Daily Winner for: – 30th August 2013
Name of the intern: – Shreya Santra
Institute: – National Institute of Technology, Jamshedpur
Organization interned with: – Indian Institute of Astrophysics
My Starry Summer
After repeated rejections from different IITs and various Research Institutes, I was convinced that I would have to waste my summer doing an unpaid training in some gloomy industry. As I was mentally preparing myself to accept this dreaded fact, a beautiful aurora filled my life.
Life strikes us with the best when we least expect from it! The acceptance mail from Indian Institute of Astrophysics in late April, proved to be a beacon of light in the black-body of my despair. The thought of spending two months in my dream city, Bangalore, doing what I love the most (I am very passionate about Space Technology and Astronomy) immersed me in eclectic emotions! I somehow finished off with my 6th semester exams and packed up for the long-awaited journey.
But before the start of our project, we were asked to report at the Solar Observatory at Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, to attend the School of Astrophysics and Astronomy. A two-days voyage, including my first flight experience and a short trip to Madurai to visit the famous Meenakshi Temple, I finally reached the beautiful hill station of Kodaikanal, which translates to the ‘Summer Mirage’ in local Tamil language. The scientist in-charge, Dr. Sundaraman welcomed me with a cheerful smile and arranged for a superb traditional South Indian lunch. I was then directed to my room. The facilities provided to us impressed me; a big room with cozy beds and quilts and a fireplace to keep us warm during the chilly nights, all for free!
After a few hours of ‘serious gossip’ with my sweet new roommates, we were escorted to the main building for dinner. Over dinner, I met the other ‘stars’ from different parts of India, stretching from Kashmir to Kerala, Gujarat to West Bengal and one was there all the way from Nepal. Each of us of different cultures, interacting as if we knew each other ever since the Big Bang!
The following day, we were given instructions about our schedule for the ten days that we were to stay there. Lectures from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM everyday, by IIA, ISRO, TIFR, RRI and IISc scientists on different topics to introduce us to the vast subject of exploring the Universe (The hectic routine seemed too scary for a lazy engineering student like me!). We were also given strict orders not to venture out alone among the hills because wild animals roamed around freely in the area. Since it was the first day, we were allowed to go sight-seeing in the second half of the day. It helped us bond with each other and we came back with beautiful moments captured in pictures worth 10 GB!
The lectures were really exciting, as I was very enthusiastic to grasp as much as I can, and very soon it dawned on me that being just an amateur star-gazer, I hardly had any pre-knowledge about this interesting subject. But the scientists were kind enough to be patient with us and clear all our queries. The extended lectures, funny one-liners by the humorous elements of our class, some over-enthusiast guys’ unending doubts, relaxing tea-breaks, the occasional sightings of wild bisons inside the campus, the weird new games we attempted to play before dinner, and finally the yummy dinner(well, I did find the food items quite tasty unlike most of my North Indian peers) all seated around a huge table made our days really magnificent.
The fact that astonished me the most was the humble and altruistic behavior of the learned scientists and professors, who treated us as their friends. They always had their meals with us, discussing on all sorts of topics, and constantly encouraging us towards a research-oriented career. I very well realized, that true knowledge and experience inculcates humility.
On early mornings,we went to observe the sun through the Twin Telescope and learnt how these images were captured, studied and preserved. Kodaikanal Solar Observatory has the priviledge of storing more than hundred years of solar data, even before NASA came into existence (it filled me with a sense of pride and patriotism). This data is now being digitized by modern technology for future reference.
We were joined by five more ‘stars’ by the end of the first week, who could not come earlier as their college semester had not ended. Attending lectures was too tiring for all of us, so we devised ways to escape from the monotonous routine. Truth and Dare, Dumb Charades, Pair Making, Dog and Bone were some of the derp-ish games we played and even assigned tough tasks to the losers. I almost broke one of my teeth after a fatal collision while running!
Soon it was Sunday and time to go on a second trip. We walked up and down the hilly town through the clouds and pine forests, attended flower shows, did boating and bought a few handmade artifacts and local coffee for our folks back home. When we came back, a surprise awaited us; a camp-fire was put up and hot soup was served. Some of us made the best of the opportunity, and tapped our feet to the most popular Hindi and Tamil numbers.
The last few days passed away in a fluke and it was time to part ways with some of our dear friends. With some heartbreaks and a ‘tooth break’, with teary eyes we left the beautiful Kodai with a collection of memories to cherish forever.
We reached the ecstatic city of Bangalore after an over-night dizzy bus journey. The pleasant weather was enough to captivate my heart and fall in love with the exuberant place. We were allotted five-star rooms and provided all kinds of comforts. We were introduced to our guides, who briefed us about our projects. My guide, Dr. K. P. Raju, a kind and soft-spoken person, explained me my job. It was a complete software-based study of solar activities during a particular solar cycle. After the initial installation process and learning a new programming language and some solar softwares, I started with my work seriously. Two weeks later my guide disclosed that it was a research paper we were working on and not much work has been done on the topic earlier. He was planning to publish a paper with my name in it along with his own. This announcement encouraged me and instilled in me the zeal to give my best. The profound feeling of happiness when we were handed our stipend is inexplicable!
Weekends were devoted to exploring Bangalore and nearby places, nights were dedicated to playing UNO. The trip to Mysore and Shivasamundaram proved to be a learning experience for me in many ways. Most importantly, I found friends whom I could relate to, with same taste and thoughts as mine.
We also visited the other IIA campuses at Hosakote and Kavalur. The level of research work put into such projects motivated me to pursue my future in this field. Even the M. Tech and Ph. D. scholars helped us in unfolding our doubts and imparted to us valuable facts. Time passed quickly and it was time to present our work before the organization. After the initial jitters and panic, I confidently presented my project and earned accolades from the highly knowledgeable audience. My guide praised me, saying I had put in EXCELLENT efforts. His words still resonate when I think of them and fills me with alacrity.
Once again it was time to indulge in the emotional episode as we were leaving Bangalore. With a heavy heart, I bade goodbye to my amazing friends, without whom these two months would have been nothing but boring.
But this was not the end of my adventure. While on my way back home,I got down from the train at a station to buy water late at night, as no vendor came to sell water-bottles and before I knew, the train started! The sight of the train moving away from me struck me with fear, but soon I found the courage to run and finally boarded it. It took me some minutes to come back to proper senses! I realized I was in the AC compartment which was not connected to the rest of the train and to add to my dismay, I did not have my cellphone with me. I waited till the next stoppage where I got back to my friend, who had gone haywire by then. She was horrified and I had to pacify her. A few hours later, we reached our destination. It was a relief to be back home safe and sound, with a bagful of exulting experiences and knowledge, an urge to reach out for the unknown and the unexplored.. Because ‘Sky is the Limit’.
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