One of the greatest minds of our generation passesd away early this morning. Sir Arthur Charles Clarke died in Sri Lanka at the age of 90. A brief profile of his extraordinary life. By Sourya Biswas
"The truth, as always, will be far stranger."- Arthur C Clarke.
If any man can be said to have seen tomorrow, it would be Sir Arthur Charles Clarke. One of the greatest scientific minds of our generation, who perhaps did more than anyone else in bringing science from the hallowed pages of scientific journals to everyday reading for ordinary people, died today in Sri Lanka at the ripe old age of 90. He had been living in Sri Lanka for the last 52 years.
Although many would associate him as the author of Stanley Kubrick's landmark film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, his greatest achievement, perhaps, lay in predicting future advances in human civilization. In this regard, he was the first to conceptualise a worldwide communication grid made up of artificial satellites hovering above the earth.
As a result, the geostationary orbit where satellites stay at a constant position over the earth's surface is also called Clarke Orbit or Clarke Belt in his honour. Of course, Clarke might have disagreed with the mention of earth here, as in his opinion, "How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean."
A brief history of Clarke's life would be incomplete without a mention of his immense contributions in the world of science fiction. Science fiction in Clarke's work had its foundation in the basic tenets of science, even as it soared beyond the limits of human imagination.
His close friendship with another literary luminary, ''the father of robotics'', Isaac Asimov, is well-documented. In fact, they had an unwritten agreement where Asimov was required to insist that Clarke was the best science fiction writer in the world (reserving second best for himself), while Clarke was required to insist that Asimov was the best science writer in the world (reserving second best for himself). These two, along with Robert Heinlen, were considered the ''big three'' among science-fiction writers and contributed immensely to popularize science amongst the non-scientific masses.
The greatest tribute to Clarke was given by none other than Asimov. "Nobody has done more in the way of enlightened prediction," he once wrote. Clarke's other major predictions that came true in his lifetime were space stations, moon landings using a mother ship and a landing pod, cellular phones and the Internet.
Clarke was perhaps as well known for his predictions, as for his contributions to Kubrick's magnus opus 2001: A Space Odyssey. Inspired in part by Clarke's short story The Sentinel, about the discovery of an alien artifact on the moon, both men collaborated on the script to create, in Kubrick's words, '' a theme of mythic grandeur''.
After the movie became a runaway hit for the flower-power generation, Clarke's popularity soared. He particularly relished telling the story of an immigration official who refused to allow him to pass until he explained the ending of the film. His collaborator for the movie was effusive in his praise. "He has the kind of mind of which the world can never have enough, an array of imagination, intelligence, knowledge and a quirkish curiosity, which often uncovers more than the first three qualities" , Kubrick said at the time.
Clarke's celebrity status was further reinforced by his commentary stint along with CBS anchor Walter Cronkite for the Apollo moon missions. He also appeared on British television in the 1980s with two programmes - Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World and Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers. These programmes were syndicated around the world.
Arthur C Clarke had a deep love of the sea in general and scuba-diving in particular. That was the reason why he shifted to Sri Lanka in 1956, and which remained his home till his last days. He had dual citizenship of the UK and Sri Lanka, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2000, although his frail health prevented him from travelling to London to receive the honour.
From 1995, he was largely confined to a wheelchair, suffering from post-polio syndrome, although his mind was a sharp as ever, churning out predictions that would chart man's endeavours in times to come.
Perhaps, the great forecaster may have forecast his own death as well, for in December last year he had recorded a video-message bidding farewell to his friends, fans and well-wishers throughout the globe. He had always said that the truth is stranger than fiction.
Maybe he has now gone in search of that eternal truth of life beyond death. Godspeed, Clarke.