Away from the media glare and the hustle-bustle of Delhi is the Chawla household in Asiad Village. One can feel the presence
of Kalpana Chawla the minute one steps on the threshold. On the center of the main door is a small sticker of Columbia space
shuttle. Adorning the living room and the study are the proud photographs of Kalpana and her crew members from the shuttle.
To her nieces, Neha and Megha, Kalpana is an inspiration. For the world a celebrity, but for Sanjay Chawla who spent 20
years, with her in India, she is still his younger sister who was destined to be a prodigy.
Sanjay, who is two years elder to Kalpana, remembers her to be an extraordinary person. Our entire family values education
and realizes its importance, but nobody had dreams like KalpanaShe had a passion to work hard for her dreams while none of
us were so intelligent, he admits.
He recalls how as a child he used to make her run while fighting. We were the youngest of the four children and so
got along well. However, as she grew up she turned into a very determined and head-strong person. She never discussed any
problems with me because she had that confidence of resolving them on her own.
Kalpana as a person
Kalpana was very bold and liked adventure sports. Even as a child she hated parents lecturing us what to do and what not.
According to him Kalpana was not the way Indian women are. I have a mother, two sisters, and two daughters, yet none of them
can be what she was.
Indian women are ruled by their destiny. First their decisions are influenced by parents and after marriage by their husbands.
But Kalpana made her own destiny. She was never ruled by it. She was destined to achieve through her sheer grit and determination.
None of us can take that credit away from her. Probably this is the reason why she chose United States to pursue her dreams.
When she showed inclination to opt for aeronautical engineering, everyone, including the family, in Chandigarh discouraged
her. Nobody in our family was so educated to appreciate the scope of that education, said Sanjay.
But she was undeterred
as she was an exception. Kalpana continued to work relentlessly towards her goal.
Among her multiple hobbies, she liked collecting stones and marbles of all sorts and even ordinary ones. She was intrigued
by their texture, shapes, and various sizes, Sanjay remembers.
She didnt like movies. In fact when we were kids we were not allowed to watch them at all. Kalpana enjoyed music Indian
and classical and Indian food. But since she was a pure vegetarian, at times she used to have difficulty as in the US people
take lot of non-vegetarian food.
Kaplan never had a role model, but she admired pioneers and achievers from every field, whether it was the first person
to scale Mt. Everest. or JRD Tata, the first Indian to have flown a plane. Her favorite film was Those Magnificent Men and
their Flying Machines.
On her marriage, Sanjay recalls the familys reaction when Kalpana informed them that she was going to marry a French-American.
Frankly speaking we were quite relieved to know that she had found someone on her own. Though marriage is the primary concern
in Indian families, and every family has its own circle, yet we used to wonder how we would ever look for a person who would
match her in education, intellect and caliber. Thanks to her passion for flying, Kalpana used to be hardly at home. She used
to leave early in the morning and come back late at night. It was like being home only to sleep, so she wasnt of much help.
What I miss the most
With her gone away, I miss her weekend phone calls the most. Every week she used to talk to one member myself, mother,
my wife or kids at length and alternate week would rush to say hi to everyone.