Video Conference With Sunnita Williams - Part 3 - The Conference

Jan 3: 

Finally, the day of the conference had arrived. I had no clue as to what I was going to ask her, IF I even got the chance to. After college, I handed over my tution fees to Mayur. There were (allegedly) 5 students already on the waiting-list and I didn't want to lose my seat.

I quickly accessed the Facebook group, the Symphony of Insanity, to recollect Nitin's suggested questions. I choose to ask this: 'When you're in space, how does it feel aesthetically?'

Due to sentimental reasons, I decided to leave out his other question - 'Considering that the first Indian woman to go out to space died on her way back, were you terrified?'

Komal, Harshavardan and I met at the entrace of the Civil Department, around 4 PM. It was crowded with students. We signed at the counter, obtained sheets onto which were were supposed to write our questions and went upstairs.

We had to write our questions? The questions would be selected? And we were allowed only one question per individual? All of this made me realize that I was right not to expect too much.

The other two went ahead. I waited for Vibha and Tejas (another Spandanite) at the 'Knowledge Corridor', as it's called. We filled our questions and other details and submitted it to a volunteer. Then we were asked to enter the Vivekananda Auditorium (where the conference was to be broadcast) from downstairs.

There we met Adarsh (Co-Secretary of Spandan), Aditya and even reunited Harshvardan and Komal. I reminded everyone that we were to take notes and promised Vibha that I'd write the article. I shouldn't have, as I later got to know.

The entire hall was filled. Hundreds were there amongst the audience - students, professors, volunteers, organizers and media. And I thought 3 from each department were chosen. But they were just sent in hopes that the rest would follow. I couldn't get you a photograph. So here's a copy of the article from the Indian Express - PUNENewsline:

Questions of 10 students were selected. I was not one of them. And I had been half-hoping that I wouldn't. I didn't want to make a fool of myself on stage. I have stage fright, you see. And Sunnita is after all a celebrity. What's more, the media was covering this. And anyway, I didn't deserve to be selected. A few days back, I was the only one asking "Who is Sunnita Williams?" However, from Spandan, Adarsh, Komal and Tejas were selected. Thus they had to go sit up front.

The program began with a compere reminding everyone about the basic courtesies and ethics. If you ask me, in my college, that was a necessity. Then we had to watch a pointless episode about Baratiya Chatra Sansad (Student Parliament, the host of this Conference). And then we watched an short introductory video about Sunni Williams. This was followed by a filler - the compere gave us facts about Sunnita.

Around 5 PM, the video conference finally began. As expected, it began with a lot of audio and video tests and rectification. And there she was - right on screen. As instructed earlier, we remembered to get up and applaud. The compere handed over the mike to Rahul Karad who spoke a lot about Baratiya Chatra Sansad to Sunnita. Poor lady had to listen to him for a while. Then the camera focused on all of us, making her even more conscious. She gave a very sweet introductory speech about herself and her journey. Her childlike enthusiasm, american accent and fluent speech made me given up on taking notes even before I began. I left that to poor Vibha and Aditya. All I wanted to do was listen to her.

She'd just landed back on earth about a month ago. And then, she broke down. And this was not the last time she did that day.

The students were allowed to ask her questions after that. I tell you, there were terrible questions! Most of them were too emotional to have been raised. I blame the ones who did the selection in a hurry. Some of these questions made her even more emotional.

One of the students asked her, 'Being an Indian, how did you get to be in the NASA?'

I though to myself: You moron! First of all, she's american! And secondly, Indians are not rare at the NASA. Get your facts straight!

The media had a question: What do you have to say about the Delhi Rapes and the need for respect for women?

Was that question necessary or even relevant? Anyway, Sunnita answered all of these questions very well, enthusiastically and diplomatically. Perhaps, only she could have given such an answer. I was impressed.

Over all, it was a good hour spent. I now felt that I had a better picture of who Sunnita Williams was.