. Thadani of CPI who has been a wonderful companion during our stay. As for web renedition of the document and images, thanks to Mr. Sony, Mr. Montu of VSNL, Calcutta. And finally, Mr. Rakesh Upadhay, Senior Veteran of Calcutta's Internet Campaign, dating back to 1995 when VSNL launched the service for the first time in the country, deserves a great thanksgiving from me for his SMSs, his curiosity and that rare ability to stay young, in body and in mind.

Disclaimer and Additional Information: VSNL, GMRT and Chateau Indage - information about the three organization are available at VSNL, GMRT, Chateau Indage respectively. The technical details mentioned in the work are generic and any ambiguity or error are author's responsibility and the organizations cannot be and should not be held responsible.