on Her Sixth Death Anniversary

Celebrating the Indian Spirit- What Kalpana means to me
- By Pameljit Kaur Kalra'01 -

Kalpana Chawla has always been close to my heart, not because I knew her personally or I had met her, but because she has always been a personal hero for me. We do not need a special occasion to remember her. She represents the irrepressible Indian spirit that lies dormant in our Indian hearts. I say dormant because we have still not been able to connect with that spirit. Well, many of us have not been able to...

So, what is the Indian spirit? A tough question at that..But when I look at Kalpana’s life I can see what the true Indian spirit means. In her short lifetime, she broke the shackles of convention to pursue her interest in aeronautics. That according to me is an achievement, for many of us give in to nay saying by society. This is especially true in a close knit society like ours, where the whole extended family participates in deciding who we will spend the rest of the life with.

Kalpana did not stop at that, she obtained stellar education in the field of her choice, was top of the tops and finished off with a PhD from the University of Colorado. Now how many Indian women at that time could do that? And then she did the unbelievable. She joined the astronaut program in NASA to turn a 'Kalpana' (Hindi for dream) into reality. She trained there hard to become the first Asian Woman to go into space in 1997. She taught me that women could dream. They were not meant to be just the women behind their man’s success. They could dream the unimaginable and make it happen. They could bask in the glory of victory that truly belonged to them.

Kalpana dared to dream a dream so different from everyone around. In Kalpana’s own words, "It was very far-fetched to think I'd get to fly on the space shuttle - because I lived in India, in a very small town. And forget about space, I didn't even know if my folks were going to let me go to the engineering college." From Karnal to Space, the journey seems formidably long. But she achieved it. Her success, in my opinion does not come from the fact that she went to space. It comes from her struggle against what her context was during that time to make a fantasy come true.

Whenever I think that something is too grand to dream about, I think of the petite woman who harbored dreams of going to space one day. And that is when; I regain my child-like enthusiasm for life, the courage to dream bigger than I can possibly think and the perseverance to make that a reality.

Sometimes I wonder, why do we realize a person’s greatness when they are gone? I am not sure if I know the answer yet. But then I don’t want to think that Kalpana is gone. If she represents the true Indian spirit, then she cannot be gone. She lives as the Indian spirit, in everyone’s heart.

Pameljit Kaur Kalra graduated from PEC with Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering in 2001 and with a Master of Information Science degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005. She currently works as a Technology Consultant with Deloitte Consulting LLP at Pittsburgh.


Some other interesting articles on Kalpana Chawla:

  • The KC Effect   by Shawna L. Geller  [pdf]
  • Birding with Kalpana   by Cynthia Tuthill and Carolynn Conley  [pdf]

  • Related links:

  • Kalpana Chawla Memorial Fund  KCMF
  • Kalpana Chawla Family Foundation for Education and the Environment  Montsu,Inc.
  • Kalpana on South Asian Journalists Association
  • Inspiration Unlimited
  • Kalpana's profile at  NASA

    Member Login
    Not a member yet!
    Forgot your Information?
    Click here
    Directory Search
    Advanced Search  
    N e w s @ P A L S
    PEC doubles computer stream seats
    PEC marks tenth death anniversary of Kalpana Chawla
    PEC all set to go vehicle-free
    >> More News
    Tribute to Jaspal Bhatti
    Give Back
    ©2006 The PEC Alumni Society (PALS). All rights reserved.