After Mars, it’s China for India, Kathakali for Isro chief

A lot has been spoken and written about India’s mars orbiter mission (MOM). How India will enter an elite club of countries to have successfully commissioned a space mission to Mars, how it will become the first to taste success on debut and so on.

But the Indian space agency, which has had co-operation with several foreign countries from 1960s, will have another first in the next six months, working together with Chinese space scientists to prepare a roadmap for a series of missions to be implemented together.

In an exclusive interview with TOI, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman K Radhakrishnan, said: “An agreement was signed about two days ago and as of now we have broad working areas. However, a joint working team which will comprise experts from China and India will begin work in the coming weeks.”

The agreement aims at encouraging exchange and cooperation for “peaceful purposes”, and a lot of emphasis will be on research and development, including in communication satellites.

The breaking of ice with China is seen as a great opportunity for India, whose co-operation with countries like Soviet Union (now Russia) and the US has contributed significantly in acquiring critical know-how for many projects, while co-operations with some European nations have brought in revenue directly.

“… This will be the first with China and we look forward to it as both the countries are crucial in creating a strong space presence in Asia. There were some initiations in 1991, but nothing much happened. After that, there were comments here and there, but this is not just a gesture, but a concrete step forward in co-operation,” Radhakrishnan said.

Specific names of people in the joint team cannot be revealed at this time, he added.

On what could be the areas of focus, he said: “Right now, broadly speaking, it will be natural disasters and remote sensing, which are natural choices. But by March-April 2015, the joint working team would have prepared a roadmap, chalking out various options and opportunities for concentrated efforts in space exploration.”

The turnaround with China may have come with efforts from the new government in New Delhi and similar efforts from Beijing, but Radhakrishnan’s date with Kathakali — a form of classical Indian dance-drama — all over again, is just re-ignited passion.

It was December 1995, when this space-man last performed Kathakali. It was at the Ayyappa Temple in Jalahalli in north Bangalore. “… I moved to Hyderabad from here and could not find a teacher to continue practice, by the time I came back, there was too much responsibility, and I just did not have the opportunity or time,” he said.

But almost two decades later, in 2013, a senior Kathakali artist had re-ignited a thought in Radhakrishnan’s mind. “He has been insisting that I perform again. But with the Mars Mission and other key assignments, I did not know if I should,” he said.

That is set to change now. “In April 2015, I may … I might give a performance with him,” Radhakrishnan said, falling short of saying “I will.” With completion of the mars mission, his tenure at Isro is scheduled to end in December. The first three months of 2015, he said will see him practice Kathakali.

“… But I have not quit my classical singing, which I began learning in Bangalore while studying at IIM-B,” he said, sipping warm water boiled with ginger.

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