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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The mystery man on the moon

A Man in the Moon?
You may wonder why I've asked my good friend Dipen Bhattacharya if I could reproduce a piece that he wrote on 4 March 2013.

   The reason is embedded in a traumatic series of events for Bangladesh 42 years ago, which affected me deeply. I'd finished a series of theses on the origins of Pakistan, the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, and India-Pakistan relations up to what was then the present day.

   At that time, the subcontinent erupted in what was called civil war in Pakistan, ending with India's involvement and the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh was born, and not a moment too soon. During the war, Bengalis of what was former East Pakistan were subjected by the Pakistan army to killing, brutality and horror on a massive scale.

   But there were some Bengalis who sided with the occupying troops, for reasons I won't go into here. They gave up intellectuals to the enemy simply because they were potential leaders. 

   The Hindus of Bangladesh (10% of the population) were a special target, but no Bengali in the former East Pakistan was safe.

   Amazingly, some of these traitors were able to escape punishment until very recently – again, for reasons I won't go into except to say they were protected by right-wing politicians and political Islamists of the worst type – those who have acquired more power now than ever before, even though Bengali Islam was never of the extreme type. In fact, Bangladeshi Islam is typically what I'll call 'liberal' [to put it simplistically] until the comparatively recent influence of Saudi orthodoxy [another story].

   A sense of over-arching Bengali identity has typically blunted religious difference, but the survivors from the traumas of 1969 to 1971 have long memories – with good reason. Torture, murder, rape and plunder don't disappear in people's minds. They've also witnessed revisionist attempts at an enforcement of strict orthodoxy of a sort alien to old Bengal, and thus to put the traitors into the category of true Muslims. Little wonder the Jamaati are loathed by so many, Muslim and Hindu alike.

   So this is not a tale of Hindu-Muslim differences in Bangladesh. Muslim Bengalis suffered terribly, too, at the hands of West Pakistani military thugs. Nor is it to make fools of village folk, because we all have our self-delusions, and the Jamaat has done its mischief amongst them, convincing some that murderers are martyrs. They never were, nor are, nor ever will be heroes.

   I visited Bangladesh for the first time of many trips soon after 1971, and saw the legacy of the horror and the destruction caused by the war. There was no doubt what my Ph D topic would be. No, not about the war, but how, in those first years of freedom, an exploited province in a former state that never should have been created was going to become a new nation.

Dipen Bhattacharya
   Dipen is an astrophysicist by training and has now spent the greater part of his life in universities in the USA, but Bangladesh will always be his spiritual home. I know he would not want me to embarrass him with the praise he deserves as a highly respected polymath as well, very much in the Bengali tradition of the true intellectual. As with my dear friends Tahsinah and Mahbub Ahmed, we've known each other for some 25 years.

Now I'll allow him to tell his story!

Delwar Hossain Sayeedi
Sayedee’s Face on the Moon: Astronomers’ Nightmare
by Dipen Bhattacharya

You ask how is it possible that in the year of 2013, people could be fooled to see a convicted killer’s face on the moon. But that’s what the Jamaat propaganda has accomplished. In the early hours of Sunday morning, in many parts of Bangladesh, Jamaat activists announced, using loudspeakers, that the image of Sayedee could be seen on the moon. The idea is so preposterous that, even in medieval times, this would not get any traction. But in twenty-first century Bangladesh, it did.

We laughed at the outrageous idea and made fun of the ridiculous photoshop-ed image of Sayedee posted in the Jamaati site Basherkella. Unfortunately, the atrocious call was sufficient to get people out of their houses and infused them with enough Jihadi energy for an early morning rampage. Villagers marched to attack a police station. As a consequence, in Bogra, several people were killed. Sad indeed.

How is this possible? This defies all logic, even Jamaati logic. What does the future hold for a country where thousands can be tricked into believing something so absurd? The Daily Star reports several people called the newspaper to determine the veracity of the sighting. Are the people in Bangladesh so gullible? What is the state of education in the country?

Before I became aware of the Bogra mayhem, I was doing a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation for the amount of energy to create a visible image on the moon. It is necessary to project this energy (light) on the moon so that it would be visible from the earth. The numbers are astronomical, because to put an image on the moon that would be visible from here, you have to match the solar flux at the moon.

The total solar power received over the face of the moon is about 10^16 watts (ten thousand terawatt). That’s 16 zeroes after one. One terawatt is 1,000 gigawatt or 1,000 billion watts. The moon has an albedo of about 0.12, that means about 12% of the solar light is reflected off the lunar surface and on the 2nd March evening about 75% of the moon was illuminated. All this means, on that fateful night, the total lunar power was about 10^15 watts (one thousand terawatt).

Now, how are you going to project a picture of Sayedee on the moon? Let’s use a LCD or multimedia projector. How much energy does the bulb need? About 10^16 watts (ten thousand terawatt).

We are going to assume that the projector beam can be approximated with a very narrow pencil beam so that, as it arrives at the moon, it spreads out just enough to cover the entire moon. The moon has a radius of about 1737 km. We are not going to take into account any light absorption within our atmosphere. We are also assuming there is no other energy loss during transmission.

This means we would need an LCD projector of 10^16 watts. Remember, the moon has to reflect this light to make it visible for us.

What is the total power output of the entire world? 2,300 gigawatt or 2.3 terawatt. That is 2300 x 10^9 or 2.3 x 10^12 watts. Hence, even if we pumped the entire world energy generated per second to our projector, it would have fallen short of the needed wattage or energy by a factor of 5000. (The 5000 number will be much higher if we had taken into account the atmospheric extinction and the directional albedo of the moon.)

So even the energy generated by the entire world will not be capable of reproducing a speck of Sayedee’s red beard on the moon.

Of course, 2.3 x 10^12 watts of power will instantly vaporize the projector, computer, the operators and the entire installation.

But when people believe in divine intervention, all these calculations are beside the point.

Wikipedia's Man on the Moon
PS: Without the aid of telescopes, in the past, people in certain parts of the world did imagine a man’s face on the moon. I found one of them in the Wikipedia pages. The features of the face are mostly given by the dark material of the lunar maria. If anything, this man’s face looks like a human skull, maybe not far from Sayedee’s true image.

To me, the Southern Hemisphere moon has always presented a much happier visage than the Northern one, because it is 'upside-down' by the Northern standards. 

Many thanks, Dipen.

My Southern Hemisphere Man in the Moon
Dipen Bhattacharya and Denis Wright, California 1996.


  1. I'm grateful you have added your blog piece to this story, because not having yet read your book "Bangladesh : Origins and Indian Ocean Relations (1971 -1975)" (which I have just pulled down from the shelf to go into my 'read next' bundle) I felt a bit at sea with Dipen's story when I first read it. I had, though, been noticing (mainly on social media, there's little in Australian newspapers) the demonstrations happening in Bangladesh regarding this matter of prosecuting those war criminals. In your usual clear manner you have enlightened me on this, and I am fully interested now to read at least the relevant chapter:)

    Life is too short ,too busy, to read up on all I'd love to know!!!!

    I have become so impressed by, and fond of, the Bangladeshi (origin) people I've met on Facebook that I am hoping desperately their country too does not fall prey to the extremists. Please, not!

    Julie M

    1. Practically none, Julie. Only when there are disasters do we hear of it. So our perception is completely slewed.

  2. PS People the world over will believe what they are told by unscrupulous power seekers. It happens here in Australia every day - and the newspapers and commercial television feed it.

    Julie M

  3. Thanks Dipen da, for the write up & thanks Denis, for sharing.
    I start with re-posting my comment on Dipen da's write up:jokes aside, it is absolutely horrifying to see that there are people in this age who believe such absurdity strongly enough to kill for and die for.
    It is equally terrifying to think how easily such people could be turned into a mob. That none of them had the least common sense to ask how this was possible when our Prophet Mohammed's (Peace Be Upon Him) face never appeared on the moon or anywhere else. Definitely Sayedee could not have been more important than our Prophet to have deserved such a miracle from Allah?
    It is so shocking to see that beside the general violence which included slaughtering police as well as civilians, witnesses and their families, vandelising private and public property, minority communities have also been attacked ..even the ancient Buddhas, deities, pagodas & temples were not spared. In the name of religion, these fanatics did not even stop from burning the Quran.
    It is frightening to see what these people are capable of and its painful to know that all the political parities, at one stage of time within the last 42 years, have actually shook hands with them ... just for votes.
    Such past mistakes have costed us dearly as we see today the infiltration of these people into politics, economy, administration, academia and society. It is scary because today, they look just like me and you.
    And to know that all of this is just one part of something much much larger .. something which has jolted the country, our lives and our conscience.
    It is not an easy thing to deal with as we try to go on with our lives, as the children continue school, as business goes on as usual.
    The call for Justice by the youth at Shahbag has become a call to awaken the conscience of those who were fed up by the weight of injustices but too frightened or just too tired to do anything about it because of the mere helplessness of people due to the socio political culture of the country.
    On the other hand, it has awoken the many headed monster which for so long had been unseen, but which by this time, has grown itself into each corner of the country.
    The call for 'Justice' is questioned by many, because it is a demand for hanging those who were responsible for the genocide in 71. At this age, as civilized, educated, sane people, can we ask for an eye for an eye? Can we question the judicial system?
    The call for 'Justice' is being questioned by some, because a few of the youth are alleged to be atheists.
    The call for 'Justice' is being questioned because political parties are trying to use and abuse the platform.
    The call for 'Justice' is in question because it is putting lives to risk, and disrupting peace and development.
    Yet thousands of Bangladeshis are supporting this call because , as a people, they believe in the dignity of their freedom, they believe in the dignity of their country, and certainly do not give a second thought to make belief tales like Sayedee's (also Khaledas face, in case you haven't heard about that one yet) face being seen on the moon.
    Despite the dangers and the complications, they support the spirit behind the movement because they understand that it is not about 'revenge' but rather, about what they owe to the country and those who gave their dignity and lives for the country.
    Yes, life is short, but for Bangladeshis, the time has perhaps come to be able to live this short life in dignity.

    1. What a beautiful, heartfelt response, Tahsinah -- thank you very much. I can't add anything except to say that all over the world, ignorance is exploited for political purposes. Here in Australia too, but much more importantly, in the USA where their actions based on ignorance really matter in vulnerable parts of the globe.

    2. PS I had no idea that Khalida was also seen up there on the moon. To think that once long ago I shared tea and various goodies with her at her house in Dhaka. It's not my most favoured of meetings, I have to say. I got nothing useful from our dialogue and she was more interested in the sweets.


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