//Indian American astronaut's relatives in Gujarat elated

Indian American astronaut's relatives in Gujarat elated

By Saeed Khan,
Ahmedabad, May 9 (IANS) Indian American Sunita Williams' relatives in Gujarat are excited over US space agency NASA selecting her for a space expedition and say she has all the qualities to succeed.

Williams was appointed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration along with two others last week to the replacement crew for a six-month-long International Space Station Expedition set to begin in September.

"Her selection is a matter of great pride for us. We knew that she would become a star one day when she was included in the team reserved for a space journey a few years ago," said Viththal Pandya, brother-in-law of Sunita Williams' father Deepak Pandya.

"She is ambitious, fearless, enterprising and inquisitive. She has all the qualities that make a good astronaut. When we went to the US, she was narrating her experiences of deep-water diving and similar activities. I could sense how brave this girl is," he said.

Viththal Pandya, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist, is the father of former state home minister Haren Pandya who was murdered in the city in 2003.

"Sunita was very close to Haren. She cried a lot when she heard of Haren's death," Viththal Pandya told IANS.

"She had come here to attend Haren's janoi (sacred thread) ritual and later in 1998 after he was elected. She used to get overjoyed looking at gatherings during Haren's victory celebrations."

Viththal Pandya said his brother-in-law never failed to attend important family functions here.

"Deepak used to bring his family with him. And Sunita visited the city last time in 1998 when Haren organised a function," said Viththal Pandya.

"Sunita and her mother Bonnie liked spicy Indian food, especially dosa, samosa and dhokla. They even learnt how to prepare some of the dishes," recalled Viththal Pandya.

"During her visits here, she used to be very eager to meet and know everyone here in the family. Although there was a language barrier, we used to play the role of an interpreter."

Williams' father did his schooling in Junasan village near Kalol in north Gujarat and in Ahmedabad before graduating in medicine from Surat city. He served at the V.S. Hospital in this city, before leaving for the US to pursue higher studies in neurology in 1960.

Said Viththal Pandya: "Deepak is a very religious man. He believes in simple living and high thinking. Even after so many years in the US, he has not changed his habits.

"He wants to return to India after his retirement. He told me that he wanted to serve society here."

Sunita, born in 1965 in Ohio, is married to Michael Williams. She will be the second person of Indian origin to go on a space journey after Kalpana Chawla, whose space odyssey ended with a fatal accident Feb 1, 2003.