Star trek

Anand Narayanan, academic and astrophysicist. Photo: special arrangement   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Among television’s stars, Akalangalile Prapancham, winner of the 2014 Kerala State Television Award for Best Education Programme, is a bright supernova.

Picture this: planets and galaxies, almost outside the span of human comprehension, flash magnificently in a veil of darkness. As an aerial picture of the Earth is quickly followed by images of Saturn and Jupiter, one can hear an engaging narration in the background explain the mysteries of the universe. This is Akalangalile Prapancham (The Distant Universe), a Malayalam educational television programme that explains the basics of astronomy.

An interesting irony presents itself when a young child is able to view the huge expanses of the universe, the formation of stars and the malignance of black holes, all through a rectangular metal box. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Akalangalile Prapancham is the recipient of the 2014 Kerala State government award for the Best Educational Programme.

The VICTERS television show Akalangalile Prapancham, spearheaded and anchored by Anand Narayanan, endeavours to take viewers into the mysteries of the universe. Anand, creator and narrator of the show, describes that his idea for Akalangalile Prapancham stems from a universal appeal towards astronomy.

With Season One dealing with the solar system, Akalangalile Prapancham strikes a chord in everyone who has ever pondered over the enigma of the vast sky. Anand says: “Despite socio-economic differences between rural and urban Kerala, it is great to see that intellectual curiosity and passion remain constant all throughout. Everyone is fascinated with what is out there – is there life outside of Earth? How did the universe begin? How will it end?”

For Anand, his love for physics and science literature acted as the catalyst for his journey in astrophysics. “From a young age, I was always interested in Physics and science literature by famous authors such as Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. This pushed me to explore this field further, and shortly after receiving my engineering degree, I knew that I wanted to pursue astrophysics as a career,” says Anand, a postgraduate in astrophysics with a PhD from Pennsylvania State University, United States.

He credits his interest in promoting science to the public to this experience abroad. “When I was in Penn State, I remember school students and elderly people would come over to the university to learn about astrophysics almost on a daily basis. It was the responsibility of us Masters and PhD students to explain our research in a manner that was accessible and engaging, so we often opted for creative methods, like 3-D shows and interactive displays. This was very inspiring and when I came back to India, I knew that I wanted to do the same for my community in whatever way I could.”

By explaining the wonders of the universe in an accessible, engaging and entertaining manner, Anand has done just that.

Consider the simple question: How are chemical elements formed? He explains: “All the elements that we know about currently are forged from the interior of stars. The universe does not know any other way to produce elements like carbon, oxygen, iron, or fluorine without the help of these stars. These stars that existed a long time ago, ended their life in huge explosions, and new stars were formed off this debris incorporating these chemical elements. Now, ponder this- What are humans made of? The carbon in our bones, the calcium in our teeth, the oxygen in the water that we drink, they were all a part of stars at one point. There is not a thing in the world around us that was not part of a star.”

While Akalangalile Prapancham celebrates our starlike qualities, this television programme has a more powerful, underlying message: amidst our socially constructed dichotomies of gender, race, religion and class, we live in a vast universe filled with enigmatic bodies. Divisions such as orders and walls may be a reality that pervade the microcosm we exist in today, but Akalangalile Prapancham acts as reminder that we are all part of a much larger macrocosm- the Universe.

Akalangalile Prapancham is produced by B.S Ratheesh and edited by Varun M.K, with background music by Rajeev Chandrasekharan.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 1:24:07 PM |

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