Looking Up (BH: D319)

June 20, 2012

Yesterday evening I found myself in the lobby of the Sci-tech museum. I have been here during school days. Trips to the planetarium were a novelty then.

This visit I notice how nothing about this place conveys science and technology. Mundu and saree clad employees walking lethargically around, constantly watching the clock. There is none of the scientific enthusiasm that is infectious among the staff who work at foreign museums.
"eda, nee register book eduthondu vanna njan ninakku pathu mohanlal padathinte ticket eduthu tharam" (If you bring the attendance register here, I will buy you the tickets to 10 Mohanlal movies) a dare was in progress so that the end of the day signature could be put in the attendance register.

4:40 my 4:30 appointment kicks in. The director is an unassuming gem of a gentleman. Rarely does one come across folks with so much passion about their career. Science education in the public sphere in India stands on the shoulders of a few such men...mostly shoulders hunched over, overwhelmed by the 'red tape' epidemic spread out on their desk with new signature sucking file viruses being brought in by the innumerable staff who find a 'government job' in all such institutions.

We discuss the scientific temperament or the lack of it. We discuss telescopes. He amazes me with the story of the construction of the first indigenous telescope dome! Great 'jugaad' sample, using a boat maker to mold the curved structural elements.

He is also fashioning a radio telescope made from one of those old abandoned huge dish antennas. His eyes sparkle when he gets around to mentioning his plans with the Celestron C-14 and the science labs project in progress for the village schools in the state.

He orders two reluctant staff members to take me around. They warm up a little bit when they realize I am the crazy fellow who send the weirdest email the office has ever received. I see the 11 inch and the 14 inch babies. I see the incomplete dome that's undergoing repair for a weight balance problem.

My focus on the instruments surprises my guides. "Usually people are only interested in seeing the city's view from this height. They want to try to figure out where their home is. Nobody is interested in looking through the telescope!"

I walk back trying to figure out the best possible balance of investment between optical and radio telescopes. "Trivandrum gets only 50 clear nights a year," I have been warned.

One final meeting for the evening later, I am back in the same year. Mascot hotel. First real life meeting of three people who met on facebook. Kingfisher, fish fingers and beef fry. Happy Reunion! 

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