The tranquil backwaters of Alappuzha, advertised as the perfect setting to lazily watch houseboats that glide past, is the home town of DRDO project director Tessy Thomas, who guided a team of scientists to successfully test Agni-V, the fiercest weapon in India's armour.
Other Indian Nuclear Program Notables
- Homi Bhabha, a Parsi
- Vikram Sarabhai, a Jain
- Abdul Kalam, a Muslim (Also 11th President)
- Tessy Thomas, a Kerala Christian
"The world of missiles opened up for me after I happened to be picked as one of 10 youngsters from around the country for a DRDO programme in 1985," Thomas told ET in a telephone interview, while awaiting a flight from Bhubaneswar after being the toast of the nation earlier in the day.
Right after she landed in DRDO, everything just happened, she says. And that includes a stint as faculty for guided missiles for DRDO in Pune, and having former President APJ Abdul Kalam as her director.
Her own career went ballistic, when she headed the Agni-IV team as project director for vehicles and mission, and was project director (mission) for the more sophisticated Agni V launch.
What does she have to say about a country which has women defence mission directors and, at the same time, rampant female infanticide? "Science shows no gender discrimination, and in that sense offers hope to a society where discrimination is practised.
Here in DRDO, we have a good example of a number of women scientists, who try and balance work and family," she says. Her husband Saroj Kumar Patel is a naval officer based in Mumbai, and son Tejas - named after India's light combat jet - is completing his engineering in Vellore.
Thomas would ideally like to unwind with a game of badminton and some cooking, but "that hasn't happened over the past two years", thanks to the latest editions of the Agni missile programme.
Now that Agni-V has been successfully test launched, would she care more for the trajectory of the shuttle cock? "Well, I now have my sights on the multiple independent re-entry vehicle," says the multi-tasking scientist.
Back home in Alappuzha, where her mother stays, the land phone rings incessantly after Tessy Thomas' contribution to India's pride at Wheeler Island. Yet, she may not get time to relax and have a backwater cruise one of these days.