Sunday, 22 April 2012

The 'Missile Woman' behind India's new ICBM

 
The Indian media loves calling her Missile Woman - and with good reason.
Tessy Thomas, a scientist from India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is a rare woman who has played a key role in the making of its most potent long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, the Agni-V, which was successfully tested on Thursday.
She is thought to be one of the very few women working on strategic nuclear ballistic missiles in the world.
In the male-dominated world of the country's highly secretive missile development programme, Ms Thomas, 49, has stood out ever since she joined the DRDO in 1988.
But the charismatic scientist says she has never faced any anti-female bias at her workplace.
"There is no gender discrimination in technology. If your work is good it automatically stands out. I have never faced any discrimination ever in my workplace," she says.
Ms Thomas, a Roman Catholic, was born to a small-businessman father and a homemaker mother in Alleppey in southern Kerala state.
She grew up near a rocket launching station and says her fascination with rockets and missiles began then.
After finishing school and college in Kerala, she left the state for the first time at the age of 20 to pursue a masters degree in guided missiles in the western Indian city of Pune. It was there she met her future husband, Saroj Kumar, now a commodore in the Indian navy.
Ms Thomas says she was named after Mother Teresa, the late Nobel laureate who worked with the poor in Calcutta.
So how does she feel about about working on some of the most powerful weapons of mass destruction?
Ms Thomas says she is developing "what are really weapons of peace".
What has been infinitely more difficult, she says, is juggling work and family.
At times, she says, she is torn between her loyalties to the missile programme and her family responsibilities.
It has helped immensely, she believes, that she has had immense support from her husband and son, Tejas, an engineering student who shares his name with India's indigenously developed light combat aircraft, also made by the DRDO.
In a glowing tribute in 2008, The Indian Woman Scientists Association did not forget to mention that "like most women she also does a tight-rope walk between home and career, between being a mother and a scientist who is dedicated to her job.
"We feel Tessy Thomas serves as a role model and an inspiration for women scientists to achieve their dreams and have their feet planted in both worlds successfully," the group said.
Ms Thomas has said when she joined the DRDO there were very few women working there. Now there are many more working in key weapons programmes.
In January, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Indian Science Congress that Ms Thomas is an example of a "woman making her mark in a traditionally male bastion and decisively breaking the glass ceiling".
Last year, three women scientists won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award, India's top science prize, compared to 11 from 1958-2010.
Now, the accolades are again coming fast for Ms Thomas - the media also love to call her Agniputri, or one born of fire, after the missiles she has helped develop.
"We are all proud of our country. Agni-V is one of our greatest achievements," she says.
- Pallava Bagla, BBC Online

The 'Missile Woman' behind India's new ICBM

'Vicky Donor' sheds inhibitions on sperm donation in India

 
Talking about sex is still a cultural taboo in conservative India, but a Bollywood filmmaker is hoping to usher in change with a light-hearted take on infertility and sperm donation.
"Vicky Donor", a romantic comedy about a sought-after sperm donor at a fertility clinic, is part of a wave of recent films tackling subjects rarely addressed in Indian cinema - gay relationships, biopics on sex symbols and now sperm donation.
Indian audiences, torn between rigid social mores and the challenges of a rapidly modernising nation, have gradually accepted Bollywood films with bolder themes. But sperm donation may be pushing the limits.
"Conservative families, how they will react, I don't know," said the film's director, Shoojit Sircar. "Things may change. There are chances that youngsters may tell their parents to go and watch the film."
In January, a couple's advertisement offering 20,000 rupees for the sperm of an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumnus sparked an online furore.
Sircar, whose 2005 film "Yahaan" was a love story set in Kashmir, said he steered clear of adult jokes for "Vicky Donor". "Vicky" is the name of the main character.
"Sperm donation could become a little repulsive if not presented right because it is a taboo and sperm donation straight away relates to masturbation," the 43-year-old film-maker told Reuters in a phone interview from Mumbai.
"The treatment is quite humorous, a very Woody Allen-ish style of humour."
Much of the dialogue in "Vicky Donor" is sourced from real-life anecdotes, with the filmmakers taking inspiration from the doctors and patients they met while researching the movie.
The trailer depicts a childless couple seeking a cricketer's sperm sample so that their offspring could play for the country and also make a lot of money.
"This is a subject that we talk only in our bedrooms but infertility is a huge problem in this modern society," said Sircar.
Despite marketing gimmicks such as men dressed in sperm suits dancing at the film's music launch earlier this month, the makers of "Vicky Donor" may find it difficult to counter the stigma attached to sperm donation.
No mainstream Bollywood star, with the exception of its producer, John Abraham, features in Sircar's film. The director says he didn't even bother asking the Indian film industry's reigning heroes.
"Any star would have liked the script but they wouldn't have agreed to be a part of the film, I knew that," said Sircar.
Instead, newcomer Ayushmann Khurrana, a known face on Indian television who donated sperm as part of a reality TV show task, was cast in the lead role.
"Sperm donation is something not generally discussed openly, at least no one knows about the lives of professional sperm donors in India," said film critic Utpal Borpujari.
"If this film is able to give a perspective to the whole thing -- even if in a comic way -- the director will deserve kudos for bringing an important issue out in the open."
- Tony Tharakan, Reuters

'Vicky Donor' sheds inhibitions on sperm donation in India

Sonu Nigam blames organizers for no-show at ‘Dhamaka’ 2012

 
Singer Sonu Nigam says he was forced to pull out of the 'Dhamaka 2012' concert in London after the event's organizers failed to obtain the necessary visas for his group.
The award-winning Indian singer had been scheduled to perform alongside Pakistani artist Atif Aslam at the O2 in East London on Sunday night.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, the singer’s management said organizers of the event had failed to arrange the appropriate sponsorship for UK Visas for Nigam’s “entire group.”
It’s not clear who that group included.
On 15th April Nigam had taken to his Twitter account to declare: “I’m not part of the London O2 concert on 22nd April 2012 guys.  Just letting you all know.  Another time.  Love u all and thanks for the support.”
Two days later he backtracked, tweeting: “London O2 happening…Get ready guys.”
Less than 24 hours before the concert however, the singer tweeted: “Disappointed n enraged 2 inform every1 tht I'm not coming 2 London.  Hard 2 believe tht except my visa, not a single visa for my group was done.”
The singer added: “Never happened in 20 years of overseas travel. Don't know whom (sic) to blame. Our entire team's time and repute (sic) has been wasted.”
The statement details events in the run up to the cancellation of the trip to London: “Mr. Nigam had categorically announced his delight in performing for the said concert and spread the word amongst his anxious fans on the 17th April.  After their entire troupe's ordeal on their way back from Australia – when their connecting flight to Bombay got cancelled from Singapore and they had to fly to Delhi and then reach Mumbai – they headed straight to the British visa office VFS in Andheri East, and fulfilled the official formalities as the promoters in UK had assured that the visas could easily be procured thereafter.  Little did we know that we will reach a point where our time, our dates and most importantly our credibility will go through testing times such as this!  In our 20 years of successful inning (sic) in the (sic) show-biz, this is the first time a promoter has failed to obtain visas for our entire group except Mr Nigam's!  We are aghast at this unexpected turn of events.”
 
The statement received a mixed reaction from the public.
One fan – Sarika Pugla, writing on Nigam’s Facebook page – vented her anger at both parties, saying “I hate this blame game and am very disappointed at the sheer audacity of you people (both Sonu Nigam's team and the event’s promoters) to put us in such a situation.  Who on earth is na├»ve enough to believe that UK visas can be obtained in 4 working days?  Why did you people not question the organizers beforehand?”
Another, Amisha Patel, placed the blame squarely on the organizers, writing “A real shame.  The promoters have had plenty of time to get things organized.”
“Sonu we didn’t go to the O2 today but look forward to seeing you perform in London soon”, she added.
Others were far less conciliatory.  Asad Shan tweeted, “Just read one of the most pathetic press releases…talk about integrity but don’t mess with the UK audience…we make you…”
The statement from Nigam went on to say, “We have given the option to the promoters to postpone the event and work on another date, viz 26th or 30th of April, or 26th of May, so the fans do not feel let down, and we still stand by it.  All this despite the wastage (sic) of an important date and so much negativity from the promoter's side in the UK.”

It added, “For everyone's knowledge, every single member of our group has his\her passport stuck still in the UK consulate.”
The Dhamaka concert was penciled in during a packed schedule of concerts featuring some of the biggest names in Indian music, including Kailash Kher and the Raghu Dixit Project.
The event was promoted extensively by the organizers Dhamaka and Flex FX, both headed by dancer and choreographer Naz Choudhury, who had promised an event that was as much a music concert as it was an exercise in diplomacy.
The concert continued at the O2, albeit with a sparse crowd and a dance troupe supporting Atif Aslam.
The organizers did not respond to a message from The UKAsian requesting a comment.
- Staff Reporter (Edited by Vijitha Alles)







Sonu Nigam blames organizers for no-show at ‘Dhamaka’ 2012