Into Oblivion


It was a bright Sunday evening. Jameelah was standing at the entrance of the large residential apartments. ‘Chateau Royale’ read the signage welcoming the visitors. The entrance was guarded by two personnel. One of them was seen speaking into the handheld radio device. The entrance was split into two divisions. The larger one, meant for vehicles, had two electronic barriers at each end manned by a security guard. Besides, there was a small gate for people to walk through. 

She surveyed the scene for a moment. She decided against using the gate, as opening the gate would attract the attention of the security guard. She quietly proceeded towards the boom barrier and carefully slid under one of the barriers. She turned around to look at the guards – they hadn’t noticed. She calmly proceeded further.

The place was abuzz with activity. There were children playing football, people taking a stroll and some others cycling around. As she started walking further she saw a girl walking straight towards her, speaking into her headphones and unmindful of what was happening around. ‘‘Zoomers’’ Jameelah sighed to herself. As she moved right to dodge the girl, a bicycle sped by close to her. Though she managed to avoid colliding with the cycle, she lost her balance in the process and fell to the ground. She picked herself up quickly and covered the coat, which had fallen down, around her. Breathing heavily, she looked around to see if someone had noticed. Thankfully no one, including the guy riding the cycle, seemed to have noticed. ‘‘I need to be more careful’’ she told herself. 

She made her way to the lobby. ‘’Must have crossed at least 10-15 people” she thought to herself. She went to the office room. Rajendran, a security officer, was viewing the footage from CCTV cameras, on the monitors in front of him. She wanted to access those footage without Rajendran knowing. She thought for a moment. She came out and pressed the emergency alarm switch in one of the lifts which was near the office room. Hearing the blaring noise, Rajendran rushed outside to see what had happened. She quietly sneaked inside the office room and anxiously checked the footages to see if any camera had captured her entering the apartments. 

She heaved a sigh of relief, and went up to flat no C2 in the second floor. She quietly opened the door knob – it wasn’t locked from inside. She stepped in and quietly closed the door. She moved towards one of the bed rooms. Krishna was working on his laptop, his back facing the door. She tip-toed carefully towards him and in a swift motion she held his mouth from behind with her hands tightly. As he struggled to get to his feet, she pushed him gently to the floor and laughed hard. ‘’You scared the hell out of me!!!’’ Krishna shouted throwing a cushion at her.

‘’It is WORKING. It is REALLY WORKING!!!!!’’ she exclaimed as she removed her Invisibility cloak and embraced him.

Few months earlier

The alarm let out an irritated cry. Krishna woke up reluctantly. He didn’t want to belittle the alarm by snoozing it for the 4th time. And anyway, he was planning to reach office a little earlier than usual. He looked at the clock – it was quarter to 7. He put on his slippers and came to the hall. Jameelah wasn’t back from her gym routine. He prepared himself a refreshing cup of coffee and sat down scrolling his social media feed. 

When he came back from his bath, he saw Jameelah getting ready for work hurriedly. He could sense that she was running late. ‘’Can you drop me today?’’ she asked. Krishna paused for a moment and then replied ‘’Yeah sure”

While they were in the car she asked ‘’ Hey, didn’t you say you wanted to reach office early today?

‘’Conveniently remembering it only now?’’ he teased

As they were speaking, he rode the car over a pot hole throwing her slightly from the seat. Krishna bit his lip – he knew what was going to follow.

‘’Didn’t notice the pothole’’ he tried to sound apologetic

‘’No, you missed the narrow stretch of road in the middle of potholes’’ she said visibly irritated.

‘’They’ll dump a load of tar randomly on the road to denote a speed-breaker; dig up a hole right in the middle of the road and leave it open for eternity; lay what they call a ‘road’ flouting every single procedure that needs to be followed, and we are supposed to somehow navigate through it’’ she fumed.

‘’There is no use complaining’’ Krishna said

‘’Yeah, I know we have all learnt to live with whatever that’s happening. But it is infuriating that a country that has resources and intelligence in abundance, is left to rot by those who were entrusted the responsibility of developing it. We are dreaming of becoming a ‘super-power’ but we don’t even have proper roads – the most basic of the basic infrastructure. Look at the irony! I don’t know if I should get angry or laugh. You and I will be taken to task if there is any loss to someone due to our actions/inactions. So many lives are lost due to these appalling road conditions yet no one would be held responsible. These would be brushed off as ‘accidents’. The buck stops nowhere, it just gets passed on and on.’’

‘’Almost every one of us share the same angst dear’’ Krishna continued, ‘’Relax, don’t let this set your mood for the day’’

‘Anna University’ the board at the entrance welcomed. Jameelah was working as a lecturer in Engineering Physics and was parallel pursuing her Ph.D with a thesis on refractive properties of light. Her job as lecturer provided her the best platform to pursue her research, as she got to spend most of the time at the wealthy libraries in the college. Besides, she had her mentor Dr. Iruthaya Raj, who was the Head of her Department, guiding her ably in her pursuit. 

Her first session of classes was for the students of first year. The murmurs in the class reduced when the students saw her entering the class. She greeted them with a warm smile. She studied the student s for a moment, and proceeded with explaining the concept of electromagnets. 

Teaching came effortlessly to her. She would handle the lectures the way one would talk about a movie that they saw. Whenever she saw a student hurriedly taking notes of her lecture, she would affectionately say ‘’Put down the pens. When you are in the class give full attention to what you are listening. Trust me, it will help you much better than reading from notes or those voluminous books, which you would anyway do. If you wish, you can summarise the contents in your note after the lecture is over or during a break’’. 

And after the class gets over she would spend the rest of her day in the library, preparing for her research. She was working on her dream project of devising an invisibility cloak. Her colleagues laughed at her idea and her seniors brushed off its feasibility. She faced many failures in her recent endeavours and she saw herself getting consumed by negativity and lack of belief. She found a supporting hand in Krishna who would spur her by reminding how the most complex of inventions actually followed a rather simple technique. The challenge was in identifying that ‘simple technique’. 

She, on her part, never gave up. She viewed the concept of invisibility as a product of illusion rather than an activity of disappearance. As light plays a fundamental role in making the objects visible to human eye, she sought to disturb the flow of light into the objects. The basic principle of physics had taught her that an object becomes visible to eyes, when a beam of light falls on the object and gets reflected. She wanted to create an ‘external cover’ to the object, which would prevent the light from getting reflected back. 

Initially she had sought to use metamaterials –artificially structured materials designed to manipulate electromagnetic waves. These metamaterials were considered to be effective in diverting visible light which has electromagnetic radiations of lesser wavelength. She worked on creating artificial metamaterials with the spacing of elements less than the wavelength of light, thereby bending the wavelength of the light around the object.   This would create an illusion of the object being invisible to human eye, as the light falling on the object wouldn’t get reflected back to the human eye. 

However as she progressed in her research she realised, to her dismay, that these metamaterials were better suited to cloak relatively smaller objects and were not helpful with respect to 3-dimensional objects.  Further, in case of moving objects, it resulted in the objects behind the target objects being blacked out by the target object.  

Because of its limitations, Jameelah had to drop the idea of using metamaterials in developing an invisibility cloak. She had an extensive discussion with her mentor Dr. Iruthaya Raj. But sadly they were running out of alternative feasible ideas. The failure wiped away months of her intense research and brought her back to the starting point, leaving her distraught. With her shoulders drooping she came home rather early.

‘’What’s up, scientist? Closed your lab soon? Krishna asked with a tinge of surprise.

She just shrugged.

Guessing what might have happened, he tried to lighten her up ‘’ Good that you are early. There is this wonderful movie on Netflix where the hero ‘flies’ in his car, moves faster than a bullet to dodge it and defies gravity to jump off building tops. A hugely motivating film that says literally nothing is impossible. Just the kind you need to watch right now’’. The only response he got was Jameelah slamming the door with a thud. ‘Innum konjam payirchu vendumo’ he thought to himself. 

As she came out of the shower she could hear the sound of mixer grinder. She went to the kitchen to see what was happening. 

‘’Nothing like nice dosas with chutney, after a long day’’ he said proudly

She looked at the freshly prepared dosas. ‘’Nice dosas?’’ 

‘’You can’t be too complaining”

As she sat down to munch on her dosas, the doorbell rang. Krishna went to attend it. He came back with one bottle of blackcurrant milkshake and one bottle of her favourite chocolate milkshake.

‘’What are you looking at? I have ordered these for me” he said.

‘’You ordered that chocolate milkshake for you?’’

‘’ Yeah. But the nice guy that I am, I can let you have it if you wish’’

She smiled.

They finished their dinner, by the end of which Jameelah felt much better.

‘’What happened? Things not going well?’’ Krishna asked slowly.

She let out a sigh ‘’I have hit a roadblock’’

‘’That’s ok. Take a different route. There would definitely be an alternative way. May be you can try looking at the problem from a different angle.’’ Krishna suggested.

 ‘’Take a break. Put your mind onto something else for a while. It will help you start afresh’’ he continued.

Jameelah was silent in her thoughts

The next day Jameelah reached the University early. She proceeded to the library and started working on her research. She had to think of an alternative technique to yield the desired result. She was cerebrating about distortive properties of various elements which could be used in her research, when her mind threw up a rather simple solution – convex lens. She sat up with excitements. She drew a rough model of a cluster of lenticular lens consisting of multiple layers of convex lenses, each having different refractive power measured in dioptre. She worked carefully on the position of each lens, so that they are placed in such a way that they could refract light at innumerable angles. This formation would result in creation of ‘dead spots’ where the object would look invisible. She explained the concept to Dr. Iruthaya Raj, and with his help started building a base prototype. 

With brimming excitement, she took her prototype to her mentor for testing its working. Together, they tested it on a 5 foot human model. The results were encouraging when the model was static. However when in motion, the ‘dead spots’ failed to completely overlap the target object resulting in partial visibility. They manged to fix it with meticulous calculations and accurate positioning of the lenses. They also had the model tested in open environment, where it was exposed to multiple sources of light from varied angles. 

Iruthaya Raj was ecstatic. ‘’This is brilliant, Jameelah. This is going to be a major breakthrough’’ he exclaimed.

‘’Thank you so much, sir. I’m thrilled we pulled it off. But there’s a small glitch that’s bothering me” 

‘’The lower threshold of proximity?’’ he asked

‘’Yes sir. The target object needs to be at a minimum distance away from human eye, for it to remain in the cover of invisibility. Basis my workings, the threshold lies at 1/4th of the height of the object. Thus if the object is 6 feet height, it has to be at least 1.5 feet away from human eye’’ she appeared a little worried.

‘’The overall accuracy is still at 82.75% which is quite significant by itself. So I don’t see a reason for your work to be rejected’’ he tried to sound reassuring. 

But Jameelah wasn’t convinced. 

She was explaining her breakthrough to an elated Krishna. She also explained about the minor problem in her model.

‘’Till I fix it, the model will not be what I had envisioned’’ she said

‘’You have reached here from nowhere. I’m sure you’ll find a way to cross the final hurdle.

‘’I think I might have found one’’ she replied with a smile.

‘’Wow. Tell me more’’

‘’Though my earlier attempt at using metamaterials as a standalone device for cloaking failed, now I am planning to tap on the synergy between the two models’’

Krishna was listening with interest.

‘’I am now trying to use dielectric materials, Ceramic and Teflon substrate, to create a metamaterial that will result in bending the light even from a shorter distance’’

‘’This can be incorporated in the lenticular sheet?’’

‘’Yeah, using a technique called photolithography which is very similar to imprinting a pattern on a sheet or any other surface’’.

‘’That’s really cool!’’ he exclaimed

‘’Finally there would be a third layer which would be a filter that returns the light to its original frequency’’

‘’Why an additional layer?’’ he asked

‘’The two major challenges in creating invisibility are the emergence of shadow and blacking out of the objects that lay behind.  The lenticular lens prevents the formation of shadow, by not letting the light to fall behind the object. The final layer of filter converts the light to its original frequency so that it may fall on the other objects that lay behind. Thus such objects will not be blacked out.’’

‘’My genius wife!!!’’ Krishna exclaimed as he made a gesture of circling his palm around her head. 

And thus was born the 1st model of Invisibility Cloak that could be worn by humans. 

‘’So humans can finally become invisible to others. What is it going to mean?’’ Krishna asked.

‘’It could mean whatever you want it to. You can do whatever you want, wherever you want. Nobody is watching. You can dance in the rain, you can play that swing in the park, and you can walk in the road wearing the orange shirt that you love. You can do what you like and be what you are.’’

‘’That is no doubt an exciting prospect. But surely you didn’t invent the cloak for this, did you?’’

‘’May be not’’ she said and went on to explain her plan for the Invisibility cloak.

Krishna’s eyes widened as he listened to her plan. 

‘’THIS is going to be the super power that makes super-heroes” he thought to himself.

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