Bheemante Vazhi (2021)

We watched Bheemante Vazhi on New Year’s eve on December 31, 2021. The film portrays the efforts of a people in a poor neighborhood on the side of the railway tracks trying to get an accessible road to their houses.

Theatrical Release Poster of Bheemante Vazhi

The movie highlights the plight of any person who undertakes public tasks in a community in Kerala. The film highlights these in a light hearted way.

Kunchako Boban’s character Sanju aka Bheeman’s love stories in the movie seem interesting choices. Be it the one-way or the love-to-get-your-work-done with the Railway Engineer or the girl who seemed to be waiting for him to make a proposal. Does the presence of martial arts in this movie and in Minnal Murali point to something?

I enjoyed the climax fight scene involving not your usual suspects. I did not understand the animation for the intro scene of the movie. I guess like other Malayalam movies of the day, I would need to read reviews to understand these nuances.

Writing a Novel

November is celebrated as National Novel Writing Month in America. It’s called NaNoWriMo for short. Although it began as a US phenomenon, it has turned into a global movement. There is growing global participation each year of authors writing every day in the month of November. They hope to write about 50,000 words in the month of November. Consistent daily writing with global accountability.

My tryst with NaNoWriMo began in 2012. I do not have any public record of this. I had emailed a bunch of people in 2012 asking if they would be my beta readers. There is no record of this novel on my private storage or on Google Drive. I seem to also not have informed these people about the status of this novel.

In 2018, I started writing chapters of a science fiction novel. I had called it One in Malayalam – Onu. I had published the chapters on Medium. Although I call them Chapters, the number of words in each was very low. I don’t think the whole thing together would qualify as a short story. I was also not sure where the story was going after Chapter 8. Hence, I abandoned that effort.

In 2019, I took to a physical notebook and started writing a nation-state fiction. The first book in the series was called William Horsborg – Life and Times. I wrote about 1200 words before I gave up on that. I will take this up again. It is a story I used to tell myself as I drew maps in a notebook as a 11 year old child. I have the stories in my head and they will not leave me in peace until I have told them.

I gave 2020 a hard pass and did not attempt NaNoWriMo.

In 2021, I had mixed feelings about writing a novel. I see-sawed between wanting to write and not wanting to write. An opportunity to write for about an hour a day opened up for me yesterday. I took the time to read the story I had written in 2018.

Although, I started writing it in the month of November, I am not counting it as an entry for NaNoWriMo 2021. But, I would like to acknowledge the part that NaNoWriMo played in remembering about writing the novel.

I am calling the novel, Return to Earth, tentatively. It is not a final title and it may change. Once each chapter is over, I will share it here and on my About page. I finished writing about 1000 words of the first chapter today morning.

ISRO Land, Challakere

Challakere is a town in Karnataka which is roughly 3.5 hour drive North East of Bengaluru. This is a place where a ₹2,700 crore plan to build India’s Human Space Flight Center (HSFC). This was where some of the tests for Chandrayaan 3 are being done.

Tender Notice to clear Bellary Jali

As usual, this news comes not from ISRO but from a tender notice posted on ISRO’s website. Based on this, I looked at the area on Google Maps. I found a few things that I shared on r/ISRO. As is usual, this is not a new discovery.

This is land allocated to ISRO in Science City. Hence, you can see the campuses for Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and even Bhaba Atomic Research Station (BARC).

Marked in blue is the ISRO Land, Chalakkere. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

You can also see the plans that were shared for the construction of this land here. Essentially, the land where we did these tests will be built over by the HSFC.

Chandrayaan-3 tests

Marked with blue arrows are craters created at ISRO Land where testing was done for Chandrayaan 2 and 3. Image credit: Pradeep Mohandas

These craters are for what are called the Lander Sensor Performance Test (LSPT). LSPT-1 and LSPT-2 were conducted for Chandrayaan-2. The tender is for clearing the green swathes that you see. It is apparently full of a shrub called Bellary Jali which needs to be cleaned up before tests for Chandrayaan-3 can be conducted.

Details of LSPT-1 and LSPT-2 were shared in Upagrah Apr-Jun 2017 issue (archived in Google Docs by u/Ohsin). This is the in-house magazine for U R Rao Satellite Center (URSC).

The test involves flying a Beechcraft Super King Air B-200 belonging to the National Remote Sensing Center (NRSC) over the craters made for the purpose. The plane flew from 500 m to 7 km in altitude to simulate various landing conditions. They also flew early in the morning to get the same lighting conditions as on the landing site on the Moon.

RLV Landing Experiment near Chitradurga

There was mention of a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) Landing Experiment at Chitradurga.

Snippet mentioning the RLV Landing Experiment in the ISRO Annual Report 2020-21.

Interesting term in the picture above is the pseudolite (pseudo-satellite).

While exploring the surrounding of Challakere, I spotted this, which could be a possible runway to which the RLV will glide and land on.

Possible RLV landing site near Chitradurga – Chitradurga Aeronautical Test Range belonging to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (ATR-DRDO). Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

This blog post is a small effort to read documents and share with you the possible rabbit holes. Following them is up to you.

Solo (2017)

The music from this movie introduced me to Agam, Thaikkudam Bridge and Masala Coffee. It was this music that made me curious about the movie. I had seen bits of it before but when I saw the movie was on Netflix, I thought that it was good use if any of my month long subscription.

I saw the Tamil version of Solo. It stars Dulquer Salman. It constitutes four parts – the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. It looks at the four forms of Shiva. I loved the art and the filming style.

There are many gaps in the story that I was curious about. I like open ended stories. I like non-reveals. I loved this movie.

ISRO’s plan for the next decade

Chairman, ISRO and Secretary, Department of Space, K Sivan, shared a new year message.

It has been a little more than 5 years since ISRO shared it’s Space Vision documents, it usually shares. I think this had something to do with the failure of the GSLVs in the first half of the last decade. With both, GSLV Mk-II and GSLV Mk-III operationalized, I was hoping that ISRO would start the process of planning it’s space missions again. ISRO’s former Chairman, G Madhavan Nair recently criticised ISRO for this shortcoming. Thus, I was happy to read that an institutional level decadal plan has been drawn up and inputs were received from most ISRO centers.

I particularly like the use of the word ‘resourcefulness’. This has been used to describe ISRO in the past and I think Sivan might have re-discovered the word. I prefer this word to describe ISRO’s innovative use of limited resources. I prefer this word instead of the low-cost and jugaad descriptors that media has been using for ISRO since the Mars Orbiter Mission.

Space Transportation Systems

The Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC) at Thiruvananthapuram is ISRO’s principal space transportation systems center. VSSC has rightly identified heavy lift as an important challenge for India. If India is to plan even slightly more complex lunar missions or even useful Mars mission, it requires more power than what it currently has. The development of a heavy lift vehicle is an important step in building up capability in this aspect. With ISRO’s thrust in this decadal plan being towards human spaceflight, this will be an important requirement for launching space stations in the future.

Another aspect that VSSC has to focus on is the number of launches it’s launch vehicles can offer. ISRO has set targets of 10 launches per year in the past, a target it has not yet achieved. Being able to reach that target in this decade would be a fundamental confidence booster. With talk of commercialisation of the PSLV stages, there will be hope that the constraint will not rise from the supply side.

Also, VSSC will have to deliver on important technologies like the scramjet, testing of the reusable launch vehicle and partial reusability made popular now by SpaceX.

STS needs support from the other centers as well. The Liquid Propulsion Systems Center (LPSC) in Mahendragiri will play a vital role in development of the semi-cryogenic engine required for the Heavy Launch Vehicle. There will be no use developing these systems without the support of the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) at Shriharikota. SDSC will need to ramp up its infrastructure for a more busy schedule. Adding to it’s manifest this decade will be private launch vehicles other than the one’s from ISRO. Skyroot’s Vikram 1 could be the first privately launched launch vehicle from SDSC as early as December 2021. Also, not to forget, this decade could see Indians launching on an Indian rocket from Indian soil.


The U R Rao Satellite Center (URSC) in Bengaluru will also have to increase the production of satellites. India currently has one-fourth the number of operational payload of China. Earlier, it’s complaint has been that the satellites it built don’t get to orbit. With those problems sorted and with more options opening up to go into orbit, URSC has the opportunity to build satellite constellations, build innovative space infrastructure like space stations, in-space satellite servicing and maybe even satellites that dock with each other. Besides, new innovations, URSC also has to build and launch satellites that are needed for various applications like remote sensing, meteorology, communications, navigation and geographic information systems.

Space Applications

As a country, I think we have not integrated space enough into various parts of the Indian economy. Many of the NewSpace companies are now offering this service directly to customers. Space Applications Center (SAC), Ahmedabad and National Remote Sensing Center (NRSC), Hyderabad must now also be centers where data is exchanged with private players and not only government players. This has to be provided with minimal down time and with high accuracy. Besides building technologies that enable this in space and on Earth, they have a vital role to play to support requirements of the Indian government and NewSpace applications providers.

Space Situational Awareness

ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Center (ISTRAC), in Bengaluru has an important role to play in space situational awareness. As we launch more satellites into orbit including those by private companies, space situational awareness becomes more important. There is a real threat from our neighbours who have direct kinetic weapons, co-situated orbital weapons and cyber weapons in their kits. The recent operationalisation of the Space Situational Awareness center is a step in the right direction. Transparency in sharing data and collection of data by the center will improve its capability and hence prove to be an active player in the world in the matter of space situational awareness.

Science vs Engineering

While IIST provides the engineers who work at ISRO, an important complaint with ISRO has been the lack of science impact on it’s missions. I hope that in this decade, the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) at Ahmedabad works closely with other scientific institutions in the country to get more science per kilogram of payload available on ISRO’s satellites and outer space missions. The role of a scientist needs to shift from few to all stages of the mission. The engineers need to understand what the scientists want the satellite to do. The scientists need to understand the limitations of engineering payloads. I think PRL can facilitate this much better than any scientific institution in the country.

IIST will continue to provide ISRO with the engineers it needs but PRL needs to be made ready to provide the scientists who will provide challenges to engineers for unique space missions.

Last words…

ISRO needs to formalize the plans laid down by the Chairman. I think having plans will help ISRO plan and execute better. It will place more stress on time-bound completion of projects. It will make the organization ready for the challenges awaiting it while we compete not only with other nations but large private players. The Chairman talks about a transition to the knowledge economy but I think, in space we have moved from a knowledge economy to an utilization economy.

A utilization economy is one where space know-how is used for utilization of space-enabled data in the economy of Earth, utilization of space-based resources and possibly one day an economy that spans Earth-Moon and Mars as dreamed by our former President, A P J Abdul Kalam.

The Minimalists: Less is Now (2021, Netflix)

The Minimalists are a duo who blogged about minimalism alongside others in the late noughties (2000’s). In 2015, they made a move called Minimalism, about the movement. The movie was a conversation that the Minimalists had with many prominent participants and bloggers of the movement.

Many of the bloggers who participated in that movement have now changed their focus away from Minimalism and moved on to other things. I, myself feel drawn more to the idea that Greg McKeown presented in Essentialism. Minimalism is a movement that forms an ideal foundation for many more pragmatic movements and ideas.

The Minimalists are back in 2021 with a follow-up documentary called Less is Now. In this documentary, they talk about their own story. It features a few experts who talk about the financial, economic and environmental burden cost by “stuff”. The story is interlaced with stories of many ordinary individuals who followed the principles laid down by the movement.

The film is directed by Matt D’Avella, whose YouTube channel I follow. I love to watch the videos that Matt directs and that’s possibly the only reason I wanted to watch this documentary.

I subscribed to a month of Netflix again just to watch this 50 minute documentary. I think just watching Matt’s film making was worth watching this.