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'To be with her was an experience of a lifetime'
February 03, 2003 11:55 IST
When I heard her name for the first time in 1997 soon after she was selected to go into space, I had no idea that one day I would see her standing in front of me.
My excitement reached its zenith when Sanchari Bose and Kamlika Chandla returned to India after meeting her in 1998. The two girls told us stories about Kalpana Chawla's experience in space.
Little did I know that next year it would be my chance to meet her! Thanks to her efforts, which enabled two students from her school in Karnal to visit NASA, Gaurav Goel and I were selected to visit the space organisation in 1999.
The two of us were there for twenty-one days... we vividly remember almost every moment of the eleven days that we spent at her house in Houston, Texas. July 29 to August 10 stand out in my mind even today... [it is] as if we have returned only yesterday after meeting her.
Besides attending lectures at the International Space School Foundation, we would snatch every bit of time that we could to be with Kalpanadidi.
To be with her was an experience of a lifetime and we carefully heard every word that she said.
Despite her busy schedule she would find time to cook. She loved to cook rice and grams. Occasionally she would make vegetable manchurian to show us that she knew many other dishes. She was a cook par excellence.
At home she was a different person altogether. Bubbling with life... she loved to hear [flautist] Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, who seemed to be her favourite. She loved to hear Indian classical. She also liked old film songs by Lata, Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh. She heard singers like Begum Akhtar as well.
She was not particularly fond of any particular Indian actor but she loved to see old films once in a while.
She was an extrovert and loved to talk. Her mantra was 'reach for the stars'.
She was very grateful to her mother Sanjukta Chawla. She told us: 'But for my mother I would not have been here. My father was not very happy when I decided to go for flying and later chose aeronautical engineering as my subject. My mother would put her foot down and support me. This gave me tremendous confidence and I decided to carve out my own course. I left India in 1982 against the wishes of my family members to continue my studies in the United States and here I am today. My family is now with me and I am happy about it.'
She told Gaurav Goel to complete his basic studies and get in touch with her... she said she would sponsor his studies in the US.
She had no time for fashion or things like that. She would be clad in jeans and shirts most of the time. She loved to wear black sometimes.
She told us that she wanted to visit India. But that did not happen... I salute my brave didi.
Nitika Gogia is a student of Tagore Bal Niketan, from where Kalpana Chawla did her early education. She spoke to Onkar Singh.
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