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Facts from fable

A simple man who writes on extraordinary beings. That's Dilip M. Salwi. Now, he has authored Kalpana Chawla's biography. SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY speaks to the unassuming writer.

Dilip M. Salwi in New Delhi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena.

IT COULD be so that you have brushed your shoulders with Dilip M. Salwi as a stranger quite a few times in Delhi. At least, that is the instant feeling you would get. A simple man with absolutely no airs of an acknowledged writer. Indeed, very unassuming for a man with creditable work as a science writer, that too for a section where very few Indian authors have fruitfully delved - children.

Rolling out his latest contribution recently, a biography on superwoman Kalpana Chawla for kids, he presents himself as a man happy for "burying a few falsehoods" rung around the first Indian woman astronaut as well as a writer "who regrets for not being the first to bring out an authentic book on KC".

"Since I never met Kalpana, when the publishing house Rupa contacted me to pen a book on her for their Charitravali Series, the first help I took was from the web and printed articles. Having made my base, I travelled to Karnal but there I found that much information about her is not true," narrates the writer of "Folk Tales of Science". Sieving fact from fiction took him more time than intended and he failed to be the first to come out with a dependable book on the accomplished NASA scientist. "I regret its delay but the fact that I got all the information authenticated by a close family member makes me feel that I have done my job," says Salwi, whose book was launched by the first Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma on Kalpana's first death anniversary last month at Karnal. In simple yet penetrating words, with pictures of Kalpana aboard Columbia alongside write-ups on how a space shuttle works, how an astronaut lives a day on space, Salwi delivers interesting facts not only for children but for those adults keen on the subject like how Kalpana got to choose her own name, how she went abroad for studies, that she is not a Sikh as claimed by many, that she never lived in the Himgiri hostel of the Punjab Engineering College, that she did not stand first in her engineering degree as made out by some articles on her.

"What I tried to add to the book is a complete perspective about space and space shuttles for interested children. I am happy to do that around Kalpana's story because she incites a wonder in you," says the man behind "Robots Are Coming". Conducting interactive workshops on science in many a Delhi school, Salwi says he meets students genuinely interested in science and also those when asked to define words like space, lip the memorised definitions in text books. "This is primarily due to our faulty educational system," opines Salwi. A painter's son, he looks at science as an art. "You can go up to a particular level with science, not beyond. Scientific theories can also be seen with tinted glasses. For example, we are so conditioned by Darwin's theory that we refuse to go beyond it. But a scientist's mind has to be like that of a child, always questioning," he says. Children's interest in science, he says, definitely "fires up in them a sense of reasoning, thinking on their own." Though science writing in India is still at a nascent stage, Salwi admires writers like Arthur. C. Clarke for "encouraging readers to think reasonably."

"But it is sad when I finally got to meet Clarke, he was old and limping," says Salwi, recounting his chance meeting with the veteran at a Delhi hotel. Besotted by the lady, Salwi's says his next book will also be on Kalpana, "a book of remembrances by friends and family."

We shall wait for it.

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