Anangpur, Haryana: Vijender Bhadana’s grandmother does not want him to go to work on Wednesday. Just in case he doesn’t make it back before the end of the world.
“I heard about the machine on the news, you know—about how big and powerful it is,” Sona Devi mumbles toothlessly. “And I’ve heard that it can take the entire world with it. That’s why I wanted Vijender here, at home.”
The “machine”, to the ladies of Anangpur, is the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s particle accelerator—and the world’s biggest—that begins operations today.
Located in a 27km labyrinth of tunnels under the French-Swiss border, the LHC is designed to smash nuclear particles together at fantastic speeds. In the ensuing fireworks, scientists expect to test physical models and generate new particles, such as the elusive Higgs Boson.
With baited breath: Women and children of Faridabad’s Anangpur village gather on Tuesday, a day before the predicted end of the world, to discuss the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s collider. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
But the collisions will begin only after 21 October—closer, appropriately enough, to Diwali. On Wednesday, scientists will merely run a high-energy beam through the full length of the LHC for the first time—a significant technical achievement, but not in itself the sounding of the Last Trump.
That hasn’t, however, stopped many in the news media from making apocalyptic speculations for the day. These range from morbid predictions of the end of the world to the relatively cheerier prospects of mini black holes manifesting beneath Europe.
The BBC’s Radio 4 has dubbed it “Big Bang Day,” and some Indian television channels, with flashy animated presentations, have tended to stress the pessimistic note rather than the scientific.
In this village, a woman named Mukesh recounts what she saw on India TV, a Hindi news channel—once a black hole opened up, the earth would be consumed in one second, followed by the moon in another second and the sun in another six. It even set a time for doomsday—noon, sharp.
“This has worried us so much that we haven’t even eaten properly for the last few days,” she says. On Wednesday, “my son Rishipal has an English exam, so I have to send him to school. But I’m not sending him alone. I’m going with him.” And then, very businesslike, she asks: “Tell me, should we go into the hills? Is that safer?”
Anangpur, a prosperous-looking village of 10,000 people, seems to be the sort of place that would lay itself open to television’s power of suggestion. The bucolic quiet is punctured regularly by the din of a television turned up loud.
The news has even penetrated the haze that surrounds the mind of Chaudhary Shish Ram, a septuagenarian who watches the village from a cot near his doorway. “Will we die, is it true?” he asks. When he’s reassured (scientists assure the experiment is safe), he says nothing but looks down, his eyes clouded over, almost as if he will weep with relief.
Om Batti, another matriarch, has been watching the news for a week now, growing progressively more worried with each day. “I finally fell ill, with a fever, because of this,” she says, and indeed, she arrives supported by another relative. “What can we do but pray? We’re planning some bhajans during the day.”
When her son Shyam scoffs that this is just feminine hysteria, she shoots back: “Don’t believe a word he says. He hasn’t eaten in three days either.”
But Shyam is scheduled to leave for Kanpur on some work. “I can hardly call off this trip just because they think something will happen,” he says. “Anyway, I’m sure it is nonsense. It is, isn’t it?”
Around him, though, the women of Anangpur aren’t listening. They’re already planning on where they can congregate, so that they can face the cataclysm together.