Ready to Fire Book

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Ready to Fire Book

Ready to Fire Book: How India and I Survived the ISRO Spy Case : The staple book from the first generation of Indian Space Research Organisation engineers, about the early days under the leadership of Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan, is usually full of anecdotes by eager, unblemished minnows inching India—bolt by bolt—to the exclusive club of space-faring nations.

Nambi Narayanan’s biography too would have perhaps been on similar lines but for the fact that he was at the centre of events that saw ISRO mired in its first public scandal. That has resulted in a grimy, sometimes rambling, account that’s dark, thrilling and poignant.

The ‘ISRO spy scandal’ was about a bunch of space scientists, including Narayanan, and businessmen who were accused of being lured by foreign spies and charged with passing on blueprints of rocket engines in the 1990s. It eventually emerged that there was no scandal and organisations, from the Central Bureau of Investigation to the Supreme Court, gave a clean chit to the accused.

For a generation of Indians, who now only see the ISRO through the lens of its technological prowess, Narayanan’s autobiography — co-written with journalist Arun Ram — is a compelling chunk of Indian space history. Narayanan not only describes how he was harassed and tortured by policemen and Intelligence officials, he also admits that like many large organisations ISRO was rife with petty squabbles and cabals of scientists prone to jealousy, not above skullduggery to undermine competition.

Narayanan, for instance, spends considerable length detailing how he was an early proponent of developing liquid-fuelled engines and integrating them into the multiple stages of rockets. However, there were colleagues who believed that solid-fuel rockets were the only way forward. He doesn’t shy away from names too. Vasant Gowariker, who after many years with ISRO became secretary of the Science and Technology ministry, was a frequent opponent and even Abdul Kalam wasn’t always supportive, Narayanan notes. The liquid engine is now an integral part of ISRO’s PSLV and GSLV rockets.

He narrates an anecdote from a visit to France where he was leading a group of young ISRO scientists to understand the making of the Viking engine. One engineer, he recalls, wasn’t informed of his young son’s death because Narayanan took the call that his going back would impede the engineer’s career prospects. Narayanan says he isn’t sure he made the right decision.

The chapters alternate between Narayanan’s experiences at ISRO as a scrappy, opinionated, passionate engineer and his ordeal as an accused in the spy scandal. While he eventually got a ₹10 lakh compensation from the government for the harassment and humiliation, we’re also left with an account of how unsuspecting people are often pulled into Kafkaesque situations.

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Ready to Fire Book

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