Closing Down of public libraries in Chembur

As a teen growing up in the suburbs of Mumbai, I had access to some very fascinating public libraries in Chembur. I didn’t read anything until my teenage years after which I didn’t have time to do anything else but reading. Many of the libraries have shut shop. The recent one is the Ramchandra’s Circulating Library at Amar Mahal which has now paved the way for yet another cycle shop.

My mom and her sisters read at the Shashi’s Three Star Library in Zerox Galli, near Chembur Railway Station. It was here I read most of my Hardy Boys collection (along with the 1 book/week I got in school). It is here I started reading Jeffrey Archer and Sidney Sheldon. He wouldn’t give me many of the other books I was interested in (like horror fiction) and this put me fairly in the pure fiction category in my reading tastes. It was also here that the librarian suggested Wodehouse to me to keep me away from Stephen King. Needless to say, I enjoyed Wodehouse. This library is now a stationary shop.

There were many other libraries too but to which I did not apply for membership and which have now closed.

There was a Five Star Circulating Library at the corner of Ambedkar Garden. This has now become part of clothes store. This had more of the books that women like and very few selections for what would today be called young adult audiences.

There was also a library on the ground floor of the municipality M ward office. This has now been converted into a Citizen Facilitation Center. The library has been moved to a smaller space near the Sai Baba Temple with a smaller but a more Marathi-centric collection.

After losing the Ramchandra’s Circulating Library at Amar Mahal, the only one in Chedda Nagar is run by a very old gentleman – he runs Ankur Circulating Library. He’s recently decreased the size of the library claiming difficulty in maintenance.

Good libraries have also taken a beating as new bookstores like Crossword and Landmark and online spaces like Flipkart have made it easier for book lovers to purchase books rather than borrow books. The libraries that exist are not being able to get some of the latest books in circulation.

I have a growing collection of books that I am waiting to share but am not yet entirely sure how. It’s something in my head. A need for a public circulating library with an updated stock of books.

Talk by Susmita Mohanty at the American Center

It was Srinivas Laxman who forwarded me the email and invited me over since it was a public talk (video) to be held at the American Center, New Marine Lines. Given the rains and a talk about the Shuttle were not really great pull to go attend the event. At the end of the day, though, I am glad I attended the event.

Even though I was born in the ’80s and a video of the Space Shuttle Discovery lifting off with Hubble is what pushed me into space, I have never taken the trouble to sit down and get to know the Shuttle, the vehicle. Watching the last few sets of shuttle launches, space walks, pictures tweeted and shuttle landings have reduced the ignorance but I have never known about the anatomy of the shuttle, which is where Susmita started her talk today from.

Going from there she described the various activities – standing, moving, sleeping, use of the bathroom, controlling the spacecraft, bathing, spacewalking, repairing the Hubble. She tried hard to get the audience to understand how hard it is to do simple tasks inside the shuttle.

She ended her talk talking about the Virgin Galactic spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon, Bigelow Aerospace’s space hotels and lunar bases and an EADS Astrium video on space tourism.

The question and answer session was as interesting as any for a science outreach event held in Mumbai. The teens and children asked the really interesting questions – prospects of space entrepreneurship in India, shielding astronauts from cosmic rays and other effects (put by a kid as “are astronauts damaged by air from galaxies”) and prospects of Middle East in space exploration. The university kids (which included people from IIT-B and the Pratham small satellite team) remained silent. The older people asked really weird questions – showing they had selective information which they could not make sense of.

An interesting question that did not get answered was what was the mode of communication between spacewalking astronauts and the spacecraft – audio feed or radio.

The final space shuttle launch will be on July 8, 2011. The space shuttle Atlantis will fly for this mission.

Russian Cosmonaut visiting Nehru Centre

June 9, 2011 is the day when Russian cosmonaut Viktor Savinykh will be visiting the Nehru Center, Mumbai. In the morning he’ll inaugurate an exhibition on space. The exhibition will be open to the members of the public on the first floor of Nehru Planetarium till June 18, 2011.

In the evening Savinykh will talk on “50th Anniversary of the first human Space flight“. Savinykh became a cosmonaut in 1978. He’s flown in space for 252 days 17 hours and 38 minutes on three spaceflights. He flew to the Soviet Salyut 6 in 1981, Salyut 7  in 1985 and the Mir in 1988. On Salyut 7, Savinykh helped restore Salyut 7 with which ground control was lost. He, along with Vladimir Dzhanibekov manually docked with Salyut 7, replaced batteries and restored power and control to the station. 

What's next?

This is a question that I was asked multiple times during my vacation to Kerala last month. It was perhaps a way of conversation for them but I did not really have a good answer for this one despite knowing well before hand that I would be asked this question. For the past two days, this question has returned with a vengeance and has forced me to think along a future trajectory.

My bad graduational injection means that my life needs an orbital correction. Based on various conversations I had today and yesterday, these are the options I have narrowed it down to:

1. Go to Russia and learn about rockets
Russia is a country I admire for their rocketry prowess. I love the shear volume of rockets they have and they launch every year. It is a trade that I’d love to learn and it’s best to learn from the best. I am looking at Universities that offer post-graduation courses in Aerospace Engineering/Rocketry/special machines. I learnt that admission for international students closes on June 20, 2011. I think applying for the 2012-13 academic year will give me the benefit of learning some Russian and in the meanwhile accrue some work experience.

2. Join the Armed Forces via the Short Services Commission
I’d love to be in the Engineering Core of the Armed Forces and help use space to improve India’s military prowess. This option is a bit clouded because I’m not entirely sure why I want to do it and is my father’s dream (he has not told me so openly  – but I see it in his eyes sometimes) of what I should be doing.

3. Get some job – marry and settle down
I know it makes you go eek in your guts but for some people it’s a very good option. At various points in my engineering degree, experience has made me want to do this. Complete my degree – get some job that pays well – marry and settle down. Not exactly path breaking but gives you time for hobbies like astronomy, weather man, philosophy etc.

More options are yet to be considered – like being a liason officer with ISRO, going to Bhutan and settling down there, going back to my older interest of working with a museum, becoming a weatherman or becoming a sadhu and wandering in the Himalayas . I probably wouldn’t do some of these out of sheer laziness but these are thoughts that have passed through my mind as answers when relatives in Kerala asked me the question – What next?