ISRO Chairman Somanath springs a surprise on Kerala boy with congenital myopia

Ananthapadmanabhan, suffering from Congenital Myopia, with his grandfather Shashidhara Kurup at the Government District Ayurveda Hospital in Varkala. Photo: Special arrangement.

Thiruvananthapuram: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Dr S Somanath sprang a surprise on a nine-year-old boy hailing from Chennankode near Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram, recently.
Ananthapadmanabhan, a fourth-standard student of Rose Dale English Medium School in Kallambalam, had sent a video message via email packed with questions on space, aliens, the Moon and more. Ananth was admitted to the Government District Ayurveda Hospital (GDAH) at Varkala, near Thiruvananthapuram with congenital myopia, a medical condition of eyes by birth. 

It was an independent local journalist Honi Kumar who shared the boy’s story with a closed media group first. “I had visited the hospital after the boy’s grandfather shared Dr Somanath’s reply to Ananth with a common friend of mine. I was allowed to interact with the family on the condition that the boy should be spared from any questions,” says Honi Kumar.

Ananth’s grandfather Shashidhara Kurup, an ex-serviceman-turned-farmer, told Onmanorama over the phone that Ananth was admitted to GDAH last year for the first round of treatment.
“He has been suffering from vision-related issues right from his birth and we noticed the same when the teachers shuffled their seats in the class as part of the rotation system. Whenever Ananth was seated on the last bench, he was struggling to see what is being written on the board,” says Kurup, who was part of the Air Defence (AD) wing of the Indian Army.
Kurup says Ananth is addicted to space and science right from a very young age. “He reads books that are related to space. He also likes India’s missile programmes. Agni is his favourite missile and he admires India’s ‘Agniputhri’, Dr Tessy Thomas madam. His doubts are very difficult to answer at times,” says Kurup, currently doing the by-stander duties at the hospital for his grandson.

He added that the entire family, school teachers and local Panchayat members were thrilled to see the reply from Dr Somanath.
“We could not show the reply to Ananth owing to the medical restrictions he has got. We played him the audio and he was very excited,” Kurup added.
Block Panchayat President Adv Smitha Sundaresan said that she had visited the boy in his ward to congratulate him.
“Both Ananth and his grandfather were happy to get a response from Somanth Sir. I also interacted with Ananth’s mother and the doctors who treated him. He has been discharged now and he responded to the treatment very well,” Advt Smitha said.

ISRO chief S Somanath. File Photo: Special arrangement.

Questions galore
Seeja A S, who taught Ananth from Class 1 onwards told Onmanorama that the boy fires questions non-stop during classes. “Yes. Full of doubts. He will always have questions ready to be asked and that curiosity has often surprised us. His handwriting is not that stable and we remind frequently to set it right,” says Seeja.
Another teacher Sreekumari B S says Ananth is a shy boy but is not scared of getting his doubts cleared at any cost. “His willpower is outstanding,” says Sreekumari.

Curious questions & passionate replies 
Ananth wanted to know from the ISRO chief whether there are aliens on the Moon; an update on ISRO’s plans to send humans to space (Gaganyaan); whether ISRO plans to send any animals to space and the formation of Mars and Moon among others.
Impressed by the queries, Dr Somanath gave a detailed explanation in very simple terms. He even appreciated the boy for asking meaningful questions. He signed off by wishing a speedy recovery to Ananth and hoped that he would meet the curious questioner one day.

Overnight Hero
The news of the ISRO Chairman responding to Ananth’s passionate questions spread like wildfire and he was flooded with congratulatory messages from people from all walks of life.
“He could not believe that Dr Somanath Sir responded to our message. We showed him the reply only after a few days, because of his health condition. However, he heard the message several times. His teachers, friends and the staff at the hospital were all excited to see Dr Somanath Sir’s reply,” says Ananth’s mother Athira S Kurup, who is a Cooperative Inspector with the Civil Supplies Department of Kerala Government. 

Adv Smita Sundaresan, told Onmanorama that Ananth was an active participant during patients’ evening get-togethers at the hospital called Samwaad.
“He is said to have explained to patients about Moon and even answered their queries. He doesn’t have any stage fear and he always mingled with other patients. We are all proud of Ananth and thrilled to see the ISRO Chairman’s response to his questions,” says Adv Smita.

Screengrab from the video of Ananth asking questions to the ISRO chief.

Back home at Ottoor village near Kallambalam in Thiruvananthapuram district, little Ananth is warming up to get back to school after summer vacation. 

He is also dreaming of meeting Dr Somanath in person one day with planeloads of questions.

Boy responding well
Congenital Myopia means any degree of myopia demonstrated at birth, or any significant degree of myopia found to be present before the age of 6 years.
“We administered the Tharpana treatment on the boy, popular in Ayurveda. It is a set of protocols used for treating Drishtiroga (a set of diseases affecting visual pathway),” says a doctor.
During the treatment period, the boy was made to be confined in the room with the eyes covered with dark shades and a cloth so that he has zero exposure to any form of light,” the doctor added.

The doctors further said that the chances of improvement in visual acuity are pretty good as the boy has shown significant improvement in the first set of treatments done in November 2023. “Post-treatment Ananth will need to continue medicines prescribed, maintain diet and avoid looking at intense direct light and strain his eye by excessive near work,” a doctor said.

Ananth was treated by ophthalmologist Dr Sandeep S Kumar under the overall supervision of Dr Sheeja Y M, Chief Medical Officer, GDAH.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based defence journalist. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Tarmak Media House which reports on India’s military and space programmes in depth. He tweets @writetake.)

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