Updated on: Thursday, August 15, 2019, 10:40 AM IST

‘Papa loved taking apart my toys to see how they worked...’

Activist, Indian classical dancer and actress, Mallika Sarabhai gives NICHOLA PAIS insights into the personality of her father, India’s numero uno space scientist Vikram Sarabhai

As ISRO completes 50 years of success on August 15 this year, what are the emotions that flit through you?

I am filled with pride especially at the key roles women have taken on MOM and Chadrayaan 2. That would have made Papa very happy.

Your father, the esteemed Dr Vikram Sarabhai, is widely regarded as the father of India's space programme. As an Indian citizen, how would you sum up his enormous contribution to the sector.

I wish he had lived longer and continued to have a just and proud vision for our country, that he showed in all the ventures he undertook. We really miss people with that commitment to the country and her last citizen, people with compassion, vision and the wherewithal to make their visions happen. So much from farmer guidance to telemedicine has come to the help of millions. How much more he could have done had he lived.

Are there any particular achievements of ISRO that fill you with pride?

Their commitment to finding indigenous solutions, is something I admire.

What are the aspects of your father's personality that you deeply admire?

His way with people, his amazing ability to think intersectional through science, art, management, development and more, his total selflessness and need to make this country great in the true sense of the word, a country where people can harness science and technology for better lives, lives of dignity and away from deprivation and want.

Did Dr Sarabhai have any relatively unknown quirks?

He loved Western classical music and would make us march around a square carpet while he whistled tunes. He used to constantly whistle. He was always trying to lose weight, and introduced the first low calorie meal replacements in India, experimenting on himself. He loved taking apart my toys to see how they worked, and never had the time to put them together again!

Was he approachable despite his formidable strengths and achievements?

I am told he was one of the most approachable people, and that is my feeling too.

Growing up as the daughter of Dr Sarabhai, there would have been instant recognition but also the weight of expectations. How did you handle it?

I went to a school where it did not matter who I was, and there were no expectations from parents either except that we study, and have the opportunity to become who we wanted to be.

As Amma (Mrinalini Sarabhai, Indian classical dancer, choreographer, instructor) travelled a lot while I was in school, Papa was invariably called in to get me out of pranks and trouble, which he did with great amusement.

I don’t think either Kartikeya (brother) or I ever felt burdened by having to stand up to expectations put by them.

Did your father encourage your dancing artistry?

When I won at badminton he wanted me to be a sportswoman. When I did well in science he said, ‘What fun we can have together when you become a scientist’. When he watched me dance or sing at a youth festival, he wanted me to become an artist.

With ISRO's recent Chandrayaan mission and a Hindi film on the Mars Mission up for release, space is the flavour of the season. Do you find these times exciting for India's space programme?

There are also two films and a TV serial being made on or around Papa. It’s lovely.

Are there any particular missions you would like to see ISRO undertake?

I hope that they never forget that there is an awful lot that needs to be done to help human beings that can be done through space and science, and that that must come first.


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Published on: Thursday, August 15, 2019, 10:40 AM IST