By now, the soldier knew The Enemy's modus operandi. It would hover most of the night until it was relieved by a second spy plane at about 4 am. Over six months, he and his colleagues recorded 329 airspace violations by this pair of drones, which they were convinced had been sent by China.
Earlier this month, astronomer Tushar Prabhu pointed out that they were actually Jupiter and Saturn. India's army chief responded: "I don't care if they are planets. We're still going to shoot them down."
No, actually I made up that last quote, but the rest is true, as reported by the Telegraph newspaper of Kolkata earlier this month.
You can't really blame the soldier. Last year, an Air Canada pilot mistook the planet Venus for an oncoming aircraft, and took evasive action, diving 180 meters and sending passengers hurtling to the ceiling. Only after crew assured him that chances of actually hitting Venus were on the lowish side did he return to his regular flight path.
Still, one might wonder how the two get mixed up. I mean, planes are small, thin, metal things, while Jupiter is an astonishing large round ball of gas, think of Oprah Winfrey naked. (Sorry, I don't mean to put you off your food.)
Readers I consulted pointed me to the writings of UFO debunker Tim Printy, who has recorded many reports of planets allegedly visiting earth. Airmen piloting planes over Japan have reported being "chased" by planets, Mr. Printy says. (Japan being Japan, this is probably some sort of prototype Nintendo toy.)
In the US state of Georgia in 1967, a pair of police officers were spooked by the planet Venus following their patrol car. "It gained on us and was going about 75 mph (120 kph)," one of the officers said. "After the object caught up with us, it pulled into the sky." (I didn't make those quotes up.)
One reader said that if we took the reports at face value, it would mean that "the planets are much smaller than we think they are and their inhabitants are steering them to earth to have a look-see at what we're up to".
The discussion reminded me of a flight I once took over Laos where the pilot swerved the plane so much that I think Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, etc., were all violating our airspace.
A colleague reading over my shoulder interestingly pointed out that in every case, the witness was a man in uniform. "They make the collars too tight; it addles their brains," she said.
Could be true, although an even wiser comment came from a retired pilot. "Some planets are low in the sky, just where aircraft appear," he said. "An air traffic controller at Detroit airport once famously asked: "Do you know how many times we have cleared Venus to land?"
One day, perhaps it will.
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveler. Send comments and ideas via www.mrjam.org)
--IANS (Posted on 23-08-2013)