When I was in class XII or something, I had just read "A Brief History of Time" (not exactly understood, but read and was fascinated by). I had already set my heart on studying molecular biology then and I knew physics was not my cuppa tea. But I continued to be very curious and enamoured by astronomy/cosmology. So I remember telling myself then, "If I ever see Stephen Hawking and James Watson, I can die in peace". That was just me day-dreaming, indulging in my fantasies.
Just a few years after that (1999?), James Watson, the co-discoverer of the double-helix came to Bombay! I could not believe my luck. Watson was speaking at a public lecture at TIFR, and our professors at college had let us leave chemistry practicals early so we could make it. I rounded up a big gang of friends (almost yelling at some of them who didn't show interest in the beginning) ;). TIFR was a good 1-2 hours away by train, and we reached just a few minutes before the talk was to begin. The huge auditorium was already spilling with people. We were standing in one of the door-ways, and when Watson started speaking, there was silence. Until some silly girls started loudly "ooh-ing" about being at Watson's lecture. And that irritated me and I snapped at them to shut up. :) (I have a propensity to get into fights like that). What I could see from standing so far away was the white-bearded form of the 80+ year old scientist, but that was enough for me. This was more of a "public" lecture, so he talked about genetics and society, dispelling false fears in people about science, and things like that. It was really the experience, the feeling of seeing the person who co-discovered DNA!!! - (my favourite molecule, as I called it then) that was just overwhelming, and still is. My friends and I left the audi, spent some time just revelling in what we had all witnessed, and made our ways home.
A couple years later, Stephen Hawking came to India!! He was going to give a "talk" in Shanmukhananda Hall in Bombay (2001?). The very thought of him coming to Bombay was so exciting. Of course, it was very hard to get an invite, and I made my father's life miserable to get me a ticket, somehow. Poor dad, he tried all his resources and finally found a colleague who had three passes from being in some kind of Physics association at TIFR. OH MY GOD. I thought back to my innocent dream of a few years back and felt really, really fortunate. I still remember the feeling of thrill I felt then. I could not sleep a wink the night before the event. I was hyper-excited, and my mind was dizzy. On the day, I remember taking the bus to go to Sion, wearing my T-shirt inside-out! I was entirely besotted by the thought of seeing Stephen Hawking for real- didn't even realise the weird stares I was getting from other people on the bus. When I reached there, the "buzz" was that he had not yet arrived, and there was major security and everything. I met my dad and his friend and we found our seats, pretty good ones too. (Then my dad pointed out the t-shirt being inside-out and I hurriedly went to a rest-room to fix that issue and return to my seat ;) ) Hawking wheeled himself in, and I was gawking. He used a speech synthesizer to convey his thoughts, and mostly spoke about the superstring theory (which was the new hotness then), his Brief History book, and advice for youngsters with an interest in theoretical physics, etc. Again, it was really an experience, just watching someone who had overcome such a debilitating illness and produced such brilliant work. After the talk, I ran outside, to the exit ramp, where I knew his van was parked, so that I could have a glimpse of him that one more time. There were security barricades, and watchmen shoo-ing me away, but I stood my ground till I saw him exit the auditorium and make his way to the van, and until the van left the premises. My dad and his friend were amused with my idolatry. But I couldn't help it. Who would've thought that I'd actually get to see someone I read and admired so much?
Today, I was staring at this globe on my desk and fantasizing about all the places I want to go to. And I have a little list that I started adding to, but stopped to think "who am I kidding? when will I ever get to do it?". Then I was reminded of this little innocent dream I had when I was younger, and how it was fulfilled so early on, when I was least expecting it to happen. So I decided to go back and add the Galapagos Islands to my list, who knows when I might just end up going!