The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Space girl

Astronaut Sunita Williams By Aradhika Sharma and Capt. S. Seshadri
rupa & co, rs 150

There is a problem when you’re writing a book about a person the whole world knows of. You tend to stick to the obvious and avoid taking risks. The result is that the book reads like a list of achievements with random anecdotes thrown in to break the monotony. Astronaut Sunita Williams; Achiever Extraordianire co-authored by Aradhika Sharma and Capt. S. Seshadri is one such book.

The book has a foreword by Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian astronaut, and a preface by Bonnie Pandya, Williams’ mother. The preface sums up what the book says in 60 pages. It talks about the Pandya family’s move to Boston, and says that Williams was a keen swimmer and that all three Pandya children (Jay, Dina and Sunita) were good students. The siblings had quite an idyllic childhood — camping, swimming and looking after their pets.

There some other details, of course, like the fact that it was not until the time that Williams graduated from the US Naval Academy that she decided that she wanted to be an astronaut.

The book also has trivia about her life in space — how she found out that making sushi while you’re in space is not a good idea because the wasabi sauce gets splattered everywhere, thanks to weightlessness. Spilled food in space, by the way, is not easy to clean up, especially because “the training manuals don’t mention anything about how to clean up flying wasabi.”

But there are some turnoff anecdotes too. For instance, we are told about a swim meet where Williams says she’s done “okay”, though her parents soon find out that there were as many as five medals lying in her bag.

However, it’s the pictures that make this book worth buying. There are some rare photographs of Williams from the time when she was one year old and pictures of the space shuttle Atlantis as it approached the International Space Station on June 10, 2007.

There is also the obvious effort to pander to the Indian audience by waxing eloquent on Williams’s “Indianness”. So under “Sunita the Indian”, we come to know that she has a fondness for papad and chutney. And that she liked to dance to Eechak Dana, Beechak Dana (referred to as Ichak dana, Ichak dana in the book) when she was little.

In any case, this is a well-timed book, as it was completed on June 19, two days before Williams returned to Earth.

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