Sunday, February 8, 2004

Remembering Kalpana
Belu Jain Maheshwari

Kalpana Chawla
India's First Woman Astronaut
by Dilip M. Salvi. Rupa, New Delhi.
Rs 200. Pages 73.

Kalpana Chawla --- India's First Woman AstronautTHE book under review was released on the first death anniversary of Kalpana Chawla to commemorate her life and her mission. "Kalpana's life is an example of courage, conviction and determination and shows what an Indian woman can achieve given freedom and opportunities," it says.

Written by Dalip M. Salvi, the first chapter begins poignantly by detailing the scene at her school in her hometown, Karnal, on February 1, 2003. "The students had gathered to celebrate her second space flight. The new building of the school was illuminated with multicoloured lights, and the students were singing and dancing`85. Fireworks were kept ready for a colourful display at night. Suddenly, there was silence as the news of the disaster of the space shuttle Columbia started trickling in over the TV. A happy historic occasion had turned into a grievous tragedy."

The book narrates Chawla's short life. Her independent streak, even as a child nicknamed Monto, in choosing her own name Kalpana, her fascination for aeroplanes and flying, her insistence on opting for an aeronautical engineering course, her journey to an American university and choosing a French-American husband.

It also gives an insight into the life of an astronaut, a day in space and the working of NASA. All this is illustrated with photographs. A whole chapter details the working of a space shuttle and the specific scientific experiments carried on by Chawla for future works. The last chapter is about her philosophy of life, her ideals and goals.

The book celebrates the life of a courageous woman who dared to dream. She was a global citizen, who never lost touch with her roots. In Chawla's own words: "Set your goals and follow them."

The book is sleek, short and crisp. The layout is superb as the text is interspersed with beautiful and rare photographs of Kalpana taken at different times of her life. The author manages to gives an insight into a great life. Without being preachy and ponderous, it narrates the life of a rare woman. Her story is what folklores are made of. There are a few glaring editing errors and to a few, the book might seem to be not insightful enough. But this would be nitpicking because the book aims to make more and more people read about the life of Kalpana Chawla. In this it achieves its objective.

After reading the book you realise: "The path from dreams to reality does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get into it and the perseverance to follow it." The words of Kalpana are encouraging and that pioneers don't have role models.