I’m really not sure who the hero of this story is. Is it Udhaya Keerthika – an astronaut aspirant? Or her parents? A dad who is a writer and painter currently facing the herculean task of finding funds for his daughter’s higher studies or the mother who works as a typist with a meagre income, yet determined that her girl’s dream is not compromised for anything.
I had the opportunity to spend the day with Keerthika and her parents at their home in Theni a few weeks ago, and was struck by the humility and patience they displayed. Between the non-stop phone calls and visitors, Keerthika’s parents tirelessly explained their daughter’s aspiration to everyone they met. When I caught a few minutes with her mother, she said,
“it might seem irrational that we are spending so much time and effort to find resources to fuel her dreams, rather than get her married. However, we feel that education is equally important for a girl child.
In fact, my advice to all parents who have girls is to never ever underestimate what a girl can achieve. Girls are just as capable as boys. Girls and boys have aspirations that are equally important, and parents must make sure they believe in their children and encourage them. My husband and I are committed to supporting our daughter and her dreams.”
Her dad remembers when Keerthika was born, he would go around and tell everyone that he had a ‘PT Usha’ in his family, referring to the athlete PT Usha who achieved world records in athletics for India. “I aspire to see my daughter being a good scientist and an astronaut for our nation. One day, we as a family want to encourage and support other girls with dreams like Keerthika. A lack of resources cannot be an excuse for not achieving one’s dream”, says Keerthika’s father.
Dare To Dream Big Dreams
Keerthika, a 21 year old from Theni, a small town in Tamil Nadu, who recently graduated with 92% in Aircraft Engineering from Kharkiv National Aerospace University in Ukraine. Though her entire schooling was done in Tamil medium, Keerthika always dreamt of reaching for the stars – quite literally, via being part of a manned mission for ISRO and to be the first woman astronaut for India.
Having very little to live by, her friends and family thought that Keerthi was ‘dreaming well beyond her means’, but when her father would tell her stories of real life heroes like Bharathiyar, Abdul Kalam, Karl Marx, Kalpana Chawla and other contemporary achievers, they inspired her!
As a teenager, she stood first in two competitions conducted by ISRO before she was 18 and that really encouraged her to keep her focus firm on space studies and to become an astronaut. She says she would lie down under the open skies at night and gaze at the stars endlessly. “I am so very eager to see the stars and the outer space that God has created”, she says.
As I spoke with Keerthika, I noticed that she is a person with absolute clarity of thought. Although a private person, she politely answered the incessant phone calls, received visitors and humbly accepted the shawl honour that each of them came with.
Keerthika told me that she doesn’t spend more than 10 minutes a day on social media and believes that social media is the biggest distraction for today’s youth.
As an aspiring astronaut, she says there are lot of physical challenges to be overcome as a woman, but that she is determined and has dedicated her life to being an astronaut and studying space. She says, “my parents have taught me to fight when things get tough. They have given me the freedom to dream and aspire.”
Her appeal to all the other parents is that they need to recognise that every child first trusts their own parents, and so it is their responsibility to encourage and be there for their children through failure and success. Most importantly, to never compare their child with others and to teach them to face hardships with the right attitude.
She said, “I am grateful for all the challenges that we had to face for they have made me resilient and strong, capable of facing any situation in life.”
I later notice that she sneaks into her room to spend some time in prayer before getting back to the living room to meet with the next stream of visitors.
A Wealth Like No Other
As the day comes to an end, I walk away realising that this family is one of the wealthiest people I know. Rich because of their right attitude, hard work, strong faith and their love and trust of each other.
To me , it seemed like her parents were not just raising a girl child, they were raising a future astronaut and they saw themselves as simply being the ‘wind beneath her wings’.
A few days after my visit, it warmed my heart to find out that the family was able to raise the money for her to go to Poland for a two month course in analog astronaut training, and she is one of just 8 people from around the world that have been selected for this training.
As Kalpana Chawla once said, “If you have a dream, follow it. It doesn’t really matter whether you are a woman or from India or from wherever.”
Christy is a producer for a tv channel. Her first love is street photography and she strives to be a story teller through her images. She is also a volunteer with Women Of Worth and a regular contributor to our blogs.