Leena Bokil-A Stellar Journey


by Sameer Majli

Leena Bokil pune belgaumSpace Advocate, a science enthusiast and a hard-core Science Communicator, emerging to become a future space leader! She is a multifaceted, young and a dynamic achiever! She is a role model for many youngsters and her students. Yet for her – KALPANA CHAWLA is an icon and a role model. She wishes to continue the legacy of this legendary icon when it comes to space travel… and to top it all, she is one amongst us that made a reality of her dreams.
Meet Leena Bokil.

A student of Divine Providence and an Engineer from Gogte Institute of Belgaum, an achiever, an inspiration and a role model when it come defying convention to embrace one’s dreams.

These are little insights into this wonderful person, stuff that was revealed when ALL ABOUT BELGAUM interviewed her.

What made you break convention and choose such a different career?

Leena Bokil ———— > I’m basically an E&TC Engineer by qualification. But then, I’ve always aspired to be an Astrophysicist. And pure science has been my ‘cup of tea’! 

Since childhood, I’ve secretly been planning to be a ‘star gazer’. And then, since ages, I was aiming to ‘reach out to the stars’ as well! But then, in India, it’s not easy to get into such a unique field like Astronomy or Space Science. Besides, since my Dad is an Engineer (Mech+Elec), it was but natural for me, to enter into the engineering arena. And believe me, it was indeed a ‘cake-walk’, with all his guidance and relentless support. My father would tell me ancient tales of Copernicus and Kepler; and stories of Galileo and others who were the first-generation astronomers. So all of this fueled up a spark in me and inspired me to become a Space Scientist one day!

Well, I’ve been teaching telecommunications engineering for many years now, since it’s my core-branch. However, at the same time, I wanted to do something ‘out-of-the-box’! And then, well, I waited patiently until I was offered a teaching assignment for ‘Avionics’ course. So, I took it up as a challenge and read a lot of stuff. And then, gradually soared higher into ‘space technology’.
I mean, NASA happened to me since I’m an Educator. And after a ‘low profile’ job for almost a decade, I literally rose ‘like a real skyscraper’! I got selected at NASA-Honeywell Space Educators’ Program in 2008. And then, I became the Founder Secretary of National Space Society (India). So, in the last 5 years, I’ve visited various NASA’s centers, as many as five times! This way, I earned a global recognition, thanks to NASA, America’s premier space agency.   

What were the challenges you faced in your journey to understand things beyond the blue skies?

Leena Bokil ———— > Well, it’s quite a challenging profession for women. And then there’s immense competition… Besides, a married woman like me, needs to juggle and balance with family and career. But then, ever since I gained ‘momentum’, things became pretty easy for me, and life is great these days! 

Ok, to become a NASA astronaut, one needs to be an American citizen, first and foremost. But then, there is soon going to be a ‘Space Ambassador Program’; and being a Teacher, it can be relatively easy to be into such missions for me. That’s because, a Teacher inspires the future generation of astronauts and space technologists. This is precisely why NASA selected me to be trained for this coveted space training program @ Marshall Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I keep meeting Astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and others. Plus, Cosmonaut – Rakesh Sharma ji is a great source of inspiration for me! And when I do meet such legendary personalities, my energies get a boost! After meeting these iconic people, complex things start looking pretty simple! So, it’s all about getting inspired as much as being an inspiration, myself!   

Who do you attribute your success to?

Leena Bokil ———— > Many aspects like : my genetic material, grooming and above all, my father’s technical training have always motivated me to be a true and dedicated technologist. I’m so much like my Father, I just need ‘work’ on my desk and I don’t care for the money! I just keep on going ‘with the flow’ and put in my best, in whatever I do! 

I guess, success comes to those who work with a strong purpose and popularizing science has now become a mission in my life. Besides, I’ve always done whatever I’ve believed in. Well, except my father and my mentor, I do not listen to others, as far as my career is concerned. I just work for myself and compete with my own self. Oh, I so enjoy my work and do it with a passion; so all of this makes it more meaningful and complete…     

Leena with Astronaut Rakesh Sharma
Leena with Astronaut Rakesh Sharma


Is it necessary for an individual to seek education abroad to make a career in space research and technology?

Leena Bokil ———— > Well yes, in India, we do not include ‘space science’ as a part of the regular curriculum. Besides, we do not have much in terms of resources for this particular ‘hi-tech’ course. So, one needs to go abroad to study space technology. However, they do offer ‘B.Tech. degree’ in Space Engg @ IIST these days. The Indian Institute of Space Technology (IIST) is an integral part of ISRO, and it has been undertaking the task of grooming and nurturing space engineers, for the past few years.  

The youngsters find our Indian scenario quite disturbing and they choose to go abroad for better prospects. There are far better facilities, resources and funding in the western world, when it comes to research ventures. However, in the present times, many Indian research organizations are working towards projects and funding, in order to encourage young researchers to join them. 

What has been your greatest accomplishment in your journey?

Leena Bokil ———— > Firstly, my beloved Father, Shri S.S. Kulkarni, and then my teachers, have played an incredible role in shaping my career. And then, of late, my mentor, eminent scientist – Dr Gowariker sir, has been a great guide for me. His mere encouragement makes me ‘raise the bench-mark’, each time, at every step in my career. And then, I’ve learnt a great deal from NASA Astronaut – late Kalpana Chawla. I never got to meet her, but then, I keep meeting her father – revered Paapaji, who shares many aspects about ‘KC’ and her life. This way, I’m blessed that I’ve been meeting the greatest icons for the last few years. And then, I’ve been getting the opportunity of ‘going places’. So for me, all these parameters are the resultants of success. And according to me, these are a few of my modest accomplishments… 

What lies ahead in terms of what you seek to accomplish in your field of interest?

Leena Bokil ———— > Well, so far, I’ve not yet reached the crest (peak) of my career. So, to take my unique career to it’s culmination, I look forward to ‘going into space’, at least once, in my life-time! And then, of course, I may ‘pen’ my experiences or, say, may be, even write a ‘science fiction’ in these years to come…

“Ambition is never content, even at the summit of greatness.”

                                                                     ~ Napolean Bonaparte

How do you manage being a multi-faceted and multi-talented personality?

Leena Bokil ———— > Oh well, I’ve just traveled a lot and picked up some languages. I keep myself widely read and I’m eclectic, I guess. So that’s what I do in my free time, read and watch movies! I owe it to my creativity, that springs from ‘left-handedness’ or my ‘right-brain dominance’.

I guess, I’m a born communicator and I’m quite good at some sports as well. So I keep myself fit and maintain a fair amount of daily discipline. The major source of inputs for me are by way of traveling. And it’s truly an education for me, to meet people across the globe, of different cultures and varied race… I accord more importance to learning from ‘nature’ than from the books! This way, I’ve been a perpetual student all my life…

Well, it would be unbecoming of me if I do not appreciate the efforts of my parents, teachers and institution, in making me what I am today. Above all, I’d also be dishonest if I say I’ve not been ‘lucky’!    

“Creativity and imagination are more important than knowledge and information.”

                                                                                ~Albert Einstein

How does it feel to be a Belgaumite and to be in the domain of space research?

Leena Bokil ———— > My schooling in Divine Providence Convent was perfect and Belgaum is a great place for grooming! The top-notch-quality of education and resources that we do get here are of world-class grade! I do not ever rate Belgaum as a ‘small town’. In fact it’s far better than many other places that I’ve ever seen. It’s the mind-set that’s needed for growth and not how large or small a city is… Besides the pleasant climatic conditions, Belgaum is by far, a great place to be in! Well, it was only after marriage that I settled down in Pune, and it was not for career prospects. We do have all the ace facilities out here! And since Belgaum is geographically close to Pune and to Bangalore as well, many people move to these cities for jobs. 

Well, as for Space Education and Research domain, it has given me an impetus to become well-known, since it is a popular science. Plus, I’m told I’m known across the globe, thanks to my NASA training! 

I reiterate what late Kalpana Chawla once said from space : “I do not belong to one small part of the world. But the entire Universe is my homeland.”

Likewise, the vast Universe is my home, yet my roots are in Belgaum. And in this precise way, I choose to stay grounded! Blessed am I that I am born to this noble land! My soil and my native land will always remain to be in Belgaum, since this is my ‘Janmabhoomi’… And Pune or ‘Punyanagari’ is my ‘Karmabhoomi’…  

What are your views about and your suggestions for All About Belgaum?

Leena Bokil ———— > Through Facebook, I got connected to ‘All About Belgaum’, and I’m proud to be associated with it! Of course, this way, I stay connected with ‘my roots’ and I’m updated with all the latest info about my hometown. So it’s enriching and it always brings a ‘smile on my face’ when I read AAB! I am glad it’s operating successfully for so many years, and I’m marveled at the enthusiasm of the team-AAB! I appreciate the response that it evokes in all Belgaumites, from far and wide. I congratulate them for keeping it so fresh and ever-updated! Thanks a ton, for keeping us so connected, no matter wherever we’re located on this planet, or even in space…  

Is there anything that you would like to get across to students using our platform?

Leena Bokil ———— > Oh yes, of course, I would always like to inspire my folks and especially the younger generation, to choose what they believe in; to pursue their dreams and accomplish them… Through this platform, we could create awareness and open up avenues for the youngsters of Belgaum. We could encourage them to join ISRO, our very own Space Agency or go to NASA or ESA, and so on… Of course, I could share my experience as also the information that I’ve gathered in the past few years. And AAB could invite the student+teacher community to join in and augment the activities!

All said and done, no matter what, the ‘spirit of exploration’ must not fade away.


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    • Belgaum has always fascinated me. A beautiful city. But little did I know that it also hosts to some of the greatest women on earth like you. Amazing! An Inspiring Story of a Legend called Leena. At the same time, one should know that there is a lot of cultural exchange between Solapur and Belagavi, perhaps two of the finest cities in the world. Also, Solapur has become a Medical hub as most of the people from the neighbouring Karnataka State come here for their treatment. Had I been rich enough, I would have always preferred Belgaum as my second home. Of course you are very busy in a City like Pune, but of late, the City has lost her charm, I mean, it doesn’t make sense buying a home there. Whatever, I am highly impressed after listening to your story Leena. From Divine Providence Convent School to NASA America, Leena has turned out to be one of the most extraordinary women the City has ever produced. It is also learned that you are busy grooming and sharing your knowledge to upcoming Astronauts and Space Scientists in Pune and Belgaum. I will not be surprised if you come back to Belgaum again and spend the rest of your life here after calling it a day to an extraordinary career. This is the very reason why I compare her with the bowling legend Wasim Akram who, inspite of carrying diabetes for the major part of his career, went on to become the greatest bowler ever in the History of Cricket. Long live Leena!

    • And by the time God hands me the last dossier, Leena will have lifted another Trophy. Ever since I saw her in my virtual world, I felt that I have been knowing her for thousands of years. Believe me, it’s not a hyperbole. I mean it. Someone ridiculed me saying, “How do you know the minutest detail of this woman whom you have never seen?” All I could say, “She is my Soulmate whom I have been knowing since Ages!” I think that sums up the story.
      Now, imagine the day she walks out to bat for One Final Time. There is an Analogy between life and cricket. This will exactly coincide the day Ricky Ponting made his Final Appearance on the Big Stage. Sydney was to witness History. Historians got their act together. Cricketing world glued to the Television Sets as Ponting waved his bat to the crowd after having amassed a whopping 28,000 International runs in all formats of the game, only next to the batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar. In his Final Test Match Ponting perished after scoring a meagre 26 runs. Ponting is arguably the greatest batsman Australia has ever produced. He now stands tall in the ICC Hall Of Fame. Likewise, Leena will deliver her Final Lecture on AstroPhysics and bid adieu to an extraordinary teaching career. All the newspapers will be flooded with Leena appearing on the First Page. The applause should last forever. Students from all walks of life will stand up and give a standing ovation. The media will be busy taking her snaps and interviews. Leena will be labelled as one of the greatest scientists of modern times. Now this is no empty rhetoric, but excerpts drawn by the Man who has had a closer look at Leena and her Achievements. After all, Achievement is far greater than success and she knows about this Philosophy of life. Give her a salute as she will go down as one of the greatest to have ever lived on this Planet. AMEN.

    • And no matter how many times she has punched my heart and walked all over it, I will continue to write on her as long as I am alive. Leena, thank you for the memories of the virtual world (although short-lived). I also remember you boasting on your left-handedness. Come on! One Man comes to my mind every now and then, guess who? Of course Wasim Akram, the greatest left-arm fast bowler the game has ever seen. The then Home Minister L K Advani took the initiative on behest of his Prime Minister and welcome d the Pakistan Cricket Team as a part of a Peace Process. The Delhi-Lahore Bus was earlier flagged off by the Indian Premier A B Vajpayee. Pakistan Foreign Secretary and some of his Members Of Parliament landed in New Delhi amid tight security and hostile conditions. Advani briefed him about the elaborate security arrangements he had made across all venues. Wasim Akram and his men were thrown a gala dinner by the BCCI. Tendulkar & Co shrugged off with their Pakistani counterparts as the Dinner had a strong message to deliver to the world. Yes! INDIA vs PAKISTAN. The Mother Of All Battles. The next day all roads led to Chennai as cricket fanatics queued up outside the stadium as early as 05:00 a.m. to grab their seats. Placards showing the National Heroes were flaunted to the media. Electrifying moments! And by the time 11-men a side flexed their muscles, the whole of the game revolved around Two Men- Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram. The Press and the Media had already began their work. India and Pakistan came to a halt as Akram pounced like a leopard in the crease to bowl to Tendulkar. The stands had already erupted with ‘Sachin Sachin Sachin……….even before the first ball was bowled. Can you imagine the scenes! The flat Chennai pitch had nothing to offer for a fast bowler. A half-volley and Tendulkar despatched Akram to the fence for 4. Akram came back with vengeance and bowled a beautiful out-swinger to which Tendulkar had no answer. The ball went whistling past the outside as Akram yelled to the top of his voice ‘Catch it’. Moin Khan, as acrobatic as ever, dived to his extreme right to catch the ball and made a massive appeal behind the stumps. The appeal was turned down by the umpire and there began the hardest fought battle on earth. Tendulkar eventually perished after scoring a rumbustious century. India caved in and lost by a mere 11 runs. To his much shock and dismay, Tendulkar made a long walk back to the Pavilion. He played an innings of his life and fought like a warrior for cricket is never a game but war when it comes to India and Pakistan. Wisden Almanack, BBC London and International Cricket Council now had a closer look at Akram’s entire career and finally labelled him as the greatest bowler ever. Akram made HEADLINES worldwide. He was later inducted in the ICC Hall Of Fame. Australia Captain Allan Border quoted in his Autobiography-“If I am to play cricket in my next life, I would be Wasim Akram.” Leena, what are you waiting for? Belgaum and the rest of the world are waiting for your Headlines too.

    • Leena, God has finally answered me! Here is what he has to say! “Anand, you spilled this fish who was out there for the grabs, maybe only for you. I know she has hurt you and this is the only reason why you have stopped hunting. You have never been seen on the shores. No, no! You were not in the wrong story. It is just that you are an Aquarian, an emotional man! She feels the pinch now and regrets to have lost you in the virtual world. Anand, you are a great man and she feels for you. It is for the first time that you have gone down without a fight. You are a Warrior Soul and bore the brunt. I know you never retaliated for you never wanted to hurt her back. Anand, this is true love and affection and I can understand your feelings. I also know that you will never be able to see her in this life. You are simply soaked in the fond memories of the past and I know that! A sorry means nothing and Leena knows that. I will make sure that you both meet in the Heavens. I salute your Spirits, Anand!” Leena, tell me, how will you answer God?

    • The journey of thousand miles begins with a small step. I dared to do so but got nothing in return. Maybe this is my destiny. The damage has already been done. Healing takes time. Believe me, I am the man who took her to a new level of thinking and made her aware of new possibilities of life. Alas! Nothing has worked according to my plans. For a moment I forgot that she belonged to One Giant Shark in the High Seas with whom she claims to be in perfect harmony in all aspects. There were times when she was the first and the last thing on my mind. Few words and everything went topsy-turvy. Life can shock and surprise you and how could she have been different! And then, she is a Piscean, highly intuitive. I was caught unawares! Now that she is busy celebrating this scalp, all I am left with is the bitter memory of the past. So Close, Yet So Far! Leena, you are very good at reading between the lines and it took me a good five years to realise this. Cunning Fish! So, What is True Love? It is all about sacrifice, Leena! And each time I try to forget, I am re-directed to her, what is that? Very little did I know that Pisceans have very fast replacements in their lives and I am sure she has left all that stuff behind and moved on with her life. She has so many other priorities and goals in her life that she has no time to peep into these trifles. Life is about Deep Understanding for others and I hope I have gauged your mind and touched your soul. This should be the hardest goodbye of my life for I don’t open up to too many people in this world and she knows that. It was just another lesson that life taught me. Savour the moments as you pass on through the corridors of life. Things could have been better but then life has no retakes! Gone is gone. Hope she remembers this poor chap who had nothing to offer but love. Love is never demanding, Leena! You have earned your moments and I am proud of you. What a great woman you have been! Here I wake up to new dawn and pray God for your well-being. Don’t lose your heart. We have been knowing since Ages and it is only a matter of time when we meet in the Heavens. Come with memories! I will be waiting for you in the Heavenly Abode. Bless you, Leena! LOVE!

  1. Comment: Congratulations and great inspiration to me.Wish you all the best for fulfill your dreams.

    Thank you madam

  2. Dear mam, congratulations on ur achievement.
    great news indeed to be a part of NASA.
    I do fly the jets but u are one step above me.
    Hope to come across u sometime.
    Till then good luck and best wishes.
    Nilesh Raikar

  3. Congratulations Leena for all that you have achieved! God speed!

    Like you I too hail from Belgaum (now residing in Pune) – and hold the same view that exploring is in itself a journey of life and what better way to do so than research be it science or social sciences.

    Thanks to Uday for profiling people like us and kudos to his devoted work to bring belgaumites to the forefront and above all keep us connected both in spirits & thoughts!

    Best Wishes!

    Dr. Neeta Baporikar

      • She is the pride of Belgaum. She will extend her knowledge to the future generations and ensure that India stamps her authority in the field of Space and Technology. I wish I could meet her and learn a thing or two. I will direct the authorities in my city to felicitate Leena and Apurva for this amazing achievement in the field of Science and Technology. God bless you, Leena!

  4. congragulation Proud to be from belgaum sitting in kuwait reading this news makes me proud. all our good wishes are with you.wishing to see you in the space soon.

  5. Thanx a trillion, folks! And I’m so proud to hail from Belgaum! I miss the people as well as the fresh climatic conditions of Bgm…

  6. Dear M’am, Wishing you all the best for your life, family and Career. Feeling very honoured to be your FB friend.My regards to your Father and Mentor for making you what you are today.Wishing you to be in “Space” someday.Regards, Anand.

  7. Leena…congratulations. We are proud of you. I am sure you must have passed your PUC from GSS Collge which is my alumni too.
    All our good wishes are with you. Would look forward to see you growing in your career.
    Keep it up.

    Vijay Kanbur


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