Tarmak007 -- A bold blog on Indian defence: Agni Sakshi-II: A magical and inspiring island that gives Indian missile scientists the Phoenix-effect!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Agni Sakshi-II: A magical and inspiring island that gives Indian missile scientists the Phoenix-effect!

The temple for all faiths. Behind the Baba idol are the photos
of  Jesus Christ (left) and  Mecca & Madina (right).
The part-I of Agni Sakshi series was a blog-buster. No claim this, on a Sunday morning, but a fact that was evident from the traffic on Tarmak007 and the emails I received. May be, that piece was straight from heart! Thanks for all your comments. Thanks for standing by my side to restore some pride for Indian missile scientists. In the second part, instead of a long essay, I thought I will cover the remaining aspects of Wheeler Island at one go, in small snippets. You are onboard Agni Sakshi-II.
A temple of hope: Scientists are superstitious, not all may be, but most of them. For them, faith is a feeble, yet strong filament that ignites passion within. At Wheeler Island, I discovered a temple that’s camouflaged by tall trees. Thought the rituals are done as per the Hindu tradition, but there’s space & place for all religion. Jesus Christ shares the same divine space as that of Shirdi Sai Baba. The famous Mecca and Madina portrait too finds a place in the same room. A senior missile scientist often finds some time during a launch campaign to visit the temple and clean the premises. In short, scientists, engineers, technicians, and armed forces personnel of all faiths and religion come here to offer their prayers. The temple generally gets active on the eve of a missile launch and on the day of the launch. DRDO chief Dr V.K. Saraswat was the first to visit the temple on December 10 – the day India tested its experimental missile A2P. Often on the day of any launch at the Wheeler Island, the day starts with a majority visiting the temple. It was a great sight for an outsider like me to see how science and spirituality co-existed at this island.  A perfect picture of national integration at India’s most-sensitive missile launch complex.
The front view of the Block Office.
The Safe ‘n’ secure Block Office: From a distance you can mistake it as a low-roof tent with just one opening to enter it. Closer you get, you would realize that it is one massive special reinforced concrete structure that houses the mission control station. Monitors, wires, hi-tech gadgets of different shapes and sizes greet you. It is from here, one would watch the missile launch. Countdown. Pressure. Tension. Hopes. Aspirations. Heartbeats. Disappointment. Joy. Celebration. Over the years, the Block Office has witnessed and captured the best and worst moments of a missile scientist. The Block Office can withstand any massive impact (external and internal), even if a missile misfires and falls over it. It can withstand a nuclear explosion. Inside, one would see a number of masks and oxygen supply lines in the wake of an emergency. And during the launch, the entire island is evacuated. Those with special passes are allowed inside the Block Office during the launch and the rest are shipped to the mainland during the launch. When the A2P failed on December 10, moments after the launch, I could see pin-drop silence inside the Block Office. Disappointment was displayed in different dimensions here. I saw from very close quarters some of India’s finest missile brains drowned deep in dejection. “Common guys, we will do it next time. Cheer up,” the leader in Saraswat knew his role perfectly. He spoke to all those who were present. I could see the magical effect of his words on his boys. God tested A2P Project Director Tessy Thomas this time. But she knew she will be back next time… to script a different story.
Prithvi Point.
The Prithvi Point & Kalam: This is the spot where a Prithvi missile landed during its launch in 1992/1993. (I am not sure about the correct year!) The missile was launched from Balasore, and, Kalam and team came in search of it, following its trajectory, only to land in this island (uninhibited until then). The island is having a shape similar to that of a wheel, rather many wheels and it was subsequently named as Wheeler Island. Later, DRDO decided to develop it into a full-fledged launch complex. At the point of impact of Prithvi, came up a memorial and it is today called as Prithivi Point. View it from any sides, it will look the same. This was inaugurated in October 1996. And, all those who visit the Wheeler Island on work still revere their Dr Kalam.
The Biscuit Point!
And, the Biscuit Point! This is the only shop where India’s missile clan flocks during a launch campaign. It gets active, rather new items are stored, only when a launch is on. The floor area will be as big as the size of a 2-3 yoga mats put together. Biscuits, bed-sheets, towels, soaps, toothpastes, soft-drinks and washing powder. That’s all and nothing else. The place gets crowded (5-6 people inside this tiny shop is definitely a crowd and above that, I suspect will be a stampede!) around 9-10 pm. According to the boys manning the shop, washing powder is in great demand always!
And, if you thought DRDO’s missile scientists are no good, then please make a visit to Wheeler Island. To see, the tough lives of Indian missile scientists. Despite meager salaries, name-sake perks and highly-politicized-complicating-top-heavy-set-up, they work with tones of passion holding the pride of their nation closer to heart. If only, we had a strong political class that recognized their worth; if only we had some more inspiring leaders within DRDO to lift their spirits and if only we had a Media willing to do away with table-top Journalism, may be, we can do some justice to these Jewels of India.
(Agni Sakshi will conclude with the next part. Tarmak007 will present you the touching story of Jagadeesh Giri, a young driver on contract, who operates at Wheeler Island during India’s missile launches. I was floored by his passion and knowledge of India’s missile programs and love for scientists. But, what makes Jagadeesh different is that he drives around with one hand – with his left palm completely being chopped off in an accident. Tarmak007 will run a campaign to help this farmer’s son hailing from Orissa’s Balasore district, who’s struggling to make a living -- ‘single-handedly’ – literally! Hope you too will chip in?)

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