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Rediff.com  » News » 'She did not want to be just another girl'

'She did not want to be just another girl'

By Onkar Singh in Karnal
February 03, 2003 00:30 IST
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Hundreds of students pass out from our school every year. Some of them leave behind good memories.

What made Kalpana stand out was the fact that she was my neighbour as well, said Daljit Kaur, deputy director of the Tagore Bal Niketan, where Kalpana Chawla studied from 1968-1976.

I was the vice principal when she was a student in the Model Town branch of the school.

Kalpana was a serious kind of student from the very beginning, Kaur told rediff.com.

She was a bright student who never gave her schoolteachers any opportunity to complain about her studies or behaviour.

She did not want to be just another girl who would get married and settle down, which is what her father wanted her to do. Maybe, that is why she was a bit of a rebel, she said affectionately.

Kalpana would win prizes in extra-curricular activities. She was very good at singing.

But more then anything else, she always dreamt big. Once her geography teacher asked her to make a project along with some other children. Kalpana used old newspapers and made a model of space with stars, the moon and what not. She had a keen interest in aircraft.

The latter led her to take up aeronautical engineering at the Panjab University in Chandigarh.

I recall when she went to the university, some students wanted to rag her. But she fought back and that prevented others from making any further attempt. It was in college that her personality developed.

Kalpana wanted to visit India along with her NASA colleagues but the government of India did not grant them the necessary permission.

She had promised the students, who had gone to meet her at NASA from time to time at her invitation from 1998 onwards, to visit India and Karnal in particular and meet all of us, once this mission was completed.

We were eagerly awaiting her safe landing and later her visit to India, but alas that was never to be and we instead learnt of her death, Kaur said.

Vijay Setia, a businessman, bought house No 281 in Model Town from the Chawla family in 1992, long after Kalpana had left India.

The family wanted to move to Delhi and they sold the house to me. Soon after Kalpana was selected for her first space flight in 1997, this house came into prominence and I felt proud to be its owner.

Her mother told me that Kalpana was born in this very house. I have kept her pictures in the room where she was born.

Some people are coming here to pay tributes to her, he said.

Another neighbour recalled how Kalpana's father Banarsi Lal Chawla and his three brothers fled Pakistan and settled down in Model Town in Karnal after partition in 1947.

One local said that the family 'had to work hard, and in due course managed to establish a business. They brought the tyre industry to Haryana, and gradually went on to start other businesses'.

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Onkar Singh in Karnal