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'Number 7 played a big role in Kalpana's life'

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
February 04, 2003 15:26 IST
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Although most people in Kalpana Chawla's hometown, Karnal, are proud of her achievements, her batchmates from the Punjab Engineering College, where she studies from 1978 to 1982, have special memories of her.

"It was not in her nature to mingle with other students and waste valuable time. She would rather study or spend time in the aeronautic engineering department than gossip. She made her presence felt from the day she joined college by wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt unlike other female students, who were seen in a salwar kameez or a saree. Her clothes were always neat and tidy," said Gyan Danwra, who was in Chawla's batch.

Sandeep Bhargava, another one of her batchmates, said the number seven had a special significance in her life. "She was born in the 7th month of the year. Her space shuttle went into space on January 16, the sum total of which is seven, and she was 16 minutes away from landing when her spacecraft crashed... I do not believe in numbers but now they seem to be significant. At least in her case, the number seven played a big role," he said.

According to Atul Khosla, an electrical engineering student, Kalpana never thought she was inferior to the men around her.

"Perhaps that's why she had short hair and chose to wear jeans and T-shirts. Once a senior student commented on her appearance and she grabbed him by the collar and took him to the principal. The student was rusticated. He was later readmitted after he apologised to Kalpana," Khosla said.

Many of Kalpana's batchmates sent emails congratulating her after her return from space. She promised to come to India to see them.

But when they heard about her death, they dug their college magazines out to reminisce about the days that they shared with one of India's achievers.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi