Manipur young man's rocketry dream lands in relief camp. (IANS Photo)
Imphal, November 12 (IANS): The suffering and hostile situation due to the ethnic riots over the last six months could not dampen 20-year-old Justice Konjengbam’s dream of becoming a rocket scientist despite his living with his parents and two younger sisters in a dingy corner of a relief camp in Manipur’s Bishupur district’s Moirang town.
Ever since the unprecedented violence broke out on May 3, Justice’s family as well as hundreds of other Meitei community men, women and children fled from their Churachandpur district homes and have taken refuge in a cluster of relief camps set up in the premises of Moirang College in the neighboring Bishnupur district’s Moirang town.
Son of a vegetable vendor, 20-year-old Justice Konjengbam, a self-taught rocket enthusiast, had already successfully test-fired his improvised ‘rocket’ thrice, but not to his entire satisfaction.
Justice is currently pursuing his fifth-semester undergraduate course in Physics at the government-run college.
The rocket lover student’s first brush with success was in April last year when he test-fired a rocket made out of various items, PVC pipe, plywood and an iron slab as Launchpad. It went up to a height of around 100 feet, though his attempt was to reach 500 feet.
The experiment was conducted at the Moirang college ground in front of his teachers, students and friends.
Interestingly, the rocket, according to Justice, was assembled in a crude laboratory he set up in Churachandpur, and he took three months to prepare it.
Thereafter, there was no looking back for the rocketeer. Justice again test fired a rocket in November last year, which soared up to 1.5 km.
In the latest test conducted earlier this year, Justice’s rocket was able to reach a height of three km.
Given the current law and order situation in Manipur, and living in a relief camp after being displaced, Justice’s rocketry quest faces many challenges.
“I felt really proud when I heard the news of Chandrayaan 3. I wish I could be part of the ISRO mission in any section. I want to learn more about the propulsion engine”, Justice said.
Though the family has Moirang domicile, they have been staying at a rented house in New Bazar in Churachandpur for more than 20 years to eke out a living by selling vegetables.
In the rented house, the young rocketeer set up his research lab where he conducted many botched experiments.
With no sign of normalcy returning any time soon, Justice is not sure if he will be able to see his lab again.
“I have named my experiments on rocket propulsion as ‘Project Cocoon’. Out of a cocoon comes out a butterfly flying in the air. Likewise, out of my lab a rocket will fly in the air and touch the sky”, said Justice, adding that the current law and order situation has badly hampered his work, yet he is not ready to give up soon.
Admitting that he is not really aware about Indian rocketry, Justice said it is a popular hobby in the West. “But for me, it is not a hobby. I have put my heart and soul into my rocketry. And I know I have to go a long way”, he said.
Though Konjengbam Ranjana, mother of Justice, expressed her contentment over her son’s success in his first launch of a solid fuel rocket in April last year, his never-say-die spirit and hard work to fulfil his rocketry dreams, she lamented that poverty dampens Justice’s vision.
“My son has been a restless child from a very young age – keeps assembling something or the other to invent something incredible. He wanted to make a robot when he was in the 0th standard. But we had no money to buy his gadgets," said 42-year-old Ranjana.
Justice said that Hollywood Sci fi movies have been a major influence since his childhood.
His venture into rocketry was a lonely journey with no money to meet his gadgetry needs.
He made his first rocket with crude components mostly procured online with money borrowed from his friends, and the internet was his only guide.
“I am happy that my family has been very supportive even though we are displaced now. Also, the principal and teachers of Moirang College have given me a ray of hope to pursue my rocketry”, added Justice.
Manipur Education minister, Thounaojam Basanta Kumar Singh recently declared Moirang College as one of the 12 colleges selected for infrastructure development under the ‘College Phagathansi Mission’.
Much to the delight of Justice, a Science Corner with a dedicated room for him, and the College Students Mentoring Initiative (COSMI), under the Department of University and Higher Education was also launched in the college.
Principal of Moirang College, Dr Raheijuddin Sheikh said, “In my teaching career I haven’t come across a student like Justice, who is so passionate about his dream. His scientific temperament needs to be developed further. I hope COSMI will be of much help to him.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Director of ISRO, Dr Raghu Ningthoujam, who hails from the same Bishnupur district, on a different note pointed out that Justice’s rocketry besides infrastructural support needs the right kind of mentoring.
Justice’s passion demands a proper scientific ecosystem before it meets an untimely end, Ningthoujam said while talking over phone with the well-wishers of the young inventor.