The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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College pours tribute on Kalpana

Chandigarh, Feb. 3: Punjab Governor Lt Gen. (Retd) J.F.R. Jacob today led the people of Punjab and Chandigarh in paying tribute to Kalpana Chawla.

A condolence meeting was held at the Punjab Engineering College where Kalpana had learnt the basics of aeronautics.

When he met Kalpana last year, Jacob said he was struck by her grit, determination, dedication and approach to her goals.

The Himgiri Hostel where Kalpana lived while in college would be named after her, the Governor said.

The students have demanded that the college itself be renamed after Kalpana. An award of Rs 25,000, along with a medal and a certificate, has been instituted in her name for the best student in the aeronautical studies department.

For the 15 girls pursuing aeronautical engineering at the college, Kalpana’s death has left a void. “We were often told by our teachers that we could become like Kalpana. It used to make us strive harder,” said Nikita Thakur. “What helped us most were Kalpana’s letters to the batch.”

Kalpana not only sent letters of encouragement to the students but also constantly reminded them she would help them pursue higher studies abroad.

Her e-mails were regularly pasted on the college notice board. “We will never be able to forget her. Her life is proof that one can make it big even without resources,” Rajni Marwaha said.

For the 1,500-odd students of the college, life has changed since Kalpana died. “We joined the college because it had taught Kalpana Chawla how to reach for the stars,” Shalinder Singh said.

“We had prepared a banner to be sent to her on her return from the mission, inviting her to the college,” Shalinder said. The college will preserve the banner.

The students fondly recalled their brief video-conferencing with her in 2000. “She spoke like a family member and answered each question,” Nikita said.

“We are all dumbfounded,” college principal Baljit Kapoor said, about Kalpana’s death in the Columbia crash on Saturday.

V.S. Malhotra, former head of the aeronautical department and the only teacher who had kept in touch with Kalpana, said he was shocked. “She would have gone very far,” he said.

Though Kalpana made it a point to say she was from Karnal and studied in Punjab Engineering College wherever she made a speech, few knew she paid the fees for two junior collegemates from poor families. Both went on to complete their PhD, but they still do not know their benefactor’s name.

“Kalpana always desired that they never come to know she was paying their fees. We respected her feelings and will continue to do so,” a senior professor said.

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