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Commerce, not eclipse, makes Surat hum

Last updated on: December 21, 1999 
Way to Atmiya Vidya Mandir, where a two day live solar eclipse workshop is organised

Zakir, the bearded, cheerful automan who meets us at Surat railway station has not heard about the eclipse.

"Are there a lot of tourists in town?" he is asked.

"Well I took one group of travelers like you this morning. But why is there something going on in Surat?" he asks, unaware that few hours later Surat will witness a perfect solar eclipse. The next such total eclipse is scheduled for 2132.

"Surya grahan. But that already happened today," Zakir informs us.

The bustling town of Surat, according to news reports, is preparing for a deluge of Indian and foreign tourists expected to descend on it to see the eclipse originate on the subcontinent on July 22 at 6.22 am.

Gujarat Tourism, anticipating some 5,000 tourists for the eclipse, announced on Saturday that it would offer free boarding to the first 200 and accommodate them in the homes of local people under its Atithi devo bhava scheme.

But as you push your way through the city's swarming streets, it is evident that it's commerce as usual -- and not celestial activity -- that is making Surat hum.

Text: Vaihayasi Daniel Pande in Surat

Photographs: Uttam Ghosh

But at Atmiya Vidya Mandir, it's a different story

Last updated on: December 21, 1999 
The posh residential school is buzzing with activity
The hotel clerk clarifies that two of Surat's top hotels have quite a few more tourists than usual. But not a rush.

But drive east out of Surat on the Kamrej road towards Shampura and at Atmiya Vidya Mandir school it is a different story.

This posh residential school is buzzing with activity. Several television network vans are parked outside. Crowds of school children, scientists, astronomers and amateur astronomers have assembled for the two-day live total solar eclipse workshop organized by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Surat.

An exhaustive workshop is in progress and a professor from Udaipur is waxing and waning on sun spots to a crowd of 200, who have gathered, apart from the school's 400 students and teachers.

He says, "The last solar eclipse I saw was on February 16th in 1980 in Hyderabad, and I would love to share the joy I enjoyed." He has an especially attentive audience as he runs through detailed slides on astronomy.

"There is a very good reason for choosing this school. See that terrace there. It offers a wonderful view of the eastern horizon," explains Yogesh Raval, principal. "Tomorrow morning the scientists will camp on that roof and view the eclipse."

'Surat is preparing for a deluge of tourists'

Last updated on: December 21, 1999 
Emanuela Vasvary, among a few foreigners, dot the crowd in Atmiya
A few foreigners dot the crowd at Atmiya. Emanuela Vasvary, a tall Romanian of Hungarian extraction, has come from Mumbai to see the eclipse with her husband.

She is a housewife and he works for a private firm in Mumbai. Vasvary has a fascination with eclipses and made a special trip to see Romania's last solar eclipse in 1999 in the south of that country. So when she heard India was being hit by a solar eclipse she googled and discovered the live workshop being held at this school and headed to Surat.

Vasvary and her husband are star attractions at the school being called upon to give bytes to the media and gifts to the chief guests. "I am enjoying it. I think there are more tourists headed here because on the train we took up from Bombay there were a few."

Kazuya Osakada, a correspondent for Japan Broadcasting Corporation has arrived from the New Delhi bureau office to cover the eclipse and is debating the merits of viewing the eclipse from this school or from the special eclipse viewing station set up at Surat's airport.

'Just 5 to 10 per cent chance of seeing the eclipse'

Last updated on: December 21, 1999 
Inside the eclipse workshop, in Atmiya Vidya Mandir school
Gujarat's chief minister Narendra Modi apparently is also in town for the eclipse and plans to view it from the airport. A poster depicting the solar eclipse shining out from behind Modi's head are up at the railway station. 

"I have seen an eclipse once before at my home in Maharashtra," Pavan Patel tells you. The little boy, about 11, is one of the hundred school children from Surat's other schools who is camped at Atmiya overnight. He attends Shree Saraswati Vidyalaya in Surat town. He is looking forward to the eclipse but tells you he is worried that it will not be visible.

Surat's weather on the eve of the eclipse is miserable. It's raining non-stop sheets and sheets of grey rain. And there is a solid blanket of clouds in the sky that could very well spoil any sort of celestial viewing.

Jagdish Thadani of Surat's astronomers association, who helped organise the workshop, tells you sadly, "Yes there is just a 5 to 10 percent chance of seeing the eclipse."