Isro chairman S Somanath placed on Saturday the release of his yet-to-be-published memoir, titled “Nilavu Kudicha Simhangal” (Lions that drank the moonlight), on hold after excerpts from the book caused controversy. The book in Malayalam reportedly included references to former Isro chief K Sivan attempting to obstruct Somanath’s appointment to the top position in the space agency.
Somanath clarified that he never wrote that someone tried to thwart his chances. “I think the publishers (in Kozhikode) have given some copies to somebody… In view of the controversy, I’ve told the publishers to hold the book’s release, which was due next week… It should not have any content that can be misrepresented because the purpose was not to create controversy. I will make a decision later about whether or not to release it at all,” he told TOI.
Sivan responded to the controversy by stating, “There is nothing for me to say.” But people close to him noted several inaccuracies in the reported book excerpts, including the timeline of Somanath’s appointment as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) director.
The controversy arose after a news report in Kerala on Saturday alleged that Somanath detailed how he felt sidelined within Isro prior to his elevation to the top post. The previewed content also quoted Somanath as attributing the Chandrayan-2 mission’s failure to insufficient experiments and reviews.
Somanath said the words quoted in the news were not his, and he did not mention Sivan or anyone else in the book.
“Controversies are not my objective. I don’t want to hurt or blame anybody. If the book ever sees the light of the day, it will be the one that doesn’t cast aspersions and accusations against anybody. It’s true that I felt being sidelined when the chairman of UR Rao Space Centre was inducted into the space commission just before the selection of new Isro chairman was due,” Somanath said.
Regarding Chandrayaan-2, Somanath emphasised the importance of transparency and addressing what went wrong. He expressed regret that the controversy could hurt Sivan unnecessarily. “In fact, just yesterday Dr Sivan and I discussed a lot of things about the long-term vision for the space programme. I want him to chair some committees. What came out today was not the best thing. I will meet him on Monday as it has to be in person,” Somanath said.
Somanath said his primary aim in writing the book, barely 160 pages, was to inspire youngsters, not to target anyone. He noted that the memoir provided insights into his formative years and recounted the struggles of a youngster from a humble background. While the book’s release remains uncertain, Somanath said he plans to write a full-length autobiography after retirement.

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