Living his dream in South Pole for 16 days - Ice bound

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By RAJEEV RAVIDAS in Kalimpong
  • Published 22.11.06
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Kalimpong, Nov. 22: Roopesh Ojha is the first Indian to have wintered over in the South Pole.

That was in 1999 when the boy from Darjeeling took part in the expedition as a member of an American team of scientists, including Jerri Nielsen, the author of best-seller Ice Bound.

Currently on a holiday in the hills, the astronomer talked to The Telegraph about the days he spent in Darjeeling, where he studied in St Joseph’s School, North Point, and later Darjeeling Government College and his subsequent rise to eminence.

“I had always wanted to be an astronomer. When I won a full scholarship for PhD in the US, I opted for Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, because the faculty there had two of the most important astronomers of that time — John F.C. Wardle and David H. Roberts,” said Ojha. He used the technique of “very long baseline polarimetry” to study the physics of extragalactic sources for his dissertation.

Ojha did his masters from Poona University, where he specialised in astrophysics. A topper of his batch (1989-90), he won the Chandrasekhar Prize of Indian Physics Association for the best all-round MSc. student.

Though Ojha was all praise for the quality of education at North Point, he regretted the fact that the hills still did not have institutes for higher education. “That (higher education) was the stage when many of my very talented friends had to settle for much less,” said Ojha who works at United States Naval Observatory in Washington. Stressing on the importance of education, the astronomer said it was the only way to emancipate the people of our country and cited the example of South Korea. “They put all their resources in education and see, where they stand now,” he said.

Stating that educating girls was his “silver bullet”, he said it benefits the entire family. “I owe a lot to my mother. She never tried to push me into anything. She was a huge help, especially since she was very good in maths,” Ojha said.

About his 16-month stay in South Pole, Ojha said he always wanted to visit the frozen plateau ever since he was a kid. He was inspired by Roald Amundsen, who led the first successful expedition to the South Pole in 1911. Amundsen apparently planned the trip lying in his room at his Norwegian home, staring out of the windows. “As a kid, I wanted to try that out... since my bedroom did not have windows, I offered to sleep in the dining room, which had windows, but my father wouldn’t listen to it,” he said.

Eventually he got to live his dream when he spent those 16 months in the freezing cold of South Pole, where temperature dips to below 100 degrees Farenheit. “I am writing a book on South Pole,” he said, without disclosing much on its contents.