Video Conference With Sunnita Williams - Part 4 - After the Conference

6 PM

My day didn't end there. I still had another pressing matter to worry about. It was 6 PM by the time the conference ended. I called a couple of my classmates who were also attending this tuition. One of them was Mayur weho had my fees. Neither of them answered just then.

Drats! Perhaps the class had already begun? It would take me me 20 minutes to reach Sadashivpeth. I was worried that even if I did attend after this, I would have missed 20 minutes would hence be lost and restless. He doesn't waste time with pointless introductory lectures. All his lecture are complete - quantitatively and qualitatively. Missing 20 minutes could be disasterous. And it would be embarrassing going there late. And where WAS this class going to be held? TMC surely couldn't be taught in the same classroom as CONM (of the previous semester), we were expecting a larger number of students from various colleges this time and that room was too small for that purpose. Perhaps I ought to go back home instead, after the conference, like mom suggested?

I went to Cafe Durga, one of my favorite places to catch a smoke. Soon, I got a call from one of those 2 friends mentioned earlier, but he had to pass it onto another friend to answer my queries. (a)The class had not yet started, (b) it was in the same room as last semester (at least for today) and (c) it wouldn't begin for another 10 minutes.

I thanked my luck and rode will high velocities, using the power of 'The Secret' to ensure that class does not resume until I reached there.

I reached there at 6.30 PM and peeped into the classroom hesitantly.

Prof: So, how's Sunni? 

Everyone laughed. I smiled widely, embarrassed.

Prof: Did she ask about me? 

They laughed again. I smiled even wider, shaking my head.

Sir's father (smiling): The class has JUST started. 

This gave me a great relief. I rushed inside, dumped my bag onto the table where bags are left and went back to sit, hurriedly. Sir in the background made a joke about how all the astronauts must certainly know about him.

The lecture, like each and every one of his, was very entertaining and enlightening. That's why I always enjoy them. He's not just a professor. He's a performer! He fills the class with not just clear concepts, but even comedy, theatrics, examples and interesting out-of-the-world facts.

After class got over: 

Me: Sir, it was fortunate for me that you began late. 
Sir: I know. I did that intentionally. I knew that you would come late.

I love this guy! I hit the sack that night with a feeling of fulfillment :)

Video Conference With Sunnita Williams - Part 3 - The Conference

Jan 3: 

Finally, the day of the conference had arrived. I had no clue as to what I was going to ask her, IF I even got the chance to. After college, I handed over my tution fees to Mayur. There were (allegedly) 5 students already on the waiting-list and I didn't want to lose my seat.

I quickly accessed the Facebook group, the Symphony of Insanity, to recollect Nitin's suggested questions. I choose to ask this: 'When you're in space, how does it feel aesthetically?'

Due to sentimental reasons, I decided to leave out his other question - 'Considering that the first Indian woman to go out to space died on her way back, were you terrified?'

Komal, Harshavardan and I met at the entrace of the Civil Department, around 4 PM. It was crowded with students. We signed at the counter, obtained sheets onto which were were supposed to write our questions and went upstairs.

We had to write our questions? The questions would be selected? And we were allowed only one question per individual? All of this made me realize that I was right not to expect too much.

The other two went ahead. I waited for Vibha and Tejas (another Spandanite) at the 'Knowledge Corridor', as it's called. We filled our questions and other details and submitted it to a volunteer. Then we were asked to enter the Vivekananda Auditorium (where the conference was to be broadcast) from downstairs.

There we met Adarsh (Co-Secretary of Spandan), Aditya and even reunited Harshvardan and Komal. I reminded everyone that we were to take notes and promised Vibha that I'd write the article. I shouldn't have, as I later got to know.

The entire hall was filled. Hundreds were there amongst the audience - students, professors, volunteers, organizers and media. And I thought 3 from each department were chosen. But they were just sent in hopes that the rest would follow. I couldn't get you a photograph. So here's a copy of the article from the Indian Express - PUNENewsline:




Questions of 10 students were selected. I was not one of them. And I had been half-hoping that I wouldn't. I didn't want to make a fool of myself on stage. I have stage fright, you see. And Sunnita is after all a celebrity. What's more, the media was covering this. And anyway, I didn't deserve to be selected. A few days back, I was the only one asking "Who is Sunnita Williams?" However, from Spandan, Adarsh, Komal and Tejas were selected. Thus they had to go sit up front.

The program began with a compere reminding everyone about the basic courtesies and ethics. If you ask me, in my college, that was a necessity. Then we had to watch a pointless episode about Baratiya Chatra Sansad (Student Parliament, the host of this Conference). And then we watched an short introductory video about Sunni Williams. This was followed by a filler - the compere gave us facts about Sunnita.

Around 5 PM, the video conference finally began. As expected, it began with a lot of audio and video tests and rectification. And there she was - right on screen. As instructed earlier, we remembered to get up and applaud. The compere handed over the mike to Rahul Karad who spoke a lot about Baratiya Chatra Sansad to Sunnita. Poor lady had to listen to him for a while. Then the camera focused on all of us, making her even more conscious. She gave a very sweet introductory speech about herself and her journey. Her childlike enthusiasm, american accent and fluent speech made me given up on taking notes even before I began. I left that to poor Vibha and Aditya. All I wanted to do was listen to her.

She'd just landed back on earth about a month ago. And then, she broke down. And this was not the last time she did that day.

The students were allowed to ask her questions after that. I tell you, there were terrible questions! Most of them were too emotional to have been raised. I blame the ones who did the selection in a hurry. Some of these questions made her even more emotional.

One of the students asked her, 'Being an Indian, how did you get to be in the NASA?'

I though to myself: You moron! First of all, she's american! And secondly, Indians are not rare at the NASA. Get your facts straight!

The media had a question: What do you have to say about the Delhi Rapes and the need for respect for women?

Was that question necessary or even relevant? Anyway, Sunnita answered all of these questions very well, enthusiastically and diplomatically. Perhaps, only she could have given such an answer. I was impressed.

Over all, it was a good hour spent. I now felt that I had a better picture of who Sunnita Williams was.

Video Conference With Sunnita Wiliams - Part 2 - The Preparation and Uncertainities

One of my friends posted a comment on my Facebook status message that 'it's just a video conference'. I later even confirmed this at college. So no autograph for mom. Anyway, at least I'd have the honor of being one of the lucky ones to interact with her. I was told that 3 students from each department were selected. My group had an additional Harshavardan (also my classmate). So I asked some of my close friends to help me with valid questions to ask her, provided I had the opportunity. Only one of my friends gave me the right kind of questions I was expecting. But later I came to know that even that was more than enough.

I rang up Vibha, the current Secretary of Spandan - our college magazine. Komal and I are ex-spandanites. And so I thought we might use this opportunity to interview Sunnita Williams on behalf of Spandan. It turned out that Aditya was also attending this, on behalf of his department. (And much later, even Vibha, Bhagyashree etc., from Spandan, attended.) So we agreed to keep in touch and get things arranged for this conference. Even if we couldn't interview her, we'd take notes (or use an audio recorder) and make it an article.

Arti responded to my call much later with an SMS. She apologized for the delay and asked me as to why I'd called. I told her that she was selected to volunteer for an event, but that I gave my name on her behalf as there wasn't enough time to confirm her attendance. She kept insisting that I tell her exactly what I was talking about. It was too long a story to text her. Hence, I sent her a Facebook message explaining what she'd missed. (No, I generally don't prefer phone calls or personal conversations.)

She called me, and almost pleaded to be put back on the team. I said that I wasn't sure if that was possible and that I'm not the one in charge of all this. She said she'd talk to Nadgire and the Principle. I didn't protest. But I was worried that they'd prefer her over me. After all, just a few days back, I didn't even know who Sunnita Williams was. And Arti said that this was her dream. And besides, the society is always quick to sympathize with a woman.

Meanwhile, people congratulated me. I felt guilty because (a) I didn't earn/achieve anything here and (b) I may not  even get to go there in the end.

The program's timing would most probably clash with that of my first day at TMC tution. I had to inform my prof and reserve the seat.

Jan 2: 

Me: Sir, I wouldn't be able to come to Tution tomorrow. I have a video conference with Sunnita Williams.
Prof. Dixit: Do try to come. Tell Sunnita Williams that you have TMC tution. I'm sure she'll let you go. Haha!

Video Conference With Sunnita Williams - Part 1 - How I ended up there...

Dec 27:

My phone rang. It said Prof. Mujumdar. This woman scares me, because she always teaches Design related subjects. I hate design. After debating on whether or not I ought to answer this, I answered, fearing the worst. I had to face her sooner or later. And what could happen at the worst?

Me: Hello, ma'am. This is Iyer.

People here call me by my Surname. I don't know why, but I do find it cool anyway.

Ma'am: Iyer, are you in college?

I was cutting class at that very moment and I was afraid that she might be inquiring about that. I had just hit bed for a nap after lunch. So I decided to lie.

Me: Yes, ma'am. I was even there this morning. (Remember, I came to the staff room searching for another crazy prof.)
Ma'am: Could you come and meet Prof. Nadgire?
Me: Er... (Oh my God! Was I in trouble? As the class representative I'd made my entire class cut more than a week right after the end of our vacation. I.e., I generously extended their vacation with the power of SMS. My classmates generally don't attend when I declare a common off. It's nice of them that way) Ma'am, do I have to come in uniform?

It was a Thursday. Mondays and Thursdays are uniform days. And right now, I'd changed back to my casual-wear.

Ma'am: It's alright. Just come.

I put on my jeans and rushed to college, afraid that I was going to be questioned. Not even fags could calm me down just then. No one was at the staff room. I checked the RAC lab right beside.

Me: Um... Prof. Nadgire? (I.e. who on earth is he?)
Sir: Yes, I'm Nadgire. You must be Iyer?
Me: Yes, sir.
Sir: Sunnita Williams is coming on Jan 3rd. And I would like you to suggest the names of 2 students to interact with her.
Me: Um... I would volunteer. But what is this all about?
Sir: Sunnita Williams! You don't know Sunnita Williams?
Me: Er... No. I think I missed the first time she was mentioned.
Sir: She's from NASA.
Me: Oh! I see. I'll volunteer, to begin with and...
Sir: The HOD has given me 2 names.
Me: Who are they, sir? (And why on earth did you ask me to suggest names?)
Sir: Suryawanshi and Khumbar. (Surnames again.)
Me: But sir, there are 2 Suryawanshi's in our class. Which one?
Prof #2: Komal!
Me: Ah alright.

Some profs probably believe that I'm a guy who gets things done in my class by virtue of being in contact with everyone. Prof. Mujumdar, although she doesn't like me that much, must have recommended my name for this.

Sir: Ask them if they're willing and if they are, get me their details.

I called Komal and she confirmed. But Arti Khumbar did not respond to my consistent attempts.

Me: Sir, Komal is ready to come. But Arti's not reachable. Has the HOD suggested any other names?

He made a call. And then...

Sir: I would like you to suggest me another student who could interact.
Me: I volunteer.
Sir: Alright.

But just to be fair...

Me: Sir, what if I do reach Arti later?
Sir: Alright, but I must send the details to the Principal by 4PM.

That wasn't going to happen. There was hardly an hour and 15 minutes left to 4 PM. Arti didn't respond until later in the evening.

Prof #3: You don't know Sunnita Williams?
Me: (Slightly embarrassed now) I think I've heard the name. But I just didn't make the connection.

Back home:

Me: Mom, I'm going to meet Sunnita Williams on Jan 3rd.
Mom: Wow! Get me her autograph! I'm a big fan of hers.

I narrated to her the conversation I had with Prof. Nadgire.

Mom: At least if you'd mistaken her with a Tennis player, I'd understand. But this is unacceptable.

Then she lectured me about how to do some research before I went to meet someone that great. And also told me how to take autographs.

That afternoon, I forgot my nap and looked her up on Wiki, and also some astronaut biography. Then I followed her on Twitter. Apparently, she's quite famous. Having read quite a bit now, I decided to show off. For the first time in my life, a guy and that to like me gt 30 likes on his status update.