Unveiling the mystery of the cosmos for children

Students experimenting with acoustics at the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium in Bengaluru.
Students experimenting with acoustics at the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium in Bengaluru.

We were so happy to visit the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, where we learnt so much about science and found how in olden days people used to see the time through the sun, how the pendulum principle works, and that white colour doesn’t absorb heat and black colour absorbs so much heat. It was so exciting to see the optic tree, the whispering dish, where we could talk to each other without any connection. To watch the show which told us how the sun and all the planets were born was amazing,” gushed Sangeetha, a student from Vidyaranya institute in Bengaluru.

Added Meenakshi, a Class 8 student from a government school: “This is one of the most memorable moments in our life. We really enjoyed the visit and I learnt that the sun is one of the brightest planet and the exhibits will make our science learning easy.” Kala, from the Government Girls Home, Bengaluru, was euphoric, and said, “I felt like I was there in those planets and was taking a video while I was standing there!”

Her friend Amritha, who kept quizzing everybody on anti-gravity, exclaimed: “I have learnt so many new things today and want to work here as a guide. I wish I could join tomorrow itself!”

Considered one of the top 10 planetariums in India, the sky-theatre shows here are immensely popular and are attended by about two lakh visitors every year. These blend science with literature, art, and cultural aspects of many countries using special animation, visual effects and videos.

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But these shows, as well as the rest of the planetarium, which was set up by the Bengaluru City Corporation in 1989, fell silent as the lethal Covid-19 virus compelled the planetarium, the city and the rest of India to lock down in the last week of March.

In November 2020, when this planetarium got permission from the ­government to reopen the sky theatre and science park, but with strict guidelines on proper sanitation facilities, social distancing and reduced capacity, keeping in mind the corona pandemic, its director, Pramod Galgali, reached out to S Jayaraman, a member of Rotary RT Nagar in Bengaluru. He needed financial support to put in place some of the statutory requirements such as foot-operated faucets at all public conveniences, sanitising stations at several points around the facility that is being managed by the Bangalore Association for Science Education (BASE), thermal screening facilities at the entrance, regular sanitisation of the sky theatre and  contactless ticketing.

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Jayaraman, who runs his own NGO in Bengaluru called the Integrated Project for the Development of People, which also runs a home for 60 children, mostly from single parents and broken homes, has been in touch with Galgali, who has risen from the ranks to head the planetarium. “He is a wonderful person who is really interested in people benefitting from this planetarium. Over the years when he needs any support, Rotarians from our district (3190) have helped. I have helped in giving laptops and setting up a computer lab at the planetarium too. So this time when he sought my help, I was able to get funding support from the corporae Kewaunee Labway India,” says Jayaraman.

But even though the planetarium opened, as schools are still closed and the people in the city were hesitant to visit a public place such as this, Galgali  suggested that Rotary take up a project to bring in underprivileged children to the planetarium. “He agreed to waive off the entry fee of ₹40 for children to visit the sky theatre show for the month of December, and so we seized this opportunity and created a project titled Taralaya Pravasa.”

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He next set about the task of finding 1,000 kids who were supported by various NGOs to visit the planetarium. A Rotarian for 31 years, ­Jayaraman has been working in the social sector for as many, or even more years. First of all, the Sankya Vidhya Foundation, which had been supporting the planetarium in other projects earlier, came forward to join hands with the Rotarians. Next, he approached other Rotary clubs and NGOs to create the logistics and provide food to the children, so that they would get an enjoyable outing akin to a picnic.

A member of Rotary Bangalore Orchards, Neil Micheal Joseph, who runs the Baghirathi Travel Solutions, “solved the major issue of transporting the kids. His buses are normally used to ply children to and from schools. But with schools being closed now thanks to the pandemic, he was able to provide us an airconditioned bus to pick up and drop the children, after the visit to the planetarium.”

Vincent Raj, president of RC ­Bangalore, connected him with one of his club members and a Sri Sai Spiritual Centre Trust member, Srichand Rajpal, to help with the food. “Although the initial project was meant to take 500 little visitors to the planetarium, and hence 500 food packets were required, the number grew first to 1,000 and finally to 1,500 and we are happy that we managed to organise sumptuous and tasty lunches that every child enjoyed,” says Jayaraman.

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Rotarians S Jayaraman, Mohammad Tasleel, Ashok Mahadevan with Deepa Cholan, project director, Sarava Shiksha Abhiyan, and Pramod Galgali, director, Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium.

The Rotarian was able to get the children to enjoy their lunch seated in a nice, green area at the complex, thanks to help from “two wonderful women, Thara and Chandrakala, who are social workers known to me. They spontaneously offered their services to bring food regularly from the Sri Sai Spiritual Centre and serve it with love to the children.”

Luckily, thanks to Covid, the cook who normally prepares meals for schoolchildren was free; his ­specialty is a vegetable pulao, and along with curd rice, this was prepared and served to the children, but only after Thara and Chandrakala had explained to them the necessity of washing their hands with soap and offering a prayer of thanks before their meal. The director assigned them a place where the food was served and the children enjoyed a hearty meal. The children were taken in different shifts over a few days.

RC Bangalore North West president Sumathi Rao, Manisha Vasan of Rotary RT Nagar, and Rotary Manyata president Tasleel all helped to provide the other support required. The programme was inaugurated by Arshad, MLA of the Shivajinagar constituency. Mercy Mission, an NGO, provided chocolates to over 1,000 children. “The nicest thing about this project was that many Rotary clubs joined hands and identified and involved NGOs to get the children to the planetarium. A few Rotarians from each club came along with the children and this helped in the smooth conduct of the programme, and also helped provide the children additional snacks, which they thoroughly enjoyed,” he said.

Volunteers Thara and Chandrakala from the Sri Sai Spiritual Centre serve food to the children.
Volunteers Thara and Chandrakala from the Sri Sai Spiritual Centre serve food to the children.

He added that for most of the children, and even their adult caretakers who accompanied them, this was their first visit to a planetarium, and they found it “both an enjoyable as well as a learning experience. We do hope we have planted the seeds for at least a handful of future astronomers!”

Vani, a student from the Government Girls Home summed it up nicely when she said: “I never imagined that the universe is so huge; I now realise that we, the human beings, are smaller than a speck of dust. The food was super; I even took a small helping.”

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