January 2016, Planet Earth

From the massive pyramid-shaped alien mothership that drifted 100 million miles outside the Martian orbit, emerged a saucer-shaped spacecraft. The spacecraft hovered briefly, then accelerated towards Mars, rapidly gaining velocity, until it was zipping through space at one-hundredth of the speed of light.

Ten hours later, the alien spacecraft had its first brush with the human race when it encountered the Mangalyaan, an Indian space probe orbiting Mars since September 2014. Using Morse code, the alien crew aboard the saucer-like spacecraft radioed a simple but universal message to the humans: “We come in peace.”

The frenzy in the Indian media was unprecedented. From Sun TV in the south to JK News in Jammu and Kashmir, from ETV-Gujarati in the west to Kolkata TV in the east, every news channel in India was breathlessly reporting on the one and only story – the arrival of the aliens. Newsrooms of national TV channels witnessed chaotic scenes, with harried journalists scampering here and there in a mad rush to cover all possible angles.

Editors held frantic discussions to finalise the perfect Bollywood song to complement their news coverage. After much hair-splitting, Aaj Tak went with Jadoo! Jadoo! from Koi…Mil Gaya and Zee News went with Love is a waste of time from PK.

India TV was in a we-told-you-so mood, recounting all their old reports on aliens abducting cows and pigs from the streets of Gurgaon. “Our intrepid investigative reporters have been consistently exposing instances of alien activity over the years. The other channels laughed at us, but now, it is we who have the final laugh,” declared the India TV anchor. Then, wagging an accusatory finger at the camera, he demanded, “Kya aliens lautayenge humare suar?”

The English channels were not far behind.

NewsX held an invigorating debate on what the alien landing means for geopolitics in the South asian region. The debate featured eight panelists and was watched by seven viewers across India.

NDTV discussed the softer aspects of the alien race, gushing about their peace-loving nature, speculating about the kind of food they ate and the type of music they liked.

The cake, however, went to Times Now. The channel did the unthinkable and actually ignored an update in the Indrani Mukherjea–Sheena Bora case. Instead, Times Now’s editor-in-chief, Arnab Goswami, convened an urgent team meeting to brainstorm possible reporting angles in the alien story.

After ten minutes of intense discussions, during which Arnab spoke for nine minutes and fifty-five seconds, Times Now’s crack team of journalists decided that the aliens were coming down to invade India and launched their hashtag on Twitter: #aliensInvadeIndia.

Arnab duly worked himself up into a rage and recorded the first prime-time debate of the evening comprising Sambit Patra, Sanjay Jha, Saba Naqvi, Ajoy Bose and a couple of others. The debate started off with a discussion on aliens but soon degenerated into a cockfight between Patra and Jha, eventually concluding with Arnab blasting them both and then everyone else on the panel.

In the break that followed, Arnab decided that there was a Pakistani angle to the story.

His team concurred and launched another Twitter hashtag: #PakaliensUnholyalliance. Arnab recorded his second prime-time debate of the day, with the same participants as the first one, plus Maroof Raza and a couple of jobless men from Pakistan. The debate quickly degenerated into a cockfight between the Indians and the Pakistanis, eventually concluding with Arnab single-handedly lambasting the Pakistanis, with the Indian panelists nodding sagely and staying the hell out of the way.

Diametrically opposite to the tone and tenor of Newshour was the newscast on Doordarshan that actually provided more substantive information in a five-minute broadcast than an hour of “news” on other channels. A wooden-faced lady read out the news report in a monotone, while another woman in a smaller panel translated it for the hearing-impaired with a series of rapid hand gestures.

“According to sources, the alien spaceship has now made contact with ISRO, and is well on track to touch down in the national capital. According to analysts, the aliens are from a species that is physically and biologically similar to the human race, apart from some differences. For example, they are stronger, faster and have four hands instead of two. They also have infrared vision in place of regular human vision. Sources further reveal that the aliens have been able to tap into the World Wide Web and may already be familiarising themselves with this part of the world . . .”

It was anybody’s guess as to who actually saw the DD telecast.

India Today saw 100 per cent attendance in its newsroom, with all the big names – Karan Thapar, Rajdeep Sardesai, Rahul Kanwal, Shiv Aroor, Gaurav Sawant – checking in. Given the limited prime-time news-anchor slots in the IT news studio, this meant that someone had to take to the streets as a reporter and, inevitably, that someone was Rahul Kanwal.

“We are here in Jantar Mantar amidst a group of animated Delhiites who are clearly awaiting the aliens with eager anticipation,” announced Kanwal, as a bunch of enthusiastic youngsters dressed as alien characters from Indian pop culture cheered wildly.

Kanwal turned to the crowd to pick his first interviewee. A majority of the people in the crowd came dressed as Koi…Mil Gaya’s Jadoo, with blue masks, yellow hooded robes and three-fingered gloves. A handful of folks came as Chacha Chaudhary’s Sabu, with shaved heads, fake moustaches and six packs painted on their abdomens. The rest reprised Aamir Khan’s character from the most successful Bollywood alien movie of all time, PK.

Kanwal pointed his microphone towards one such PK lookalike standing stark naked save for an ancient-looking transistor covering his private parts.

“How do you feel?” asked Kanwal.

“To be honest, my balls are freezing. It’s so bloody cold! I should have gone for Jadoo.”

“No, no, I mean, how do you feel about the aliens coming over to India?”

“Oh, bahut achha lag raha hai! We will show them a good time on our gola. Go aliens! Woohoo!”

The motley group of Jadoos, PKs and Sabus whooped and cheered and waved at the camera, nearly squeezing Rahul Kanwal out of the frame. Barely keeping his balance, Kanwal turned back to the camera and said, “As you can see, Shiv, there is a great deal of excitement among the people about the arrival of the aliens. The next few days should be interesting! Back to you in the studio, Shiv.”

‘Thanks, Rahul,’ said Shiv Aroor, flashing a practised smile.

“That was our editor-at-large, Rahul Kanwal, taking stock of the mood in Delhi.’

Aroor rearranged a few papers on his desk, then looked up at the camera with raised eyebrows and an expert sideways nod. “The question on everyone’s mind at this point is: How is PM Modi preparing for the visit by the alien delegation?”

Excerpted with permission from Unreal Aliens, Karthik Laxman, Penguin Books India.