With Jalauddin’s words in my ears I would lie back and look up at the twinkling stars and the moon. My dearest wish was to reach for the sky. I actually wanted to be out there, up in the sky, among those stars, studying them, flying close to them, learning where they had come from. The wonders of the sky held a special fascination for me and if I knew then that my work as an adult would have me building satellites and rockets that travelled far above the earth and studied the sky and the land below, how happy I would have been!
Jalaluddin was one of the first people to inspire me to think beyond life at Rameswaram. He himself had studied more than most others in the family and recognized the love of books and learning that ran in me. He became a friend to me, inspiring me by telling me about famous people’s lives, or how the world was like. At the same time, he also helped my father out in his work.
Our family had a ferry business and our boat took pilgrims who came to Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi by sea. I, too, used to sit in the boat sometimes and go to Dhanushkodi and back with all the pilgrims. But one day, there was a terrible cyclonic storm. It started getting windy in the evening and by sunset the waves had become bigger and wilder. The wind picked up by the minute and howled over our homes. The rain was fierce and started coming down in sheets. We were all safely inside our houses, sitting in the light of the lamps, trying to be the closest to our mother as the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed. All through the night the storm continued and we fell asleep still sitting close to one another.