Assam's daughters are going places. Priyanka Rajkakati, an aerospace engineer, is leaving for the isolated glacial continent of Antarctica for a trip, which she hopes will be a life changing experience for her.
Priyanka, even though brought up in Delhi and currently living in Paris, is someone who has strong affiliations to her Assamese roots. And hence she wants to be the first Assamese woman who goes to Antarctica while carrying Assam's cultural pride- the gamosa.
India Today NE caught up exclusively with Priyanka just hours before she was to leave for her Antarctica trip. Speaking from Ushuaia in Argentina, which is also called as the last point on earth, Priyanka talked about her trip and the kick she is hoping to get out of it.
"I dont know if there has been any Assamese woman who has been to Antartica. Hence, I would love to be the first Assamese woman who gets to flaunt the Assamese gamosa there. This will be an effort to pay homage to my Assamese identity in the polar world of Antartica," she said.
The Assamese connection in Priyanka's trip to Antartica is also more than just her ethnicity. Her sponsors for this once-in-a-lifetime trip are Assam Tourism and the Government of Assam.
Priyanka will be part of the Homeward Bound programme under which more than 80 women scientists with a STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) background, selected from 18 countries, will be spending 19 nights in Antarctica. The journey will involve crossing the treacherous Drake's Passage which harbours some of the highest waves that can reach upto 60 feet. Landings will be near the Southern Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
"This trip was slated to take place in 2020. But due to the Covid pandemic it got delayed," said Priyanka, "The reason I am looking forward to this trip is to be inspired by the extreme atmosphere. I want to know why people risk everything and go to such extreme environments. The pandemic time was quite hard for us all, and now it is a time for me to unwind and disconnect from the rest of the world and discover a side of me I may not have known."
Apart from being an aerospace engineer, Priyanka is also an accomplished artist. One of her demonstrative art-tech projects, Bhedadipika, spent a year on board the International Space Station in 2022, as part of the Moon Gallery project. During her stint in Antartica, Priyanka is hoping to get inspired and find newer ideas to create some amazing art.
"Both space and Antarctica are different zones with extreme or hostile environments. I did have a slight regret that my art made it all the way to space, but not me (laughs). Hence this trip to Antarctica is a bid to make up for the loss of not going to space. Also, the different environment and experience may give me new ideas to cover newer grounds for my art," she said.
Priyanka and her crew of over 80 women scientists will be visiting a few base stations on the Antarctic Peninsula during their trip. However, they would be lodging in the ship itself.
"It will be quite an experience as women from all backgrounds, who have a common love for science, will get together and experience the frigid cold environment of Antarctica. I am particularly happy that my mentor Christine Debouzy, who is the president of the French Association of Female Pilots (AFFP), will be a participant in this voyage," she said.
Earlier this year, Priyanka was among the 250 invited guests when French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for dinner at the iconic Louvre museum in Paris during the latter's two-day visit to the country.
Priyanka, who currently lives in Paris, is an Alumni Ambassador of the France Alumni programme. She has earlier won several recognitions such as Forbes India 30 under 30, the Karman Fellowship and India Today’s Next 100 Innovators.
An alumnus of St. Stephen's College (Delhi), Ecole Polytechnique (Paris) and ISAE-Supaéro (Toulouse), she defines her work as an intersection of art, science and society. In fact, she aspires to explore how traditional artistic and cultural practices from across the world could contribute towards sustainable space exploration.
Following her first entrepreneurial experience as co-founder of the Franco-German space startup, The Exploration Company, she is now experimenting with a novel venture, an art-tech studio, Atelier Arth.
Currently, Priyanka is working as the Head of Special Projects at vorteX-io, a company aiming at creating flood warning systems.
Women like Priyanka are symbols for the young women of Assam and the Northeast in general. They are a reminder for us that our girls possess the talent and capability to scale great heights and reach places where few have treaded before.
India Today NE wishes a successful stint for Priyanka Rajkakati in Antarctica, and we hope the Assamese gamosa gets waved freely in the south frigid continent.
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