Last week, India became the first Asian nation to reach Mars, and the first in the world to do so on its first attempt. The spacecraft called Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in English and "Mangalyaan" or "mars craft" in Hindi was launched in November and reached the orbit on Wednesday, to much jubilation from the public. India's first interplanetary mission is all the more creditable because, at $72 million, Mangalyaan cost just a fraction of NASA's $670 million Maven, and $2 billion Curiosity Rover.
So yesterday's New York Times' comic by Heng, titled "India's budget mission to Mars" seems in poor taste. The comic depicts a poor Indian farmer in traditional garb, accompanied by a bored-looking cow, eagerly knocking on the door of "Elite Space Club". In reaching Mars, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) joins the ranks of Soviet space program, NASA and European Space Agency.

The comic strip comes at the time of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi's maiden visit to the United States. The male engineers are wearing Western gear, while some of the female engineers are rocking traditional silk saris, the kind usually worn on special occasions, and jasmine flowers in their hair.
See, there are lots of socially and economically elite people in the world -- being elite is like winning the lottery.
It also cost less than to produce the film Gravity, and at Rs.7 or 11 cents, per kilometer, cost less than the per-kilometer cost of commuting by autorickshaw in most Indian cities. The two people in the elite space club drinking wine and reading about India's mission in the papers look perturbed and hesitant to open the door. Addressing a 20,000 strong crowd at Manhattan's iconic Madison Square Garden yesterday, he emphasized India's new role on the world stage and its growing economic clout.

It is also worth noting that the members of the elite space club are male, white, elderly and look wealthy.
It's a commonly lamented problem that many of the country's brightest scientists and engineers end up working internationally, and tend to shy away from research in India, especially an area like space research, because it's not as lucrative. Whether meant to be funny or ironic, the racial, national and classist stereotyping is apparent.

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