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The buzz around Gujarat ki beti

September 21, 2007

Text and Pictures: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel in Ahmedabad

Day two of Indian American astronaut Sunita William's Gujarat yatra, to three villages in Mehsana district where her father was born and lived -- Jhulasan, Nadipur, Kadi -- was deja vu.

It was yet another, now familiar and slightly syrupy, sequence of adulation. Cheering. Clapping. Bouquets. Garlands. Autographs. Singing. Chanting... Sunita Zindabad!

Everywhere excitable, endlessly swelling crowds surged forward to get closer to a young woman who has caught the popular imagination of this state.

Why is this Indian-American astronaut special to the folks of Gujarat?

"Gujarat ki beti hai (she is Gujarat's daughter)," said a couple of cops, puffing out their chests in pride, surprised that you cannot draw that obvious conclusion.

Another more thoughtful young woman of Nadipur, dressed in a bright festive sari and who had come several kilometers to see her, remarked: "For us making a pilgrimage to the temple of Amba Ma (200 km away) is tough business. She made a pilgrimage all the way to space! I am very excited about seeing her."

A group of farmer wives, decked in heavy nose and ear jewellery, jostled over a wall at Nadipur to get a peek of her, were even more philosophical: "She has gone to heaven and returned. How many people can do that? She is indeed special."

Image: Sunita Williams taking part in a ceremony in Jhulasan village.
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