It is quite surprising that no Mumbaikar has become a scientist at ISRO. It is even more remarkable that Prathamesh Hirve became the first to break that spell considering the odds that he faced. 25-year-old Prathamesh’s journey to the incredible heights of space research is all the more amazing because of his humble beginnings. Living in a 10×10 shanty in the densely populated Filterpada slums in Powai, Mumbai, Prathamesh never lost sight of his goal.
His friends and neighbours would see him study day and night, and often asked him what he hoped to achieve, but Prathamesh never allowed his self-confidence to dwindle. “My aunt and parents took me for an aptitude test in south Mumbai. The counsellor told my parents that my cousin had the aptitude for engineering, but that I should choose a career in Arts instead. I was upset, but refused to give up. I told my parents that no matter what, I would become an engineer, and they believed in me,” recalls Prathamesh. In 2007, he got admission to Bhagubhai Mafatlal Polytechnic College for a diploma in electrical engineering. This was the beginning of his journey, but he had yet to overcome the most significant challenge — the language barrier.
Prathamesh had studied in a Marathi medium school up to Class X. The first two years of the diploma course were challenging for him because he could not understand English and complex engineering terms. He became a backbencher so the professor would not ask him questions. In the second year, he told his teacher about the language problem, and was advised to refer to the dictionary as often as possible. During his internships at Larsen & Toubro and Tata Power as well, his teachers encouraged him to go for a degree, so he decided to pursue a degree from Smt. Indira Gandhi College of Engineering in Navi Mumbai.
After earning his degree in 2014, Prathamesh had big dreams for his future, but not everything worked out the way he had planned. He applied for a coveted post in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) recruitment but failed. He then set his sights on the sky, and applied to ISRO in 2015, but could only make it to the waiting list. By this time, he had started getting job offers, so he took up a job as an engineer. But his goal was to make it to ISRO, so, in May 2016, he applied again. There were 16,000 candidates, out of which only nine could be selected — Pratamesh was one of them. “I struggled for ten long years before I could reach ISRO. I have got my initial posting at Chandigarh. Now I will give my parents a better home and life,” says ISRO’s newest electrical scientist.
Prathamesh’s family members had never heard of ISRO until he landed a job there. His mother, Indu, says, “I have studied up to Class 3. Initially, I could not understand what this job meant. When my husband explained that our son would be working with such an elite organization, I was in tears. I remembered all the difficult times since his childhood. I am very proud of him; he has realized his dream.”
Prathamesh’s achievement is even more exciting for his father, Soma, a primary school teacher. “When Pratamesh refused to join Arts stream and insisted on Science, I cautioned him that he would have to work very hard. He would study all day till late night, and our lights would never be switched off. Everyone at our native place in Dahiwadi, Satara, is as proud of him as we are.”
Prathamesh has actualized the famous quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist: “When you want something desperately, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”