Now every news channel i see is carrying the story of the return of Atlantis...This gets me thinking, why the sudden interest? Two things come to mind: Since the tragic death of Kalpana Chawla, people in India and all over the world have suddenly realised the dangers of space travel. Till then it seemed like an extremely glamourous and adventurous job. Also, the so called Indian roots of Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams have sparked the interest of the normal Indian citizen in what NASA is doing.
Now, one point that struck me as odd were that the news channels were talking ONLY about Sunita Williams. What about the other astronauts with her? Sunita Williams is just like the other astronauts with her. Shes no more Indian than any of them! Isnt our pride a little misplaced? Lets consider her bio for a moment:
Sunita L. Williams (Commander, USN)
PERSONAL DATA: Born September 19, 1965 in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts to be her hometown. Married to Michael J. Williams. Although they have no children, Labrador retrievers and a crazy Jack Russell Terrier named Gorby have added their share of excitement to their lives. Recreational interests include running, swimming, biking, triathlons, windsurfing, snowboarding and bow hunting. Her parents, Dr. Deepak (emmigrated from Gujrat in the 60s) and Mrs. Bonnie Pandya(Shes a Slovenian), reside in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
Needham High School, Needham, Massachusetts, 1983.
B.S., Physical Science, U.S. Naval Academy, 1987.
M.S., Engineering Management, Florida Institute of Technology, 1995.
ORGANIZATIONS: Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Society of Flight Test Engineers, American Helicopter Association.
SPECIAL HONORS: Awarded Navy Commendation Medal (2), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and various other service awards.
My views on space travel as it is are not very supportive. I personally feel that its all a BIG waste of money. But after having a LONG argument with my girlfriend about this and being the person i am, i am ready to accept that maybe there is some point to it. In future it might help mankind. We have invented satellites to assist us in our fast paced, globalised life. So i guess space travel helps too. Maybe!
Dont get me wrong here. Iam not saying that i dont appreciate what astronauts do. Every job in this world is challenging and theirs' more so. But thats just it. They are doing their job! Thats all!
Bottom line, i think, is that human beings by default are parocial in nature. Another case to point is a powerful leader from Maharashtra supporting Pratibha Patil for President JUST cause she is Maharashtrian. I find it saddening! I guess its easier to associate with someone when u find a common thread binding you to that person. But isn't being human a strong enough thread?
Even i am wishing for the safe return of Atlantis back to terra firma. But not because Sunita Williams is on it. Not because iam Indian. But ONLY because iam human.
P.S.: Last night i wrote this article thinking I am the ONLY one finding all this hullabaloo odd. But apparently I am not. The reason I am editing this post is because there is an article about this very issue in today's (22nd June, 2007) Indian Express titled "Indian Idol?" by Shobhit Mahajan who is a professor of physics and astrophysics at Delhi University. I would like to quote a few excerpts from his article:
"It is remarkable, given her(Sunita's) background millions around India still take pride in her achievements - not as a woman achiever, which she undoubtley is, but as an Indian!"
"Kalpana Chawla was born here (India), spent her formative years here and was educated in India. Thus, there could be some rationale in caling her an Indian-American and take some pride in her achievments as a nation. But the nationalistic pride on display for Sunita is somewhat misplaced."
"Maybe we could learn from Kalpana's favorite quote from the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca -' I was not born for one corner; the whole world is my native land' "