The ASI calling off its 12-day-long treasure hunt at Daundia Kheda village in Unnao, UP, failing to discover a single gold coin has been a relief to many who still believe in science and sanity. Live coverage of the madness on television-people arriving on foot, cycles and bikes, crowds waiting braving the scorching sun, halwais making gulab jamuns and jalebis, vendors hawking anything from water and tea to toys and balloons, TV reporters shoving the mike in front of anyone eager to talk-was like watching the film Peepli Live, a satire on farmer suicide. If the frenzy brought a sleepy village alive, the media cashed in to garner TRPs.
The lure of the yellow metal leading to treasure hunts is nothing new. Way back in the 19th century, America witnessed the Alaska gold rush and the California gold rush. In fact, the frenzy of fortune hunters in Alaska inspired Chaplin to create the masterpiece The Gold Rush, a comedy bringing out the stark reality of starvation and backbreaking struggle in harsh weather in barren stretches of land in the pursuit of gold.
But evidence of presence of gold led to those treasure hunts, unlike the one in Unnao. People from various places rushed to California after gold was found at Sutter’s Mill. In Alaska, evidence was found near the Russian River and other places on the Kenai Peninsula in 1849 before gold was discovered in Klondike. In Unnao, a seer’s dream of 1000 tonnes gold buried under the ruins of a fort set the ball rolling.
A Union minister, despite an oath of allegiance to the Constitution that mandates developing “a scientific temperament” as a fundamental duty, unabashedly involves government machinery and experts from the countries’ foremost archaeological and geological organisations in an operation based on unsubstantiated belief. But he is not pulled up by his party or the PM.
Again, fawning officials obligingly plunge in the wild goose chase knowing well that lack of accountability and loopholes in the system will spare them from rendering an explanation for squandering taxpayers’ money. Usually months, even years, of research precede excavations by the ASI. But here, it undertook a project that was neither backed by its own findings nor by some empirical evidence. If the Geological Survey of India’s report has revealed chances of finding gold, silver or alloy under the ruins, then discovery of glass bangles, broken pottery, a brick wall and marks of hopscotch courts surely do not augur well for its reputation.
However, one can take heart in the fact that in our country science progresses despite belief eclipsing reason-much the same way as BMWs and Mercs jostle for space on a busy street alongside cycle-rickshaws and bullock carts. We take pride in our scientists’ contribution to the discovery of the God particle, we may soon send man on the moon and we couldn’t care less about some people believing that the treasure vanished because the seer was ridiculed.
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