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Success Story



From Amroha To The Moon

29 March 2009 11:36:04 AM, Tehelka

Small-town woman Khushboo Mirza broke stereotypes to reach ISRO,






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Khushboo Mirza: Part of Indian

mission to moon

THE ENTRANCE to Chaugori Mohalla, a small Muslim locality in Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha town, about 200 km from Delhi, isn’t the least bit inviting. A sixfoot- wide serpentine stretch, rutted and grimy, lies beyond — the only way into the neighbourhood. Today, however, it does not deter a stream of people eager to visit the house of the Mirzas, a short distance in. The woman they have come to meet, Khushboo Mirza, opens the door and welcomes them warmly. Khushboo is soon joined by her spirited mother, Farhat, and the mother-daughter duo proceed to smash one stereotype after another in an hour-long chat. “Hindi or English?” I ask Khushboo. “English will be fine,” comes the confident reply from the 23-year-old, who studied in the local Hindi-medium school till Class 10.


The flow of guests to the Mirza home is growing everyday. “I had never imagined that I would become such an icon,” says Khushboo, as her mother glances at their six-seat dining table, now covered with commemorative inscriptions and bouquets. Khushboo, an engineer with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is the youngest member of the team of 12 engineers of the Check-Out Division of India’s maiden moon mission, Chandrayaan-I. Her task was to carry out the vacuum, thermal and assembly examinations in different simulated conditions on various components of the satellite. “We had to check and see how the satellite would perform in space,” says the engineer, who joined India’s premier body for space research in 2006.


More people have come to congratulate the Mirzas since Chandrayaan-I was launched in October 2008 than have visited the Mirzas on Eid in several years put together. “Kai log to sochte hain ki Khushboo chaand par gayee thi (Some think Khushboo had gone to the moon and ask her when she returned),” Farhat chuckles.


A few years back, however, the Mirzas were in very different circumstances. Farhat, widowed at 30 after her husband Sikandar passed away in 1994, worked at the family’s petrol pump to pay her children’s school fees and keep the house running. Khushboo was seven at that time; her younger sister Mehak, now a student of engineering at Moradabad Institute of Technology, was four; and her older brother, Khushtar, now a BTech graduate from Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, was 10. “My husband was an engineer and it was his dream to see his daughters excel. And I knew it wasn’t possible without giving them a good education,” says Farhat. For the Mirzas, education for women wasn’t a novel idea as Farhat is a graduate from a Moradabad college. Moreover, Farhat’s sister teaches English at a public school in Dehradoon and her two nieces are doing their PhD in the US. “I taught my children to reach for the stars,” states the 45-year-old proudly. They did.


After her Class 10 examinations, Khushboo, a district level volleyball player, joined the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and later applied for a BTech at the same university. She became the first girl to fight an election in AMU. Though she did not win, she managed to encourage other girls to take the plunge, one of whom even won election the following year. Subsequent to her graduation, Khushboo received a job offer from Adobe Software, but gave it up in October 2006 to join ISRO for a salary much lower than what Adobe offered. Farhat, who accompanied her daughter to ISRO training programmes across the country, says there was no question of rejecting the ISRO offer for the extra money Adobe offered. “Khushboo was eager to contribute to Indian science and I was only happy to let her do so,” she says.


For a year and 10 months, Khushboo says, she worked conscientiously with her team to accomplish the mission. “I observed my Ramzan fasts, prayed and even celebrated Eid at the testing centre,” she says, spelling out that she is no different from any other Muslim woman who follows Islam and its customs. However, she acknowledges that she owes her success to her family’s liberal background.


Back in Amroha for a 15-day winter break, Kushboo is acclimatising herself to the newfound attention. “I was only a small part of a big mission, of a bigger dream that the country had seen. The praise I’m getting is overwhelming.”


HER FIRST brush with stardom began when she had barely reached her house in Amroha on a night last month, her first visit after the success of Chandrayaan-I. She was confronted by a reporter and his photographer who had been outside the house of the Mirzas to photograph Kushboo for the paper’s edition the next day. That was only to preempt the numerous visits and accolades from well-wishers and invitations for the aeronautical engineer to address and “inspire” students in the town’s schools and colleges. Asked why she thinks the floodgates of commemoration and recognition have opened, she says, “I am a Muslim girl from a small town and yet I have contributed to Indian science.” She is quick to clarify that education and religion are independent of each other. “Times haves changed and the attitude of people towards Muslim girls also needs to change. Our families do educate us,” she says. At 23, Khushboo is proud of the fact that unlike other women her age, she chose a modest government job over a lucrative one for a foreign software firm. The need she perceived, of contributing to research in pure sciences in the country, has led the way. Chandrayaan-1 is the result of many such individual compromises.


So what does being an icon for young girls in a town, 70 percent of whose population is Muslim, signify? “Muslim girls don’t have a role model to look up to in small towns like Amroha. Their education is often truncated, which confines them to domestic life,” she says as she prepares to address another gathering of local students. “Wherever I go, I underline the significance of education for girls. I encourage them to stand up for themselves and speak up.” Khushboo realises that she needs to divert the spotlight on her, to the more urgent issues of educating young Muslim girls. Not just Amroha, but girls in the country have few women icons who have raced past the hurdles of chauvinism, and reached for the moon.


(Tehelka, Vol 6, Issue 3, Dated Jan 24, 2009)






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Sare Jahan Se Accha

Hindustan Hamara

In 1905 more than 100 years from today, when Iqbal was a lecturer at the Government College, Lahore he was invited by his student Lala Hardayal to preside over a function. Instead of making a speech, Iqbal sang Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara in his style. Iqbal compiled this poem in praise of India and the poem preaches the communal harmony that had unfortunately started ceasing in India by that time. Each and every word in this poem depicts an Indian’s respect and love for the motherland and the values the Indian society inherited for long...Read Full




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