The Ice Age Cometh by Jayant Narlikar is an extract from It Happened Tomorrow, a collection of nineteen select science fiction stories written in various Indian Languages.
The Ice Age Cometh is about an eco-catastrophe which has befallen the earth, and how this catastrophe is contained by an Indian scientist Vasant Chitnis. This story has all the elements of a pot boiler- the doomsday syndrome, and a lone hero rescuing the world. The story is set over a period of two years. The immediate setting is Bombay, along with a few instances from other parts of the world. The Ice age of Paleolithic times becomes a reality in the present world, and in keeping with the science fiction tradition there is a plausible scientific explanation offered for the unexpected occurrence. Nowhere is it implied that the disaster is caused by the humans; in fact it is the unity among humans that contains it. But the damage caused in the course of containing it must also be fought collectively in the spirit of brotherhood. The end of the story is a lesson for everyone, that there’s no other solution to ecological crisis, except coming together and taking action before it is too late.
Mumbai receives unprecedented snowfall which makes Rajiv Shah, one of the two protagonists of the story, remember a bet that he had placed some five years previously against Vasant’s claim that there would be snowfall in Bombay within the next ten years. Rajiv Shah is a journalist and an inquisitive person, living in the city of Bombay. He had met Professor Vasant Chitnis at a party hosted by the Indian ambassador in Washington. It was at this party that Vasant on hearing the news of the Volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (the fourth activity in the previous three months), had predicted that the eruption would lead to the spread of some particulate matters in atmosphere causing a minor Ice Age. He had also predicted that it would lead to the evacuation of northern cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, too. Rajiv, who hadlike the others at the party dismissed the prediction as simply a tall claim of a scientist, after the snowfall in Mumbai, approaches Vasant Chitnis to learn more about the phenomena , and also to bring the same into the public domain through the newspapers.
Vasant Chitnis explains to Rajiv how the oceans play a crucial role in controlling the earth’s climate. He informs him that the lowering of the temperature of sea water below the surface, leads to the thinning of upper surface. With Volcanic eruptions and the temperature drop to forty degrees below zero near the extremities of earth, “diamond dust” is formed, which shields the earth from sunlight. This diamond screen prevents the sunlight from reaching the earth surface. As a consequence, the earth is unable to warm itself. The increasing number of Volcanic eruptions pose serious danger to the safety margins of the earth, making it narrow with time. Rajiv is amazed with this piece of information and realizes that this might spiral the earth towards the Ice Age. Rajiv publishes an article highlighting the prediction of climatic catastrophe by Chitnis. After this publication, Chitnis earns much respect and credibility amongst his peers.
Despite the warning sounded by Chitnis, the world considers the temporary thaw in the summer as the end of the Ice Age and reverts to the old order of things. One day, Vasant visits Rajiv and hands him a short message about the drop in the water temperature of Antarctica by two degrees. He advises Rajiv to shift to a place closer to the equator, which would save him from the long winter ahead. He, himself, books a one-way ticket to Bandung.
In the first week of that November, there is a mass migration of birds towards the equatorial regions; the birds instinctively knew of the coming ice spell and were moving closer to the equator. The satellites predict heavy snowfall in several parts of earth in the coming days. Even the most technologically advanced countries like Japan, Canada and the USA were not prepared to face a second onslaught of snow and ice. The whole world surrenders to the impending doom. Rajiv receives a call from Richard Holmes, a member of the US Energy Board who wishes to get in touch with Vasant Chitnis, so that a solution can be found to fight the disaster. Vasant Chitnis devises a method and the same is implemented under the code name ‘Invasion of Indra’.
With only a ten- degree belt, north and south of the equator still retaining the blue-green color, all the nations leaving behind their rivalries finally come together. Rockets, satellites, hot-air balloons and high flying aircraft are pressed into the attack. The idea is to bombard the atmosphere with tiny metallic particles, which would absorb the sun’s heat and convey it to the earth. To reduce the diamond dust, explosive heating of the atmosphere is done with the utilization of weapon technology. After six months the earth slowly begins to resume its natural processes. The snow starts melting and diamond crust starts disappearing rapidly. Vasant Chitnis the main architect of this project breathed a sigh of relief .That relief however, is short lived because he is acutely aware that to counter one disaster, he seemed to have created another one-‘Global Warming’. The Ice Age had already reduced the human population to a great extentand now with the ice melting at a good pace, heavy floods would again cause severe casualties. The question towards the end of the story is whether mankind would learn from this experience and continue to live in a spirit of unity and cooperation or revert back to the old order of strife and rivalry.