Millions – if not billions – of eyes followed the spacecraft as it slowly disappeared to its distant mission to the red planet. It was the 5th of November when PSLV – C25 launched off carrying the completely indigenous ‘Mangalyan’ capsule on an year long voyage to mars. The ever faithful comrade of ISRO – the PSLV series of launch vehicles – successfully maintained its 100 percent success record. As the small capsule leaped forward into the space, India reiterated its presence in the scientific community by becoming the nation to launch a martian mission at one-tenth of the cost of an equivalent US mission.

And today, 60 days after the launch a humble traveler in the path of science introspects on the position of his country in the scientific arena. His country! A country too colourful; a country too diverse; the birthplace of the oldest religion of the world; a country that proudly shelters more than 18 languages; a country that boasts of its festivals and culture. He greets you from Bharat, Bharatvarsha, Aryavarta, Hindustan. He  greets you from India.

As a billion souls felt their chests broaden after the launch, a few eyebrows were also raised. The questions were not new; but they were relevant. The writer’s country is not only a country brimming with culture and diversity; it is also a country where more than one-fifth of stomachs sleep fighting hunger; its also a place where thousands of children find themselves in tea stalls and not schools; it’s also a country where hospitals are a luxury for some. And the question that was very evident after the mission was this –

Should a country of more than 400 million poverty stricken souls spend 73 million dollars (450 crore rupees) on a mission which may or may not yield a major breakthrough?

Well yes we have a large population under the poverty line. And it may seem to be a sheer muscle flexing act by India to send off a mission to mars and not divert the money to the upliftment of the poor. But is this expenditure really a waste? Well for one thing; out economy was growing at a fast pace when the western world was facing a global slowdown. So we do have money to sustain ourselves. Additionally, even if the mission does not provide something amazingly new, I guess it is an achievement in itself to launch such a cheap mission. This gives the outside world a faith in India’s technology. This attracts may other nations to trust India as a cheap and efficient client to launch their satellites and other space missions. This is one of the immediate returns of the investment.

On the broader perspective, this mission or any other scientific success has a much larger impact. To reduce the economic disparity of the nation, it is essential that the youth gets educated. The question arises why are they not getting educated? In today’s India, most of the citizens appreciate the importance of education. The problem arises because there are not many teachers in the country. Same goes for the health sector – there are hospitals, but doctors are nowhere to be found. And believe me it is these small success stories which create teachers and doctors. It is these scientific stories which inspire the children to take up science; pursue higher education, and be the future scientists, doctors, professors and teachers. So the investment in Mangalyan may seem to be a huge in the short term; but the long term returns of missions like these are things which cannot be simply measured in monetary terms.

At this moment I also feel a lot of responsibility on my soldiers. As a student of science in India, I realise that we as a nation have a long way to go before we come up to the front line of the scientific race. I also know the level of competition in the top-notch institutes of India. I have faced it . And I have survived. But now I feel there are millions of eyes staring at me in expectation. There are thousands who deserved to get through but couldn’t. There is something that really needs to be done. If India; a country of 1.2 billion has produces just 4 Nobel laureates (India born foreign citizens excluded); there is something seriously wrong. When 4 other India born foreign citizens receive the same prize; there is something to ponder about. Why did these people need to become foreign citizens before they could get the Nobel?

When someone addresses us as the cream of the cream (or crème de la crème) of Indian education system, it definitely fill us with pride. But more than pride, it fill us with a sense of responsibility. The cream of the cream should not fail. The cream of the cream cannot afford to fail.

It is said that C. V. Raman cried as he received the Nobel prize; as he was standing under the Union Jack as he got the prize. Although aspiring for a Nobel would be highly over-ambitious for me, I can guarantee the soul of Dr. Raman that if such a day comes, it would be an Indian standing under the Indian tricolour.

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Before I end this rather long speech of mine, I would like to make two announcements. Firstly, a friend of mine, Harshda Mangal has participated in a story writing competition. So you members of the Facebook community, please read the story and vote for it if you like. Here is the link. The voting lines close tomorrow. So please hurry up! Please use a PC or a laptop to vote as voting by mobile has some issues. (You might ask why didn’t I participate. Two reasons. One, I don’t have a Facebook account. And two, I don’t write stories).

Secondly, From tomorrow I am thinking of starting a series of daily posts on sharing of the quotes said by some of the brilliant people on the planet. I hope you would enjoy them.

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So I come again tomorrow. Till then,

Goodbye, Namaste, Nomoshkar, Sat-sri akal, Khuda Hafiz, Jai Sri Krishna.

And Bon Voyage to Mars Orbitor Mission (Mangalyan)