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“Not your father. You are Yamadoot. You are Yamakinkara.” Arjun’s words were ringing in her ears.

He considered the two characters as highly negative and he referred to her nature also highly negative. Earlier she had told him that her father was an LIC agent and people avoided considering as Yamadoot, Yamakinkara.

Arjun might say anything. Who cared?

Nirmala was seriously jotting down points into a separate folder created for the purpose in her laptop. A lot of copy-paste exercise. Arjun came to her cubicle and sat by her side. She immediately logged out from the site. She did not want him to know what she was doing. Then she turned to Arjun. 

He had great expectations and was hell-bent on being included as part of the crew for the ensuing space Gaganyaan mission. He was a bit nervous too. In case he was dropped out, it would be a great setback for him. He had pinned high hopes on being a member of this prestigious project. 

Looking at her, sitting well composed, he asked her,

“You seem to be so busy at your work. You do not appear to be disturbed at all! Look at me. I am spending sleepless nights. The suspense is too long and too much. I hope they declare the list of selected members at the earliest.”

She replied, “Yes, I find all the staff in high tension. The problem is, you know everyone here wants to be in the team. We know it is in two parts – one on the spaceship and the other on the ground. I am okay with either. I think the Committee is more bothered as to who should be on Part-II list. Both Part-I and Part-II are exposed to high risks. Part-I crew is exposed to greater risk from start to finish and term them as ‘People to Perform or Perish’. Part-II exposed some other unique risks, like data being stolen, the Scientist getting kidnapped or his family being harassed, much worse, some of them falling sick. Considering all these points, committee is weighing our merits and demerits.”

Arjun was not convinced. “I wish to be chosen and that too for Part-I only. I have been cherishing this desire from the time the project was proposed. I do not wish to be in Part-II, sitting here on the ground with eyes glued on the monitor.”

Nirmala told him the best way to get rid of anxiety was to forget the project. No Part-I no Part-II. Arjun getting teased by her, was unable to control his temper. He slammed the table and left her cubicle. She was trying to pacify. “What I meant was when the office decides to send you on the vehicle, it will be a great surprise to you and you will be happier.” All her words fell on deaf ears. He had left long ago.                

There were many who were like him, very enthusiastic and with high hopes. It was already announced that the crew would comprise of seven members on-site (Part-I) and around twenty-five or so, off-site (Part-II). Those seven in Part-I and the other twenty-five members in Part-II were yet to be decided.

A High-level committee was set up quite some time back. The committee was meeting time and again. The selection of the crew was purely a confidential matter. It could be a matter of pride and prestige for those scientists selected for the mission, but the confidential aspect of mission like who would be assigned with what category of work, was of utmost confidentiality. This could not be ignored or compromised. Both from the individual officer’s side and from the institution’s side. Some decades ago, there was an espionage case registered on one of the crew members, but later it got fizzled out for want of sufficient evidences to establish the crime. Even though the case was dropped, it left behind a scar on the image of Space Centre. Diligence and due care were essential so that such instances did not recur. 

Arjun left Nirmala’s desk in a whizz without listening to whatever she was trying to say. Nirmala paused for a while, then she continued her work from where she had left. She was quite engrossed in her work that she did not notice what was going on around. There was lot of hustle and bustle. Fellow scientists were moving from table to table, sharing and discussing. Arjun came rushing to her desk, almost panting in great excitement. He exclaimed, “Hi, your prayers are answered.” She retorted, “When did I pray, that too for you?”

Arjun said hurriedly, “Okay! Okay! My prayers are heard. My wishes are granted now. I am included. My name is there in the team. You are also there, Nirmala.”

“Oh! I see. Is it in Part-I or Part-II?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You are always full of negativity. Will I come all the way, just to tell you this? We are part of the crew going on the spaceship. Yourself, myself and three more. Two pilots are with us from Air Force. Be ready to fly.”

“Fly, How? In the outer space, there is no gravity. Defying the gravity, we will be floating. You will be floating with greater force because of your dreams.”

Dispensing her counter arguments, he said, “Shut down your work. Let us go. Chairman is addressing us.” So-saying, he was about to save and shut down her laptop. But accidentally his finger touched the zoom button. The programme with which she was busy all along, got enlarged. The headlines were eye-catching and drew his attention. ‘Worst Failures in Space Launches’.

 He fumed, “What is this Nirmala? We are poised for success. Success of Gaganyaan III. Understand? You are dealing with failures and that too worst failures. Why? We need to be flamboyant astronauts. Not dummy fools. We need to show off our exuberance, confidence and extraordinary abilities.”

He continued with his lambasting, stressing more on her negativities. She remained her cool and gave back in her own way.

“We need to be flamboyant astronauts, yeh? How? As part of the flying crew can you do anything on your own? Everything about this mission is pre-programmed, well thought of and well-designed that too, after a long and thorough scrutiny. We as flying squad, are guided and monitored by the ground staff. Mind you. Team-B which is Part-II is much stronger than Part-I alias Team-A. You said dummy fools. Yes. We are. Dummy performers. That’s all. In any movie, you may hail the hero, applaud and praise him. But are they the actual heroes? Can they say a word or two of their own anywhere in the movie? Can they dance or sing as they please? Everything is tailormade for them. The artists are mere face of the great homework done by others behind the stage. In our case also, it is just the same. Part-II team navigates us and we Part-I sail the ship. We need to be always alert, keeping us in track with the ground staff. We are the puppets in the hands of Team-B.”

“Nirmala, you are very rude. You try to pull me down. Give up your negative attitude. All the time you are pricking balloons of my dreams. Kalaam Sir said. ‘Dream big, dream high.’ He is my role model. His very name oozes positivity. Please follow him. For your good and for the good of all of us in the crew.”       

“Come on Arjun. Stop your sermons to me. I have only very few pages to run through and complete my work. Once I leave it half done now, I may not get a chance later to complete. Once I am with you all in the crew, I will be on a different plane altogether. You go ahead. Put on your space suit, breathe Gaganyaan, talk Gaganyaan, eat Gaganyaan, drink Gaganyaan, sleep Gaganyaan and dream Gaganyaan. Be one with Gaganyaan. Enjoy that.”

“You are an incorrigible nut. That’s all I can say. But once we are on the vehicle, don’t torture me for the next twenty-one days.” He muttered and left. 

All the selected members for the mission had assembled at the chairman’s chamber. Dr. K Sivan of Chandrayaan 2 had retired long back. His successor took early retirement due to health reasons. The present Chief was young enthusiastic and energetic, sending positive vibes among his staff. Arjun admired him. Sivan earned a name for probing Moon. The present chief was trying it for studying Sun. Mission for Aditya’.

The chief congratulated the selected teams and gave a sharp and crisp motivating speech. He invoked the blessings of predecessors, veterans like Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan, APJ Abdul Kalaam, etcetera. The project was named as Mission Possible –code name MP. Members maintaining high level of secrecy with outsiders at the same time sharing of information with crew members were very essential. Coordination, cooperation unity, all as important as confidentiality. The whole nation, why the whole world would be eagerly watching this space journey. Augmented ‘Nail-biting’ tension would be there at every minute.

When he concluded saying that he wished to meet the entire team in toto next month, after successful completion of the MP, ‘Mission Possible’ there was a thundering applause and cheerful acclamation. ‘Will do - Sure Sir - No doubt Sir- Hum Hongey Kaamyaab’ such rantings and ravings filled the air.

Nirmala looked for Arjun. He was there in his ecstasy with his thumbs up sign. She went back to her table to collect some more of things to be taken in her exclusive kit, some classical songs, some evergreen dances, some bhajans etc.

Not to forget her exhaustive Check list- Ready Reckoner which she had prepared meticulously from failures of global and Indian Space Launches including Chandrayaan2 Vikram Lander. She had listed down the failures of those launches only to ensure that such errors of omission and commission did not recur. Actually, Kalaam Sir had termed it as Lessons for Learning. Earlier Arjun read the old title Failures and got agitated and branded her Negative.

The next few days flew off in rigorous training, both physical and technical. Physical training was to equip those in Part-I team to put up with non-gravity environment. Technical training was equally important to know step by step development and movement of the space vehicle, both within the Planet Earth’s orbit and also when it would be exiting the Planet Earth’s orbit and sailing on its own in the defined structured orbit. Chandrayaan2’s failure was due to Vikram Lander’s deviation from defined path.

Nirmala noted down the tutorials and asked the trainer again and again to stress upon those shady areas which caused failures in earlier launches for example, why in 1987, GSLV plunged into Bay of Bengal after taking off from Sriharikota and why another GSLV from ISRO veered off its trajectory, other failures in subsequent launches etc. Arjun was again not happy about Nirmala’s queries on failures and sticking to such drop-out cases. There were umpteen number of achievements by ISRO and proud moments like launching various satellites for various purposes like education, mapping, weather forecasting, Tsunami / flood warnings. How can anyone ignore launching of 104 satellites in one go very recently in 2017! Instead of harping on success stories, this lady was dwelling upon a ‘defeated-wounded soldier’s sad saga’.

Training of the crews was over. The count-down started. Time was ticking. All was well set to go. Launching about to be switched on. Needless to say, Arjun was highly excited and was just waiting for the vehicle to shoot off. All the staff in Space Centre sat in anxiety and tension, with their folded hands, grim faces, clenching fists, eyes fixed on monitor etcetera. Some started reciting hymns and prayers.

7…6…5…4…3…2…1….ZOOM. The Gaganyaan was set in motion. The burning fire at the tail and the white smoke engulfing the screen.

Soon everybody clapped and wished the mission a great success, by hugs and shake-hands. MP Jai Ho! That was the reaction of many.

But not for Team B.

Part-II was in tight position monitoring the vehicle and its voyage second by second, minute by minute. Their contact with crew of Part-I was on close vigil. As things were moving smoothly and initial check-ups were over, a routine pattern got set in. The two Air Force pilots too were well trained in their job. They were the captains and other five were part of stowaways, guiding and connecting the ship with ground staff.               

Nonstop patrolling by our soldiers at the border and nonstop vigilance by scientists at Space centre were no different. Fully alert and agile all the time.

Day one gone and day two also gone and so were three and four but not the next. Day 5 was a deadliest one. All were upset by the catastrophe it got into. The spaceship was suddenly on fire. Part-II team suspected all in the ship would perish right now. Out of 25 members two started crying. Immediately the chief was informed and he stood solidly with them. He was briefed up. All eyes were glued on the spaceship. A firestorm had struck the spaceship. Current got cut off.   

The firestorm killed the lights and knocked it deep into space. Somehow, the instruments were still alive, but there was no crew to read them. Far below a red crescent shone, the edge of the burning planet silhouetted by the curve of a wing. It would be a lonely trip. Nirmala gazed through the porthole at the wavering stars.

She rushed to the main board. The instruments were alive and active. Nirmala was confident to carry on. She called aloud Arjun. He was with other crew members in switching off the second stage engine and switching on the third stage engine. There should not be any gap. The ground staff scientists kept yelling. But there was no light. Time was ticking. Her cries of Arjun-Arjun at last paid heed. He helped her in getting signals with the ground. She asked Arjun to take out her Ready Reckoner check list and look for steps to arrest the problem. Arjun got the hint and rushed to the spot. Others were still probing. Arjun jumped into action and fixed the engine onto its motion. Nirmala advised him to check other aspects also simultaneously like fuel efficiency, control software, retro rockets. Having set the third stage engine in order, he wanted to put off the fire caused by firestorm. But Nirmala asked him to concentrate on propelling the ship. The captains came and took over. The lights came back and ship was on sails. They could read the instruments. It was about a warning on ensuing attack by foreign body. Now it was deciphered. It was confirmed. A firestorm would strike. A warning to safeguard the spaceship. Danger was still lurking on them. Nirmala asked Arjun again to refer to her Reckoner and find out ways put off fire caused by debris of satellites in space. The ground scientists also joined in offering solutions. Other three members were swift enough to step out and arrest the fire. Damage control done. Arjun and others felt, ‘what a great relief!

But not Nirmala.            

She asked them to send an image of shining crescent far below on planet Earth, to Part-II team veterans and find out its details. They studied and replied back that it could be a wild forest fire somewhere in Australia or California. The burning inferno, they assessed, could be due to climatic change and ozone depletion. She once again gazed through the porthole at the wavering stars. She got delighted. The stars were ‘Lead-Kindly-Stars’ telling her that it was not a lonely trip for her. She and her entire crew were hale and hearty. Now it was her turn to say really “What a great relief!” Remarkable lady of extraordinary guts.

Arjun open heartedly admitted it was her Ready Reckoner which saved all of them. She said it was prepared by her by collecting all negative things of earlier failed missions.               

Signals from spaceship were sent to the ground stating that ‘All is well’. They checked all vital engines, equipment, control panels, software rocket positioning, regulatory valves, all A to Z entities. After confirming everything in right gear, they too rejoiced with great sigh of relief. The chief still standing and watching, hailed them all and wholeheartedly congratulated the crew members and wished their remaining journey to be safe and sound. As already stated, he emphasized again that all members in toto to be at his chamber after MP was fully accomplished.

Part-II team continued with their navigations and Part-I was strictly obeying the instructions. The Gaganyaan too was obeying their masters and was strictly sticking to its structured path while surging ahead in its study of Sun. It was almost certain that it would accomplish its mission in sending images and information. Mission Possible was getting accomplished at last.

Arjun asked Nirmala how she got the idea of collecting details of failed missions. She said, “My father was an agent in an Insurance Company and an unwanted fellow. Wherever he went, people sarcastically called him ‘Yamadoot’, ‘Yamakinkara’. His advices to the family about insurance were not taken in right earnest. Death was always unwelcome topic and a bad omen. They did not realise it was certain and precaution in case of such a catastrophe, was necessary. He taught us to look ahead and prepare ourselves for problems in case they would befall on us. He used to say, it is forward thinking and not a negative attitude. That ability to look beyond helped me. Will you still tell me what you said earlier, ‘Not your father, you are Yamadoot Yamakinkara?”

Arjun admired her and admitted her ability of thinking ahead of time.

Forward Thinking Is A Great Blessing.

September 11, 2020 17:21

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17:24 Sep 11, 2020

It was written earlier for Prompts given by TIMES OF UNDIA Newspaper.( though not published.) It was somewhat modified to suit the present prompts.


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