It’s a grandma’s tale about Ram and Shyam that we are all so familiar with. Ram was an honest, hard-working farmer while his neighbour Shyam was a good-for-nothing type who would always laze around on his charpoy, watching Ram toil hard in the fields. Ideally, this story should end with Ram bringing home the fruits of his labour and Shyam cursing himself for having frittered time away. But that’s where NASA stepped in —and the duo’s lives were never the same again.

NASA put out an incredible, too-good-to-be-true offer on various job portals — one that came with a pay of over $5000 a month to anyone who could spend 70 days in bed. The idea was to study the effects of microgravity on supine souls. During this time, the chosen candidates would be allowed to do as they pleased — watch TV, surf the web, read books, play games and even entertain visitors.

They could have a bath in bed too. So, while Ram was sweating it out in the fields, Shyam had quietly logged into a job site on his smartphone and applied for the opening. NASA should have given him a wide berth, but looking at his credentials, they gave him a wide bed instead and sent him a terse message — ‘Houston calling Shyam, come in please!’

Ram was shocked. The biggest loser could win only in a reality show for weight loss. It couldn’t happen in real life. What would happen to all the moral science lessons in textbooks? What kind of values would children grow up with? Who would extol the virtues of hard work? Ram had done all the hard work — and now, he couldn’t end up becoming the laughing stock of the village.

So he approached NASA and pleaded his case with them. After much deliberation, NASA decided that there was only one way out. The astronauts needed some fresh food that could be grown in space and consumed. Besides, space expeditions were getting longer and it was getting increasingly difficult to carry food for the trip. “What’s the best crop to be grown this season?” they asked him. “Lettuce,” he replied. “So be it,” they said in unison and blasted him into outer space so that he could do some space farming. And that was how Operation Veggie — a vegetable production system that would facilitate nutritious salad crops for the space travellers — began. The system would ensure that the plants were under a constant stream of red and blue light so that they could carry out photosynthesis.

Ram carried everything that he needed for the job — seeds, sample plants, sacks of fertilisers, water hoses and even a tractor. Unfortunately, he had a stowaway on deck. A frog that had gone MIA in a sack of fertiliser managed to extricate itself and tried to jump ship just as the space shuttle was blasting off. And that was the famous photo of the frog that was seen during the launch of NASA’s LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) spacecraft at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The story ended with the rabbit on the moon becoming a space raider and searching for lettuce patches in the Milky Way. The frog, after its maiden space voyage, turned into a celebrity and is currently producing and starring in cool Crazy Frog music videos. Ram and Shyam gave up farming and are focussing on their current careers with NASA. However, it was not a happy ending for all.

NASA, despite turning vegetarian and trying to grow couch potatoes and lettuce, got into trouble with PETA for not having taken permission to send a frog into outer space.

Good Indian folktales always have a moral — this one has two. For oldies, no matter what, technology always pays. And for youngsters, the next time your folks curse you for goofing off, please let them know that you’re busy preparing for a career at NASA.


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