Prior to her 403-day expedition to Antarctica, the lone woman in a 23-member team, Mangala Mani had not even been to a place with snow

Last December, a small team of exhausted, but elated, ISRO scientists landed at Rajiv Gandhi International airport, sans fanfare and media hype. The team had successfully completed a 403-day expedition at India’s research station, Bharathi in Antarctica and the lone woman in the group Managala Mani had every reason to cheer. The first Polar Woman from ISRO, who’s ‘overwintered’ was selected to be featured by BBC’s ‘100 women Challenge’ for their series on Women in Science. Her role at Bharathi was to operate and maintain the ground station where 10 of 14 orbits would be visible, unlike in India where only 2 or 3 orbits would be visible. The satellite data thus collected would be transferred to India for processing and distribution to users.

Mangala Mani had never been to a place with snow prior to her expedition to Antarctica, and there she was bracing herself to spend an indefinite period on the vast icescape, also the most isolated place on the planet, with 22 men who were strangers to her until that expedition. Mangala Mani shares her experience of the expedition and what it takes for a woman to hold on to a career of her choice:

What motivated you to choose this field as a career?

In our childhood, newspapers and radio were the only media connecting us to the world. The major part of nurturing and moulding happened at home and in school. I’m the eldest of the six children and our parents encouraged us to study well and also to participate in extra- curricular activities. Our school (Holy Mary Girls High School, Saifabad) nurtured us to have a well-balanced growth, teaching us the morals of life and service apart from the regular syllabi. These noble principles from my parents and school, lay the foundation to study well, be a good citizen and serve the society. Thus, my small brain started thinking, how I can serve my nation and be a help to my fellow people. Right from my childhood I had a strong analytical and reasoning skills and a fascination for geography. So my natural choice was to go for engineering / technical profession. A newspaper article on Mars by NASA, USA fascinated me a lot and aroused an interest and a dream in me to join a space organisation like in Florida, which was on the coast! Seeing my interest, my parents got me admitted into Model Diploma for Technicians – Radio Apparatus (MDT-RA) of Government Polytechnic in Masab Tank, Hyderabad, whose entrance test, I cleared. This was a four-year diploma course, started with Russian collaboration, with the latest syllabus and one semester of in-plant training, either in HAL or ECIL, for our project work. I was the only girl in a batch of 80 boys. We came to know that most of our seniors are sought after by different organisations like ECIL, HAL, ISRO, etc even before the completion of the project work. This rekindled my hopes and dream of joining ISRO.

How did it feel to step out of college into the world of your dreams?

It wasn’t smooth initially. Soon after my Diploma, I joined HAL, Balanagar for apprenticeship. There I was called to attend the interview in SHAR / ISRO. Accompanied by my father, I attended and was shortlisted. To my surprise, within three weeks, I got an appointment order to join ISRO; my joy knew no bounds. But this joy was short-lived, when my parents expressed reluctance to send me, a young girl, to a distant place for a career. Finally, my uncle, who was a DSP, for whom dad has high regards, advised him not to hesitate to send me to ISRO which is a respectable and clean organisation (from a police department’s perspective). My parents agreed only after that.

It’s been a long journey since then, to your current stint with NRSC.

Having had a long stint, now I am in National Remote Sensing Center, Shadnagar in Hyderabad, where the Earth Resources data is collected from the satellites, processed and distributed to the users, while monitoring and managing the resources to help disaster support systems. Thus my dream of being a part of service to human cause and development of nation is being fulfilled.

What are the prerequisites to be in the field of space research?

Well, having a strong conceptual knowledge of maths, physics, chemistry and biology lays a foundation for basic engineering and medical professions, In today’s scenario, every profession has become inter-disciplinary and is more of a domain based research – space, weather, ocean, earth, computers, networks, astronomy, archaeology, geology etc. Space research is no exception, and all the elements of basic sciences are needed for Space technology.

Do you see more women entering the field now?

Women are venturing into every field. Women just need to be willing, ready and take that opportunity when it comes. With the knowledge explosion, sky is not the limit, there is much more beyond.

What was your first reaction after being selected for this expedition?

I was very excited and looked forward to the time of preparation. I dared to take this bold step to venture into the windiest, coldest, driest and, may I add, the most isolated place on this planet earth, and was looking forward to an adventurous and challenging time. Let me also tell you, I have never been to a place of ice/snow before and looked forward for a new experience.

What was the preparation like before leaving for the expedition?

National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean research (NCAOR), under Ministry of Earth Sciences is the nodal point for Antarctic expeditions taken up by our country. Elaborate medical check-ups were done at AIIMS, Delhi for a week, including psychologicalassessment for long term (wintering) members. In the next two weeks we were taken to Auli for snow / ice acclimatisation at 9000 feet altitude and to Badrinath at 10000 feet altitude. Here we were taken for long treks with increasing distances and with loads to build physical endurance. We are also taught about the safety and rescue tips in cold and snow / ice conditions; mountaineering and snow / ice equipment. This way, confidence and team spirit is imbibed in us before we embark on the journey.

You first impression of the Antarctica?

The sheer vastness of the ice all around was breathtaking. I was mesmerised at how an aeroplane could glide and land on icy runway, having started on a cement runway from Cape Town, South Africa. Any number of adjectives are inadequate to describe the stunning beauty of the icescapes (ice shelfs) and icebergs on and around the ice continent Antarctica.

How long did it take to settle down?

It took us about 15 days to understand and get familiar with the weather conditions, terrain and surroundings of the station. We were briefed about the careful usage of resources and general cleanliness of the station and surroundings.

All the segregated waste – food, human, biological, tin, glass, plastic, cardboard, paper – are compacted and back loaded to the mainland, to be disposed (by every station in Antarctica) to preserve the serenity of the continent.

What was the daily routine?

All the expedition members are expected to gather for a daily meeting, at an appointed time to discuss and plan the works to be handled, people to be involved for the station requirements, apart from the specific official duties which we are responsible for. We are also entrusted with the station inventory and maintainence. Station upkeep is the responsibility of every expedition member, and we keep vigil throughout the night. Galley Duty includes helping in the kitchen apart from Station Vigil, which is done in turns.

Has it all been work?

We pursued or learnt things like writing, performing etc. I have learnt to make eggless cakes in a microwave oven. I took time to stitch the image of Antarctica on a pillow cover for my mom on International Women’s Day in 2017. Special occasions and festivals were celebrated. We also had sports competitions between members of Indian, Chinese and Russian stations; I was the only woman among the 23 members wintering over at Bharati station, while there are no women at all either in Chinese or Russian stations wintering in 2016-17.

Did you ever experience homesickness?

There was anxiety when we were not sure of the return to India! I was desperate to return by December 2017 to a family gathering. During an interaction with our Director, YVN Krishna Murthy and Dy. Director, when they enquired about our well being, I did not hesitate to request for my return. Another spell of anxiety was when our relievers could not come and we could not start, as expected, because of bad weather. The weather should be clear in all the 3 stations (Bharati – where we start, Syowa– where refuelling is done and Maitri – Where we land to proceed further to Cape Town) to take the long haul flight of 8 hours covering 2800 kms, by a feeder flight, which can carry a load of 1500kg!

What kind of food did you have there?

We had the same food we have in our main land. Rice, dal, cereals, rotis,, frozen fish, mutton, chicken, prawns and vegetables. Initially, the ship would arrive bringing all these provisions for the whole year, (along with the fuel to supply power and heat for the station), Some fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk also arrive. While fruits and vegetables are consumed within 2-3 months, milk and eggs will last for 5-6 months. Thereafter powder and condensed milk along with tinned fruits are used. We also have pickles, bread butter jam oats, corn, etc. all these have to be properly preserved and judiciously used!

Personally and professionally what’s been your contribution ?

Professionally, I have efficiently handled the responsibility entrusted to me, taken a lead role in initiating discussions for resolving issues. Personally, I have been very cooperative and accommodative with all the members of the team, and the same was reciprocated by the male members in the team. While some adjustments had to be made by me and the others (for example in using the common facilities like wash rooms, laundry services etc), a mutual respect was developed among the members creating a balanced and healthy environment.

courtesy    THE  HINDU


What’s​ the size of God?  

A boy asked the father: _What’s the size of God?_ Then the father looked up to the sky and seeing an airplane asked the son: What’s the size of that airplane? The boy answered: It’s very small. I can barely see it. So the father took him to the airport and as they approached an airplane he asked: And now, what is the size of this one? The boy answered: Wow daddy, this is huge! Then the father told him: God, is like this, His size depends on the distance between you and  Him. *The closer you are to Him, the greater He will be in your life!*


Preserving knowledge through traditional systems

Zaheerabad farmers follow a ritual to test germination of seeds

Traditional systems are reputed for preserving knowledge in the form of rituals. In Zaheerabad, where farmers produce multi-crop harvests, a ritual called Gattu Koorchavadam is followed to test the germination and quality of multiple seeds.

The ritual, which is also known as Dasara Gatlu, is observed by women. During the Dasara festival time, when the soil is ready for new crops, the women mix nine important seeds – Sayi Jonna, Lankelu, Chiru Senagalu, Kusumalu, Godhuamlu, Aviselu, Battagadi, Pelala Jonnalu and Erra Jonnalu – into a single pot with untested soil.

The soil and seed spread is placed on a leaf and two fresh pots decorated with a piece of jowar and sugarcane, garlanded with flowers and betel leaves. Another pot, filled with oil, has an earthen lamp that glows round the clock for the 12-day period of the ritual. Five dried coconut cups filled with rice are kept around the pots. The seeds for the ritual are brought from the house of the village elder, who is called Patel. The Patel is also the seed keeper of the village. However, seeds are also purchased from other sources. The ritual is observed for five to 12 days, depending on the interest of the farmer and how long it takes for the seeds to sprout.

When the seeds sprout, the women visit each other’s house to determine the quality of seeds and their germination. The sprouts are compared and the best seed is identified. If the sprouts of a crop are weak, they make sure to replace it with another seed. If the sprouts are good, then they would proceed to cultivate them in the field.

The ritual also accounts for the fact that Zaheerabad is a water scarce area. Therefore, all these crops are not water-intensive. They are cultivated under the rainfed agriculture practice, for which the sole source of irrigation is the rainfall that the field receives.

The Deccan Development Society, as part of a mobile biodiversity festival session, organised the Gattu Korchavadam programme. Begari Lakshmamma, a woman who offered prayers by lighting a lamp at the programme, said, “Water is scarce commodity here. Any crop that grows without water will be worshipped by offering puja.”



Fed, watered, sprayed and capped in plastic nets, perfect roses from Bengaluru’s outskirts sailed across the world on Valentine’s Day

I am inside a climate-controlled poly-house, a sterile, artificial setting that leaves little room for romance. Inside, however, are rows and rows of rose bushes, that ultimate homage to love. They all stand perfectly still, as if frozen, each bush topped with plump buds. The buds are capped in tiny plastic nets, and reveal their colours where the green sepals part slightly.

We are in Dhruvahi Rose Farm, and Aravind Dhruva, the proprietor, explains that the flexible caps are put on the buds so that they retain their form until they are packed. “Like test-tube babies,” quips the photographer, rather inaccurately, but I can see what he means.

On the 20-acre farm in Dodda Tumkur village, about 37 km from Bengaluru, there are 10 such poly-houses that grow about 50 lakh roses each year.

I am at the farm just before Valentine’s Day, when the market for roses gets a huge boost. But incidentally, it’s not just February 14 that perks up the market but also the end of the ‘lean period’ in the Hindu calendar — mid-December to to mid-January — when no auspicious events like weddings or engagements take place. Demand peaks on Rose Day (February 7), which begins the countdown to Valentine’s Day. This year, the farm sold 8-10 lakh roses in the seven-day period from Rose Day to Valentine’s Day. The highest price a stem fetched was Rs. 18 this year, up from Rs. 10-Rs. 12 last year.

Exacting standards

Before visiting Dhruva’s farm, I had imagined rose farms as green meadows filled with blushing rose bushes. But most roses sold in the market are grown in poly-houses in order to meet the exacting standards set by the export market and to increase their value in the domestic market.

Stem length, for instance, matters a great deal. The longer the stem the better for the life of the cut flower. Anything below 30 cm is considered zero length and fetches low prices while a 70-80-cm stem can fetch Rs. 15-Rs. 16 a flower. Growers also look at how shiny the leaves are and the diameter of the bud — metrics that cannot be met if the roses are grown in fields.

Flowers are big business. According to Ramakrishna Karuturi, president, South Indian Floriculture Association, the floriculture industry does business in excess of Rs. 1,000 crore a year, including export and domestic sales.

The demand for roses is centred on Valentine’s Day, but Chinese New Year, International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, Teacher’s Day and Friendship Day, as well as major festivals such as Diwali, Dussehra and Ganesh Chaturthi also see brisk sales. Even more important, as weddings get more lavish, the domestic market is increasing exponentially, with huge amounts of money spent on floral decorations and bouquets.

In 2016-17, India exported more than 22 tonnes of flowers, worth some Rs. 550 crore. And the major export destinations were the U.S., the U.K, U.A.E., Germany and the Netherlands. In the past 10 years, Kenya and Ethiopia have come up as major competitors in the cut flowers business, but growers here are expanding their base as well.

For instance, Karuturi’s company, Karuturi Global Ltd., which is the world’s largest rose company with a 10% market share globally, has 3,000 sq. km of agricultural land in Ethiopia and 239 hectares of land for rose cultivation.

Taj Mahal, a ruby-red variety of rose, is the reigning favourite among buyers, both domestic and international. But others like Gold Strike (yellow), Awallence (white and peach) and Noblesse (pink) come close seconds.

The International Flower Auction Bangalore (IFAB) conducts auctions for flowers grown not just in Bengaluru but also in other floriculture hubs like Pune. Here, roses, carnations, gerberas, gladiolis and orchids vie for attention, with the gerbera being almost as popular as the rose. The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) calls floriculture a ‘sunrise industry’, which has taken “giant steps” in the export arena in the years since liberalisation.

Going by IFAB figures, the market is expanding steadily. Mithun, development manager at IFAB, cites the lack of cold-storage chains as one of the major reasons for floriculture not taking off as well as it could. A grower who has come all the way from Delhi to Bengaluru to auction his produce at IFAB agrees. The absence of an extensive cold storage network means not just flowers but all perishables have a short shelf-life, with growers spending more money just reaching produce to markets on time.

Delicate queen

In the farm, Dhruva is aware of the big picture but is worrying more about the everyday problems of growing roses.

As we sip coffee in his velvet-curtained drawing room, he talks of how much care the rose requires, living up to its reputation as the delicate queen of flowers.

Water, obviously, is paramount — one bush requires a litre of water per day. But in the 30-35 km radius from the heart of Bengaluru, within which most of the rose farms are, the water table is going down due to extensive urbanisation. And as they dig deeper, reaching 1,000-1,500 sq. ft below the surface, the water is often heavy with sodium and chlorides, chemicals that are bad for roses and other flowers. “We use nitric acid to neutralise these chemicals,” says Dhruva.

Besides, the roses have to be fed, watered and sprayed with pesticides regularly to protect them from mites, thrips, powdery mildew, white flies and caterpillars. It’s a labour intensive business and for Dhruva, labour is the major problem. Most of the 80 workers on his farm are migrants from Assam. There is a 50% government subsidy on poly-houses, but that’s just a drop in the overall expensive input costs.

None of this seems to have discouraged Biju Purayil and his two friends Sahil Rao and Satyajit Gantayat, who quit comfortable software jobs to take up farming full-time and get “their hands dirty”. They set up Urban Harvest, which grows Dutch roses and organic vegetables on a farm in Denkanikottai, 35 km from Hosur. “The picture painted of rose-farming is glossier than it is in reality, but it does pay,” says Purayil.

For the V-Day flush, they start preparing from mid-December. After 45 days of intensive care, which begins with levelling the ground, enriching it with nutrients, planting the saplings, and moving on to bending the shoots, removing extra growth, and harvesting the buds when they reach the ‘pinhole’ stage (the bud should be tight enough to let just a pin through), the Taj Mahals are ready for lovers waiting to say it with roses. “This year’s market has been better than last year’s,” Purayil says.

In Dhruva’s farm, young women with nimble fingers are sorting stems according to height and colour, taking off the plastic caps, plucking off the leaves, and finally packing the flowers in bunches of 20. Chatting and giggling, they lighten up the dark room in which they work as much as the fresh roses do. I wonder if they will get roses on Valentine’s Day.

The longer the stem the better for the cut flower. Anything below 30 cm is considered zero length and fetches low prices


Swimming, badminton, basketball, cycling, scuba-diving… Kartiki Patel’s list is long, challenging and far from finished

Almost 10 years ago, Kartiki Patel woke up in a hospital bed and couldn’t feel her legs. She was relieved, though, that they were still there.  She had been on a road trip with cousins to Gujarat when, on a turn, the car went off the road, down an eight-foot drop, then somersaulted.

“I was sitting in the back, and I got juggled. I thought amputation was the worst that could happen at that point. I thought I could exercise and get back on my feet, and that’s what people kept telling me. But when I finally asked the doctor, he said, ‘Did nobody tell you that you’re never going to walk again?’” Kartiki explains, in a conversational tone, that her spine had been broken and the spinal cord severed. “That was a big blow. I lost heart for some time.”

She had always been enthusiastic about sports, playing basketball in college in Mumbai, even bunking lectures to get in more than eight hours of practice every day. Even when she lost her parents — her mother died when she was in Class XII, her father in her final undergrad year — she had kept playing. “I guess it was me trying to cope with all the time I had, with no one to tell me to study, do things.” After college and post-graduation, she got a job: IT-related back-office work.

A year later, the accident happened. She was 25.

Competitive streak

A senior colleague, who lived with multiple sclerosis, pushed her to return to work. Four months later, she did. “It took my mind off a lot of negative thoughts that kept coming to my head when I was in bed,” she says.

Sports was far from her mind at the time but a few years into the job, she started getting bored. “I was happy to be earning and on my feet again, but I was doing the same thing every day.” An uncle had suggested she take up swimming, and she now took him up on it. Once she picked it up, her competitive streak took over and she entered competitions and won several medals.

It was at a swimming meet that Kartiki met the chair of the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI), who told her about a national championship in Chennai. Kartiki landed up there, but found that there were no women basketballers yet.

But a group of army veterans from Pune encouraged her to take her love for sports further. She had also started to play wheelchair badminton. Soon, she had won the nationals three years in a row and represented India in para tournaments abroad, winning a bronze medal in the Spanish Open.

Meanwhile, WBFI was just beginning to get more women on court, and an India team was forming, “So I joined basketball again.” That was last year.

Wheelchair basketball is tougher than playing the game on your feet, she says. “You have to control the ball with your hands, and also move the wheelchair with your hands.” A year in, having the chair do her bidding on court is still a work in progress. “I can shoot from close, but not yet even from the free-throw line. When you’re standing, it all comes from your knees, right? In a wheelchair, it has to come from your waist, your torso; that fitness is not there yet. I need to get a stronger back and abs.”

Scuba and cycling

She quit her job in 2015, started a Master’s in social entrepreneurship, and is also testing the beta of a new business idea, adaptive fitness classes for paraplegics.

She has also finished her first set of scuba lessons, with just the open water dives to be done before she gets her certification.

Then there’s cycling: she bought herself a tricycle with the intent of joining a Manali–Khardung La ride with other people with disabilities, but says: “I don’t think I can do it right away, I’m thinking of doing a 100 km ride first…”

In December, Kartiki got married. “I met Herman when I first joined work. After my accident, he took a lot of care of me, he was always with me. That’s when it all started.” She insists she isn’t good enough with words to describe the relationship or Herman, but her bland tone is belied with the hint of a smile that sits around her lips broadening until it well-nigh splits her face.

What next? Any plans to start a family? “I’d love to. Maybe when we’re a little settled. Till then, I have a lot of sports to play. I haven’t written it down; I should write it and tick them off one by one.”

The next checkbox is ready. In early February, she was selected captain of India’s women’s basketball team for the Asian Para Games qualifiers in Bangkok in March. Then? “The 2020 Paralympics. I plan to go even if I don’t get to participate. I’m taking it one tournament at a time.”

When you’re standing, it all comes from your knees, right? In a wheelchair, it has to come from your waist, your torso; that fitness is not there yet



Birdwatchers came out in large numbers to indulge in a nationwide, day-long bird spotting and cataloguing event on Sun day.

t’s that time of the year again, when people witness and spot rare bird species! The Big Bird Day on February 18 is an annual national-level celebration of watching and documenting birds. The event has been gaining prominence among all the bird-lovers in India.  Closer home, Hyderabad Birding Pals (HBP) has been regularly participating in the event since 2013 and even emerged the winner last year by reporting more than 260 bird species. Every year, self-organised volunteer birders under the guidance of chosen group leaders cover the birding spots from early morning to evening to see and photograph them.  As many as 12 teams (each team consisting of eight members) from HBP have been sent to 15 locations across Telangana.

We expect to see breeding activity of resident birds, some previously-sighted rare birds and to explore new locations. We are really glad to see more and more people participating in the initiative and keeping the spirit alive. It has now become our annual festival that we celebrate meticulously. We’re trying to challenge our last year’s bird species count. By Sunday afternoon, our team has spotted more than 130 bird species. We are expecting a report of around 500 bird species from all the teams by the end of the day,” says Rajeev Khandelwal, of HBP, who is part of Team Rosefinch that went to Narsapur Forest.

Apparently, this year too, there were interesting species like Brahminy Kite (with fish kill), Indian Silverbill, Coppersmith Barbet, Common Iora, Black Redstart, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Red-Breasted Flycatcher, Brahminy Starling and Oriental Magpie-Robin amongst others, that were spotted.   Srinivas Mulagala from Team Spot Billed Pelican says, “We started at 6 am and spotted 130 species at ICRISAT. We spotted 88 species at Ameenpur (BHEL). Species like Black Redstart, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Bar-headed Goose and others were seen.”


The gardens we all love

NTR Gardens thrives as it draws in people of different tastes

Among the many tourist destinations in Hyderabad, the Necklace Road stretch is thronged by people all through the year. It is common to see Hyderabadis spending time during evenings. From friends and families taking selfies, sharing hot mirchi bajjis and regular walkers, parents playing with their little ones to tourists visiting it as part of their itinerary… this stretch accommodates people with different tastes. One such place popular on this stretch is NTR Gardens.

Mix of people

Built in memory of the legendary actor and former chief minister, (late) NT Rama Rao, the gardens that opened in 2002 receives a wide spectrum of people. Even on a relatively dull day, it is visited by people especially parents who bring their children. “Unlike Lumbini Park, which stinks when the Hussainsagar lake is filled to the brim, NTR gardens is at a distance and is spacious, so most parents prefer to come here,” shares Sampath, an employee of a private company who visits NTR Gardens at least once a month.

Exciting ride

While the imposing entrance and the fountain attract several selfie enthusiasts, the toy train ride is popular with children and young adults. Mehzabeen who has brought her three daughters states her children love to buy the sugar candy and popcorn and enjoy it while they ride on the train. “We choose this place because it is quiet and away from the chattering crowd. We come to relax and have long conversations with our friends,” states Sirish, a B Tech student.

A couple from Guntur, M Hari and wife Mamata, on their first visit to the gardens, enthuse that they are big fans of actor NTR. “We spent some time at his memorial. We decided to come here when we saw the crowd,” says Hari, who runs a kirana store. One can explore the park or settle down at a spot to relax. The fruit park has huge structures shaped in the form of different fruits.

Foodies can satiate their hunger pangs at the car café. Although Suresh, a bank employee enjoys coming to NTR Gardens, he observes the authorities ought to look into maintaining the place well — especially the children’s play area. A good point since many schools pick NTR Gardens as their picnic spot. One witnesses a melee near the entrance due to heavy crowds, especially during holidays. The constant traffic and hawkers outside the gates only add to the confusion and noise.