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Anil Kumar, a passenger on India’s first balloon flight, calls for adventure enthusiasts to set up a balloon club

Around the time that Yuri Gagarin orbited the moon, a 14-year-old boy in Bangalore had his own adventure on the edge of space. On November 14, 1963, Anil Kumar boarded a balloon flight, which took off at the racecourse grounds and landed in Cholanayakanahalli, a village on Magadi Road. “I felt very privileged to have had such an experience. On the flight, I was taught how to speak on the wireless, coming in contact with senior police officers and ministers of the state, which gave me great exposure” recalls Kumar enthusiastically, of this out of the world experience.

Aiming to promote this significant event which could easily get lost in musty historical archives, Kumar hopes to fund and set up a licensed balloon club in Bangalore with help from interested clubs and adventure-loving individuals around the city.

Across seas
The hydrogen gas-filled balloon was brought from the Pestalozzi Children’s village in Wahlwies, Germany. As it was to be the maiden balloon flight in the country and was to take off on Children’s Day, pilots Hermann Johannes Scheer and Alfred Schulz, thought it only appropriate that an Indian child should be on board.

“It was done as a part of the launch of a Pestalozzi village in Bangalore. But the project never took off. The government had given a 100-acre property for the village. And a German lady had come to Arya Sevashram, an orphanage run by my dad to help set up the village,” recounts Kumar.

Following his historic adventure, Kumar was invited by Makkala Koota, Mysore, to share his experience at their annual conference where he was taken on a procession and even shared the stage with the city’s royal family.

The flight also marked the country’s first balloon mail with the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department bringing out a first day cover, created specifically in honour of this occasion.

Then and now
50 years on, Kumar is the president and CEO of Target, a placement agency on MG Road after along stint with Wipro. “My tryst with history at such a young age and my close contact with celebrities gave me a better perspective. I learnt humility. And that’s what has got me to where I am today,” he shares. Yesterday, the 50th anniversary of the first balloon flight in India, a ceremony commemorating Schulz and the memory of Scheer, who is now no more, was held at Pestalozzi Kinderdorf in Wahlwies.

Those interested in being involved in the balloon club
may contact 9341394633.
—Rashmi Rajagopal