Wednesday, April 29, 2009


We were invited to dinner at one of our ex-Indian Air Force friend's home recently and on reaching there realised that one of the other invited couples was Rakesh Sharma, the one and only cosmonaut from India, and his wife. I had met him earlier in the service but only after he had become an international figure and thus never did have a chance to actually interact with him. During the course of this evening I got my chance. He had just returned from Russia after celebrating the 25th anniversary of the space flight in the Soyuz T-11, which was launched from Baikanour on 03 April 1984.

I distinctly remember those days when we were proud to have sent one of our men into space, even though it was on a Soviet space craft. Then Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma was chosen to represent India in this joint venture by the Soviet Union. I remember watching him on television where he was shown speaking with our then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi via a satellite video link-up. Mrs Gandhi asked him as to how India looked from way up there, and he spontaneously replied: "Saare jahan se achcha." We felt very nice on hearing the first line of this famous song, although some of us did feel that he must have prepared this reply in advance and reproduced it to our Prime Minister. However, we all felt proud that a fellow Indian had made history.

In 1989, I was taken on an official trip to the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas. Besides being shown the space station and other places in the center, we were also shown a video film taken from the space shuttle. It was indescribable watching that film of the earth, and how it looked from high up in space. The earth just looked beautiful, and guess what, when India came on view, I nearly had to hold my breath - it was breath takingly beautiful, and my thoughts immediately went back to 1984 and the words of Rakesh Sharma. There are just no other words to describe this mass of land, jutting out symetrically into the Indian Ocean, with the Bay of Bengal on the East and the Arabian Sea on the West. The sea looked a deep blue and the land looked just gorgeous. It is then that I could actually fathom the true extent of the emotions that Rakesh Sharma had expressed to our Prime Minister. These emotions must have been nothing but spontaneous, absolutely genuine and honest.

25 years later, I spoke with him on the subject on this evening. I told him about the "saare jahaan se achcha" incident, and how I felt in 1989 when I saw the earth in a video film taken from the orbiting space shuttle. I told him about how I too felt while watching India from high up there, and he asked me, "Isn't it true?" and he had a sparkle in his eye - guess what, he had seen it LIVE from way up there in space, in April 1984.