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Kalpana's tribute to India

By Josy Joseph in Mumbai
February 02, 2003 05:20 IST
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When the space shuttle Columbia burst into flames killing Kalpana Chawla and six colleagues, what went up in smoke included a white silk banner.

It was Chawla's expression of gratitude to India.

She had written to the National Science Centre, New Delhi, offering to carry an object into space on her second voyage.

An excited NSC Director A S Manekar arranged for a 5X3 banner, a tribute to the teachers who imbue students across the country with the scientific temper. It showed a teacher blessing a bowing girl.

The idea arose out of Chawla's letter in which she recalled her teacher Nirmala Namboothiripad, who taught her at the Tagore Bal Niketan in her hometown Karnal, Haryana.

"Kalpana is a great inspiration for India's future generations," an enthusiastic Manekar had said then.

The flag was to be returned to the NSC on Chawla's return. And Manekar planned to exhibit it permanently at the NSC museum, on the fringes of the sprawling Pragati Maidan in New Delhi.

Another sign of Chawla's deep commitment to India was when the NASA, at her request, sponsored students of the Tagore school to visit its facilities. It was supposed to be a regular programme.

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Josy Joseph in Mumbai