Distinguished Space scientist salutes his maths teacher on Women’s Day

Tapan Misra

That day was probably 22nd July 1969. I was a student of standard two of the primary section of a girls’ school: Shatadal Balika Vidyayatan in Sukchar, then a desolate suburb, north of Kolkata.

In the midst of Bengali language class, in the second period of morning session, Moynadi, our Maths teacher rushed inside unexpectedly, flaunting the day’s issue of vernacular news paper, Ananda Bazar Patrika. She spread out the first page of the newspaper, pointing excitedly to the a photo of a bizarre looking footprint on some dusty soil, spread almost a quarter of the first page, prominently centred.

She was chubby looking, always clad in a white cotton sari with blue border. She was a fantastic teacher of mathematics, having taught us multiplication tables upto 20, multiplication and division in the infant class itself, as was pre primary class called those days. She was screaming excitedly that it was the photo of the footprint of a man who just landed on the moon for the first time.

Till that day I always used to think news paper was a useless thing for which my father used to wait very eagerly every morning, to be delivered to our house. After I went back home, I grabbed the news paper and excitedly started reading the news of landing of Apollo 11 lander. That was the first day, I learnt how to read a news paper and the habit continued from then on. I even tried to fully pronounce difficult names like Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Michael Collins. I learnt many new words whose meanings were difficult to comprehend. I was amused that landing craft was named Eagle, that too without wings! I could not find an iota of resemblance to the bird I knew. That evening, excitedly I waited for moon rise in the evening, trying to locate the men walking around the moon! Needless to say I was disappointed.

That I became known as space scientist, is probably due to the excitement of Moynadi on that historic day of human civilisation. Who says, only big people can inspire you for life?

Greetings on the occasion of International Women’s Day. My grateful tribute to the inspiring teachers like Moynadi on this occasion.

Tapan Misra is a distinguished scientist, who has contributed immensely to India’s Space Programme. He has headed the Space Application Centre and till recently, he was also Advisor in the Departmen of Space, Government of India.

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