Yuva - India

Nambi Narayanan: The rocket man

On 1st April 2021, the trailer of the much-awaited film Rocketry-The Nambi Effect, written and directed by R. Madhavan was dropped. The film is produced under the production house of R. Madhavan named Tricolor Films and Varghese Moolan pictures by Dr. Varghese Moolan and Vijay Moolan. Soon after its release, the trailer garnered pretty much positive response from the people including many celebrities like Kangana Ranaut who showered love and appreciation for the actor. The biopic starring R Madhavan himself as Nambi Narayanan and Simran Bagga as Meena Narayanan is based on the life of the rocket scientist Nambi Narayanan who worked in Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The film is shot simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil and English and will be released in Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada as well. The film was in its pre-production stage since 2017 but due to covid-19 crisis the release got delayed and it will be released in the Summer 2021. The story spans across Narayanan’s initial days as a graduate in Princeton University after which he worked as a scientist before false accusations of espionage were levied upon him by the then government, accusing him of selling plans of India’s space programme to foreign countries. The trailer showcases Narayanan as an ‘arrogant genius’ whose patriotism cost him a downfall in his career. He wanted to put India on the global map in the commercial satellite market, but he was wronged as a citizen.

S. Nambi Narayanan, born in a Tamil Brahmin family was fascinated with aircraft and flying objects as a kid. He hailed from a humble background. While his father worked as a businessman, trading in coconut and fibre, his mother stayed at home looking after the children. He had won a scholarship to study the rocket propulsion system at Princeton University and a year later he re-joined the space agency. Working as an in-charge in the cryogenics department, Narayanan saw the need for liquid fuelled engines for all the future space programs and received encouragement from the then ISRO chairman Satish Dhawan and his successor U R Rao. He introduced the technology in India in the early 1970s which he was later accused of selling. While working in ISRO he first met Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the then Chairman of ISRO. He had introduced the liquid-fuel rocket technology in India when Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam was working on solid motors. When India signed an agreement with Russia in the year 1992 to develop cryogenic fuel-based engines, USA president George Bush wrote to Russia and raised objections against transferring technology. Russia succumbed under this pressure and India had to sign a new agreement with Russia to fabricate four cryogenic engines without the formal transfer of technology. ISRO has agreed with the Kerala Hitech Industries Limited and it would have provided the cheapest tender for fabricating engines had Nambi Narayanan not fallen into the trap of the spy scandal of 1994 which turned his life upside down. The 1994 ISRO Spy Scandal blew up Dr. Narayanan’s career like a rocket shred into pieces.

A month before Nambi Narayanan’s arrest, the Kerala police had arrested a Maldivian woman named Mariam Rasheed under the charges of overstaying here Visa and along with her they also arrested her friend named Fauziyya Hassan. The news reported at that time claiming that these two women were spies and with the help of a scientist at the space agency were selling India’s Rocket plans to Pakistan. After his arrest in 1994, Narayanan was produced in the court and was sent to 11 days judicial custody. His career, life and reputation were shattered into pieces as he was charged with espionage and levelled charges under Section 3,4 and 5 for violating India’s Official Secrets Act. Along with him, two other scientists named D Sasikumaran and K Chandrashekhar were also arrested in 1994. He was harassed and tortured by officials of Kerala police and Indian intelligence bureau when he was sent into captivity for 50 days. He was made to stand and answer questions for 30 hours on end. They even beat him up. People called him a spy and a traitor.

A month later, the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from the Kerala’s Intelligence Bureau. After submitting 104-page findings by the CBI, in the year 1998, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Mr. Narayanan and exonerated him of all the charges levelled on him saying that all the allegations on him were found to be false. The Federal Detective stated that there was no evidence of confidential documents being stolen or sold in exchange of money. The Supreme Court even asked the Kerala government to pay Rs 1 lakh to Dr. Narayanan and the others who had been arrested under false accusation. Later, Dr. Narayanan approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for seeking justice against the harassment done to him and in the year 2001, NHRC awarded a compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs to him. Even after all this, the local government tried to reopen the case and dragged in the Supreme court, which got finally dismissed in 1998. The Supreme Court also awarded him Rs. 50 lakhs in 2018 as compensation for the wrongful deeds done to him and for falsely accusing and harassing him in the 1994 ISRO Spy scandal. The Supreme court also ordered an investigation into the wrongful arrest of Dr. Narayanan and his alleged harassment. In the year 2019, the government also accorded him with the prestigious Padma Bhushan Award, the third highest civilian award in India. Later in the same year, the Kerala government also awarded him with compensation of Rs. 1.3 crore for his wrongful arrest and harassment.

Dr. Naraynan’s life was no less than a roller coaster. From being an ISRO scientist to becoming a pawn in a dirty conspiracy. His career, life, happiness, honour, and dignity were shred into pieces and no amount of compensation can bring back what he has lost. His dreams were shattered like a rocket blowing up into pieces. It is important that the people who conspired against him must be severely punished for ruining the life of a person who was an asset to our nation. His patriotism cost him his career and his life. It is important that his story be told to the world of how a person was wronged and hence, a country was wronged.


Mugdha Joglekar

Intern, Goa Chronicle

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