When Yuri Gagarin stole the limelight from Jawahar Lal Nehru
Among the many memorable incidents that took place at Lucknow University in its 100-year history, the one in November 1961 stands out.
The varsity’s ‘convocation week celebration’ was on, and to everyone’s surprise the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru walked in, not alone but with Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut and first man to fly in outer space.
Normally, the spotlight should have been on the Prime Minister. But it was not so, as Gagarin stole the show. By then of world-fame, Gagarin had on April 12 the same year taken a flight into space in his capsule named Vostok 1 and completed one orbit of the Earth. This achievement shot him to world fame.
According to the varsity records, Gagarin had arrived in India on a state-sponsored visit sometime in November, a few days before the Lucknow University convocation week. Nehru was the invited as the chief guest, but no one knew that he would bring along Yuri Gagarin.
Thousands of students vied with each other to have a glimpse of Yuri. Nehru and Gagarin’s arrival in the city was widely covered in newspapers of that time.
Since Gagarin’s arrival was unplanned, members of students’ union had to make some last minute changes in their programme to facilitate the Soviet cosmonaut. His achievements were announced from the stage and the students lined up to get close to Yuri with the hope of getting to shake hands with him.
Cultural events and a play was organised for the guests and speeches were given on the importance of relations between India and Soviet Union.
Later, Nehru thanked the university administration for hosting them and urged them to try to take India ahead in the field of science. Though Gagarin remained in the university for only few hours, his presence left an indelible mark in the minds of the students.
Triloki Nath Pandey, who was a student of physics when Yuri visited the university, said “The visit of Yuri Gagarin opened us up to the expanse of the universe. Students started taking keen interest in space and we used to discuss the latest developments on the subject of space.”
A group of students from science faculty also started a ‘space club’ to hold discussions on space.
The same year 10 students of the university’s drama club were sent to Nainital to participate in an annual student function. The students’ union of the university also published many copies of their magazine ‘Light and Learning.’