April 15, 2011

Me, Astrobuff!

   The story of my love. How it all began, and how my love for it manages to go strong with each passing day….

    It has been a long time since I blogged, the last post being a story that I wrote just as an experiment. Right now, I’m in the middle of my final school holidays (read boring) undergoing a strong dose of coaching classes and school – ah yeah! The ground reality is that we ain’t have any ‘summer vacation’! Anyways allow me to go ahead and indulge into the details about my love-life!
Mont 2
     Well if you didn’t manage to pick up the hint in the title that spoke my heart out, this post is on me and my love ASTRONOMY! The one word that defines me. The one word that drives me! The word that makes me, me! You can say it binds every quark within my body (in reality, a gluon is assigned that job!) and keeps me alive. The emphatic expressions aside, I’d like to share with you how I got interested in astronomy and how my relation with it has been and lastly, how I managed to benefit from it!
    Flashback. It was a hot March afternoon, in the year 2003 when I was enjoying being fed by mother before being packed off to school (Mushtifund Primary is in the evening). The TV was on and I was just another odd kid who was interested in watching the news (DD News to make it more odd!) and it was nothing other than love at first sight. Unfortunately, the start of my story was the end of another saga. It was the end of my hero’s life.
    March 1, 2003. Let me take you back in time when the folks of our country were awaiting the return of this lady, the lady who dreamt of soaring high. And yes she did that and much more. Kalpana Chawla was destined to be a true citizen of the universe and never set foot again on this planet. Here is an extract that i grabbed online that encapsulates the whole episode.

When the space shuttle Columbia blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the orbiter's left wing was damaged by a piece of insulating foam falling off the orbiter's external fuel tank. That proved fatal for the seven astronauts when they re-entered the Earth's atmosphere days later. The world watched as the shuttle disintegrated as hot atmospheric gases blasted inside the breach, melting the ship's structure.

     Incidentally, the very morning this happened, the members of the Association of Friends of Astronomy (AFA-Goa ; will elaborate later) were returning from a star party the very same day as this incident. If this unfortunate event did not get me palpitating with the shock, it at-least got me glued to what was going to be my passion till date.
    From what I can recollect, it did not have any immediate effect on me, but it rather got me thinking about all the stuff that man was literally up-to in this modern era. I was just in the 3rd grade and had a keen interest in science and all the stuff around me. Although I did not open up toy cars like Einstein (I preferred whamming them on the ground instead), I had a fair share of  what I called ‘chemicals’. I used to go around mixing dish washing liquids, random ointments, tables, syrups and even that brand of sweater wool washing liquid. The worst (to my joy) that I managed with the mixture was to remove the polish from the bed. Not bad, I think! It was better then loosing my radio to constant water dunking. I just loved to mess around. Still do!
    As I already posted on the AFA-Goa wall on FB, One of the book that I awaited the most was not a Harry Potter, nor a Chetan Bhagat. It was a Amar Chitra Katha on Kalpana Chawla's life. I still think it is one of the best gifts that I got from my parents till date. The one book made a huge difference as in it brought me closer to what she was like and how hard she worked. Years on, I opened up the book yesterday and was almost in tears as it was an emotional moment for me. In fact, that was the reason behind me making this particular post!
    In 2004, NASA launched the Spirit and Opportunity rover missions to Mars.  Discovery Channel started their Mission Mars series which was thrilling! I was compelled to buy the interactive CDs so as to quench thirst. Despite not having cable TV access at home, I managed not to miss any of the episodes (I’d like to thank my dad for all the troubles taken). I admit, like every child I also wanted to become an astronaut, a fact that I smile upon even today. I even had this plan of joining PEC (Punjab Engineering College) just like Madam Chawla did! Yeah, you can laugh on it, but I was too tiny at that time to give it a second thought! I started out all excited about aeronautics and aerospace engineering and it remained so until the 7th standard.
    The next few years past by without any drastic happening. It was steady climb uphill. I’d like to mention a few important things in here. Firstly, there was this computer course at Boston’s Cyberkids that I used to attend. This was the place where I was introduced to a lot of nature related activities and yeah, AFA. We had a lecture held over there by the members of AFA and I was also taken to the Panaji observatory where I had my first shot at constellations and yeah the sexy Saturn! It was moment worth treasuring for life. If you have yet not have had a peep at the Moon or Saturn through a telescope, you better do very soon!
   Never the less, there were many other people whom I shared my passion with. Riya Borkar was the one with whom I used to swap books with on the topic. I made a exhibit for my school science exhibition in the 7th grade titled ‘Search for ET – Is there anybody out there?” along with Viresh Vazirani, Sarvang Bandodkar and Prasad Usapkar. I still remember the hectic last minute work that we did to take part! The project still lies besides my bed. Don’t want to boast, but I ended up cooking something very close to the Drake’s Equation in a Hindi class. There came a phase in the 8th when my likings were shifting from astrobiology and aerospace to astrophysics and general physics. But I guess, things happen for the good! It was a tough shift to make, as I was determined to choose a career right then to make things easier for myself in the future. Alas, it was hard luck for aerospace from my side.
      The next big thing was AFA itself (no prizes for guessing that!). I was a AFA afamember in the year 2003 itself. I used to visit the observatory sparingly and by that I mean once or twice a season! Well, I was of the point that I could gain nothing by going there daily as the sky was almost the same every time I went there. Actually, the sky for me at that point of time was nothing other than the constellation of Orion itself! Hah, I used to hate constellations just because I could never figure them out on my own! Then came the big change. It was the end of my 8th standard when AFA started their flagship, the Astro-Kids club. Funnily, I found no reason to join, too lethargic perhaps. But when I saw my friend Suyash Kamat go there every week, you can say I was kind of jealous. That brought about a new era in my life.
   The day I (re)entered into AFA, I was hooked forever! Till date, I call it my second home. It is responsible for the person who I am. People like Rakesh Rao, Satish Nayak and our own Videsh Khandeparkar (Vidu) have been really good in guiding every young mind that steps in. Today, I can say that I have viIMG_1862sited the most remote parts of our state just because of AFA alone. The school programmes that we hold all over help one to interact with people from all backgrounds. Going to temple fairs, beaches and schools to show the public the wonders of the sky with/without invitation is what we love to do! I’d be doing a big blunder if I forget to mention Jayant Karn (JK) and Omkar Borkar, the people who I bonded with more than very well besides indulging in fun via astronomy! Ah, how can I describe to you how it is for three people under their 18s to go to the other end of Goa and put up a telescope in the middle of a Ramnavmi fair! I guess Omkar, me and Suyash did a very good job!
     Then came along the best trip of my life. That was the tour to watch the Total Solar Eclipse of July 22nd, 2009. It was such an amazing and lucky that we were all left asking for more! It was one of the most memorable experience one can ever have. If I go to write on it, it will take me at least two posts. I insist that you check out Suyash’s here and here. Some of my trip photos are here. If you ever plan a back-packing trip to Varanasi, count me in!
    AFA is not only about astronomy or science. At the end of the day, we are a one big family thanks to our ever-young 89 year old master of all trades president Percival Noronha! Yeah, we are one big ‘association’, we are all good ‘friends’ and not to forget, we all take up ‘astronomy’ vigorously! Today, if I’m open to talk to anyone on any topic under the sun, AFA has a hand behind it! Hope we prosper forever!! I’ve been kind of able to drag my very close friends Anmol Naik, Kirit Ayya and Shubhankar Kundaikar to the observatory and they are actually hooked to it! Combining my photography skills along with astronomy, I have been able to get some self satisfying photos which will always remind me of my time here! And with talented people like Atharv Joshi and Akshay Rege pouring into the gang, we at AFA make no mention of every slowing down our expansion (just like the universe is doing it a cause de la dark energy)

    My future lies ahead of me, and I am looking forward to rock it! Certain plans are underway, and I hope that the outcome is in my favour. Till then, I have decided that I’m never ever going to compromise with my passion and dedication towards astronomy. For if there is anything left to support me when everyone in this world deserts me, there will be only astronomy with me. Only astronomy! Winking smile

Yours Truly,
Midas Touch

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Me, Midas Touch by Raj Kunkolienkar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at imidastouch.blogspot.com