Life of Gurpal Singh: Potato Farmer of Mars
There’s an old joke from Earth – when the great North American astronaut Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, ground control asked him if he saw anything anomalous. Neil Armstrong replied, ‘You’d be surprised, we expected only dust all around but we were welcomed by a Sikh gentleman who offered us some fantastic tea and the most delicious samosas.’ Ground control responded, ‘Could you please tell us what a samosa is?’. ‘It’s a snack made from potatoes,’ Armstrong replied. After a while Ground Control responsed, ‘Please carry on with your investigations, there’s nothing strange. Sikhs and potatoes are found everywhere.’
Jokes, as they used to say, apart – it is no anomaly that the first Sikhs to settle on Mars were also potato farmers. Potato farming was in fact a subsidiary business of the Singh-Francisco Transporters Company which was the vehicle for the Second Colonisation of Mars. The SFTC was a multi-business conglomerate, founded in 2045 by Gurpal Singh, an immigrant from India, in, as one would have guessed, San Francisco. The decade in which SFTC was founded was one of monumental transitions in the transport business. After two decades of almost complete automization of vehicular traffic, the Total Madman virus brought down the GRID. Gurpal Singh’s SFTC was among the few organisations which could supply human drivers. In two years, human drivers had returned behind the wheel almost everywhere – barring a few countries in East Asia. SFTC made the next big leap when they bought the flailing lunar supply business from TATA-Tesla. The multi-entry rockets used by TATA-Tesla were transported to India, reverse engineered and rebuilt in the Phagwara Aeronautics Village in Indian Punjab. SFTC’s delivery systems were more economical than Rwanda Rocketing – and by 2052, they had captured 60% of the lunar transport market, and almost 80% of manual delivery services to non-corporate orbital cities. It should be noted that manual delivery was less than 3% of sub-space traffic, most delivery routes were monopolised by the Alphabet-Amazon Collaborative. The President Supreme of AAC was very dismissive of SFTC’s efforts to replace AI operated systems with human ones, labelling Gurpal Singh as a ‘Luddite’. Gurpal Singh, a man not known to mince his words, said that it was better to be a Luddite if that meant human beings were taking back control of their own destiny, unlike the residents of the AAC who had submitted their autonomy to a ‘box of tin’. The war of words between SFTC and AAC dominated airwaves and mindwaves, those in waking life and somnambulation were quick to take sides. It took diplomatic intervention from the Prime Minister of the Atlantic Federation to finally resolve the dispute – which ended with Gurpal Singh, the Prime Minister, and the President Supreme sharing a virtual beer.
From the 60s, SFTC began to venture into philanthropy – beginning with the Re-Green Revolution in Indian and Western Punjab. The desertification of most of the Northern Indian subcontinent had been a tremendous, perpetual human tragedy for decades. Gurpal Singh’s homeland, in Indian Punjab, had almost been depopulated over the decades, since agriculture, the largest industry there till the early 20th century had collapsed. While some industrial clusters – or ‘villages’ as they were called – had been set up since the late 30s, the countryside was, in reality, uninhabitable. Through SFTC’s efforts, by the end of the 60s, the Re-Green Revolution had revived Punjab’s ecology. Botanists, Zoologists and Environmental Scientists employed by SFTC in partnership with the GB Pant University, Terai began recreating the ecosystem of Punjab – modelled on the ancient Indus Valley records. In the beginning of the 21st century Punjab had less than 1% forest cover, now, it had over 90%, teeming with the fantastic single-horned rhinoceros, hippopotami, lions, tigers: and various other animals which once roamed the forests of the north but were extinct for decades. Despite many petitions, which gathered a total of three billion signatures, the revival teams did not bioengineer wild unicorns.
The great technological leaps made by SFTC in the ReGreen Revolution – replicated in other nations in the coming decades – gave it an edge over other bidding companies from Asia when the World Council voted for allotting settlement zones on Mars. (It should be noted SFTC had shifted its corporate headquarters to Ambala – the capital of Punjab in 2062.) SFTC and the Golden Ordos League were the two Asian companies which began preparing for the Second Colonisation in their launch base in the Ariana Republic (North Afghanistan).
The SFTC/GOL mission was launched in 2100 – among the first colonists were one hundred Sikhs ready to build New Punjab Greater Canal Colony. After reaching Mars, after constructing living habitats, and various modules, they began, in earnest, the most important part of the colonisation: planting potatoes in the (much fertilised) red soil. Old Gurpal Singh was among these first potato farmers of Mars.