Could there have been a better way of enjoying a Saturday night? No. On Saturday September 25, I attended a party at the Russian cultural centre in Pedder Road to mark the 110th anniv of the Russian diplomatic mission in India.
After the customary speeches which fortunately were not that boring, I introduced myself to a top New Delhi-based Russian diplomat and just mentioned the name of Yuri Gagarin. You must have seen his instant response. Enthusiasm and excitement would be an understatement! He said: ``Yuri Gagarin. We are in the process of planning major celebrations to mark the 50th anniv of his flight on April 12 2011. I think it will be a major event,'' he said.
Gagarin came to India and visited Mumbai and New Delhi in November 1961. In Mumbai, the world's first spaceman addressed a meeting at Shivaji Park. I recall standing at the Mahalakshmi Temple junction and waving to him as his convoy passed by. Incidentally, this was the very spot where I stood on October 25,1969, and waved to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins when they visited Mumbai as a part of their worlwide tour post Apollo 11. Over the years this place has become very sacred to me and as far as possible I try to go there everyday--it is just a walking distance from my house--stand there for a few minutes and pray to Mahalakshmi temple just across.
At the vast terrace of the Russian information centre on Saturday night, I once again approached the Russian diplomat and inquired about the celebrations being planned to mark the anniversary. ``Yes, yes. We are still planning it and I will certainly keep you posted,'' he said. I was excited and said we would be happy to team up with him. Once again his reaction was one of terrific enthusiam.
With me was the ever jovial director of Nehru Planetarium, Piyush Pandey. When he heard about the possibility of the Russian consulate celebrating the 50th anniv of Gagarin's flight, he too sounded very enthusiastic. Piyush will you be organising any event at the planetarium?
Yes, there is the Yuri's Night. Yes, this is something one can look forward to. But, those who participate in it I sincerly feel should be space addicts like me. They should be passionate about space exploration and not attend the programme merely to have fun. Have a ball of a time, but also know at the same time who is Yuri Gagarin!
My friend, Pradeep Mohandas, celebrates his birthday today Sept 26. We wish him a very very happy birthday and real starry days ahead. Last year today he celebrated it at the Nehru Science Centre listening to an address by APJ Abdul Kalam and later in the day a presentation by Chandrayaan project director, Mylswamy Annadurai at the same centre which had organised a Chandrayaan event specially for Mumbai school kids.
Great days ahead.