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A birthday gift and a life lesson

Let me get this straight. I don't get birthday gifts.

My parents get me a set or two of new clothes, and I eat a nice piece of cake. But otherwise, none of those colourfully wrapped goodies. After years of this tradition, for my twentieth birthday, I got a gift, not a colourfully wrapped goody, but great nonetheless, and a greater lesson too.

It was 21st of July, 2019. I got a phone call from my grandma, asking me to get my ass on the bus and get to the town of Sullurpeta immediately. That’s where my aunt, uncle, and their son live. That’s where grandma was when she made the call.

I was uncertain of this feat. It was my birthday the next day; I didn't want to spend it away from home, outside my comfortable room. But I took the plunge.

I got on my feet, took all my stuff—shampoo, conditioner, towel, hair towel, hair cream, another hair cream, lotion. Guess what I forgot—toothbrush! I only realised it the following morning when I woke up at my uncle and aunt’s house.

On 22nd July, 2019, I wore my birthday clothes, went to a temple and then at 11.45 a.m., it was time for us to go see my gift. Grandma, aunt, our neighbor, and I took an auto to a family friend's house. The gift wasn't there, no. But the husband in that family took us in one of his organisation's cars to the site of the gift. We drove on tar road, but the surroundings were marshy with just sand and waters of Pulicat lake. To the distant right, the waters faded seamlessly into the grey skyline. It was almost magical.

We drove through that wonder and reached the check points. We got our pass, walked a bit, got a quick bus ride, walked a little further and climbed our way to the top of a stadium to get a perfect view of the yet to be launched marvel.

No, it wasn't a special movie screening, nor was it any kind of media event. This thing here was science stuff.

We waited, an hour or so, observing the surrounding trees, people, wet cement, and fanning ourselves to tolerate the humidity of the cloudy day.

The countdown to the event started—it started a long back actually; many, many hours ago, but this was the real deal. When it came down to ten seconds, a familiar feeling struck me even though it was my first time witnessing it.

The familiarity was in the countdown from ten—nine.. eight.. seven.. I knew what was coming, but I couldn't help feeling eager and excited. In that excitement, I counted a little too soon. But a few seconds later, the actual countdown ended and, from the distant trees, a huge white bullet soared vertical into the grey sky. Under it, was a short stream of blazing fire and a continuous streak of thick smoke. It was the Chandrayaan 2 making its way to the moon from ISRO.

The best part was when the rocket disappeared into the heavy clouds, and a chest-thumping sound roared in the sky. It sounded like the arrival of Godzilla. But none of that happened, of course. The launch was a success. It was a great birthday gift.

Warning: Reduce your volume before watching the video. It's too damn loud.

But I had a greater life lesson to learn after that. It was from the speech of the chairman of ISRO. I expected him to compare India's feat with other countries; to praise how no other country has tried to venture into the south pole of the moon. But he never compared.

He spoke of the team spirit; the ambitiousness of the project; the first of a kind mission, but he never compared. I understood then, that comparison might make you seem mightier, but humility makes you wiser. Comparison provokes envy, but humility commends respect.

Comparison might make you seem mightier, but humility makes you wiser. Comparison provokes envy, but humility commends respect.

A great gift; a greater lesson. What more could I ask for. But I did wish for something. I saw that there were only a very few women in the ISRO’s control room. So I wished that there be an equal proportion of men and women in ISRO one day.

That's the story of my twentieth birthday. Hope you have a good one yourself!


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