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School girls to Sunita Williams: Please never forget India

Last updated on: April 3, 2013 19:41 IST

School girls to Sunita Williams: Please never forget India

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Prasanna D Zore

Astronaut Sunita Williams was clearly overwhelmed by the love and affection she received upon her visit to Mumbai. Prasanna D Zore reports

Commander Sunita Williams, the second woman of Indian origin ever to explore outer space, was clearly overwhelmed by the huge crowd, mostly school girls, who had gathered to welcome her in Chembur, suburban Mumbai. 

She was speaking at an event organised by the Indian Council of Social Welfare, a voluntary global charitable organisation that works for women's empowerment.

The scene at the venue before Dr Williams' arrival was electrifying as school girls in anticipation of meeting "a great astronaut", along with their mothers and grandmothers, jostled for every inch of space closer to the dais with a huge media contingent.

They were equally equipped with their mobile phones and tablets to capture their idol's photographs.

While a couple of small girls did confuse Dr Williams with another exemplary woman astronaut of Indian origin Kalpana Chawla, their enthusiasm to catch her glimpse was indeed remarkable. They knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime-moment and were all geared to soak in those moments.

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Image: Students hold up pamphlets signed by Sunita Williams
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
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And when Dr Williams, who has now spent a record 322 days in space during seven missions, spacewalked for a record 50 hours and 40 minutes and spent a record 195 days in the vast emptiness, arrived at the venue, these girls made many a futile attempts to shake her hands.

While she spoke for not more than seven minutes, it is only apt to mention that like a thorough professional Dr Williams arrived at the venue exactly at noon, the time mentioned on the invite by ICSW. 

"I can identify with a lot of young ladies in the audience here and I am looking forward to seeing you create the future in the very near future. So congratulations to you and I am looking forward to seeing all of you doing wonderful, great things in the future," said a clearly emotional Dr Williams.

"Thank you again for coming out. I know again it is hard and you have waited for a long time," she said acknowledging the gathering's patience.

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Image: Sunita Williams addressing the gathering
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
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Earlier, in his welcome address N K Bhupesh Babu, secretary general of ICSW, said that the organisation will institute scholarships for needy students and adopt a backward village in Maharashtra in the "name of Sunita Williams to recognise her contribution to space technology and also being a woman achiever."

ICSW felicitated Dr Williams by giving her a small Ashoka Pillar, a symbol of India's rich heritage, Babu said.

On her part, Dr Williams gave a photograph of her expedition in space to a women's hostel run by ICSW. "I'd like to present a little memento of what I did in space to the working women's hostel. You can see it has a space walker here, it has patches from expedition 32 and 33 as well as our crew members and the space craft that came and visited us while we were there."

She told the gathering that she was eagerly looking forward to India's participation in the space programme.

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Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
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School girls to Sunita Williams: Please never forget India

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While she exhorted young girls to do wonderful and great things in the future in her brief address, rediff.com spoke to three Class X school girls -- Astha Singh, Aishwarya Korde and Simin Sarang -- from General Education Academy, Chembur, about what inspires them about Dr Williams and what learnings they would take home from her speech.

Astha said, "Sunita Williams is a great astronaut. She is the second woman of Indian origin to have gone to space. She came in India in 2007. She has inspired us to take up space as a subject and become an astronaut. Becoming an astronaut like her is a big dream. We have to look at her as an inspiration, as an ideal and become something which can inspire other people."

Aishwarya said, "I like her simple personality. I have seen her getting so much respect (from people all over the world). I want the same for me too. But I would not like to be an astronaut. Every one is not the same."

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Image: From Left to Right: Aishwarya Korde, Simin Sarang, Astha Singh
Photographs: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com
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Simin said, "It is great to be known by everyone around and have great name and fame. We all have our own choices but she is a great inspiration to us and she is doing a lot for women, which is a good thing. Even I would like to contribute something (for the women's cause) if I can.

On what they would want to convey to Williams, Astha said: "Please never forget India in future. Always visit our country and Maharashtra and Mumbai."

"Keep contributing towards women's causes. In India the birth rate of women is decreasing. So it is good to see a great personality like her espousing the cause of women and encouraging us to become role models," said Simin.

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Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
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