Way back in 2003 when she was about to start her voyage into space, for us Indians, she was our representative, someone from among us, our very own. We were excited and proud.
Cut to 2017; my eyes keep looking for her. She came to my mind as soon as I entered the NASA complex in Florida, USA. I know she would not be here in a form; she cannot be. But I feel her presence, her empowering, strong presence. My seeking eyes crave to discover something about her. And then I find this section. This belongs to her and six of her friends who on that ill-fated flight had lost their lives with her. The space shuttle Columbia, which had previously completed 27 successful missions, had disintegrated while re-entering the earth.
Things she loved graced the casket of glass. An audiovisual played alongside, where the astronauts were seen walking together in heightened spirits. I noticed her smile, bright as a million stars shining together. And as she walked, she bounced like a buoyant ball. That last bounce would be landing her into where she would remain of no particular nation or region or religion, but only a representative of the human race.
Sad and true, she could not make it back to the earth, but in lieu of her life, she inspired countless girls (and boys) to dare to dream beyond the obvious. And to realize that wherever you may be, whatever might be the circumstances, yes, realizing your dreams is possible (Kalpana Chawla hails from a state in India where the sex ratio has always been a dismal figure).
This brief encounter with Kalpana Chawla was an emotional one for me. When Columbia had met with the accident, I had felt sorry about the death of a young, promising Kalpana. I had mourned, along with the entire nation, and the world as a whole. Today, when I am at the NASA, looking at her things, her pictures and the remains of Columbia, the heart cries. Tears break barriers. How I wish those astronauts had safely returned to earth! But then there is also this sense of immense pride, at the fact that someone who is our very own has sacrificed her life for the entire human race.
Everyone indeed has to die someday. But blessed are those who live and die for a more significant cause. And in doing so can defeat and transcend death itself to become immortal.
(Pragnya Patnaik is an author, columnist and social activist. For more information on her, please visit her website www.pragnyapatnaik.com)
By Pragnya Patnaik
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