Remarks on Prof Yash Pal (1926-2017)

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on August 10th, 2017 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Prof Yash Pal Memorial Meeting Panjab University Chandigarh 10 Aug 2017


Rajesh Kochhar

Panjab University Mathematics Department

[email protected]

Prof Yash Pal passed MSc Honours School in Physics in 1949 from the then East Punjab University, the dissertation work for which was done at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Mumbai which he had already joined as a research student. In 1954 he left for Massachusetts Institute of Technology from where he obtained PhD in 1958. He nominally retired from TIFR in 1983. He was the first Director, Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad (1973-81); Secretary, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India (1984-86); and Chairman, University Grants Commission (1986-91). While at TIFR he visited Panjab University Physics Department as guest faculty, and later held Jawaharlal Nehru Chair in Technology, Panjab University (1997-1999). He was awarded DSc (honoris causa) by Panjab University in 1987. Among the numerous awards he won are the Marconi International Prize (1980) and UNESCO Kalinga Prize for Science Popularization (2009).

He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1976 and Padma Vibhushan in 2013.

( Prof Yash Pal’s family name was Bhutani which he never used. In his matric certificate he wrote his last name as Arya. Better sense prevailed and in the next, Intermediate Exam, he called himself Yash Pal Bharti. Subsequently he was known as Yash Pal.)

I would like to draw your attention to some not-so- well-known aspects of pre-history of Space Application Centre of which Prof Yash Pal was the first director.

The story begins with International Geophysical Year which was celebrated during 1957-58. It was the first time that India, now independent, was taking part in an international science program, as an equal. IGY brought Vikram Sarabhai centre- stage and paved the way for India’s own space program.

In the 1950s, only two government departments had any science content: All India Radio and Met department. KR Ramanathan retired from IMD as deputy director general in 1948, and immediately took over as the director of the newly established Physical Research Lab Ahmedabad. It was due to the Ramanthan connection that Vikram Sarabhai got associated with IGY at the planning stage itself. Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was set up in 1962 with Sarabhai as the chairman. ISRO came up in 1969 and Department of Space in 1972.

The equation that middling NASA officialdom built with Sarabhai during IGY days came to be used a few years later when USA launched Satellite Instructional Television Experiment. USA was very keen that a large country like India with independent foreign policy should join the program. Acting on off-the-record phone calls from a NASA official, Sarabhai spoke to Indira Gandhi and got her permission for participation. Not only that, a letter was sent as if the initiative for joining came from India itself. In the cold war climate of those days, India’s participation in a US program was a big thing.

Satish Dhawan, ISRO chief, asked Yash Pal to direct the SITE India program. Yash Pal’s felicity with instrumentation; his ability to enthuse and persuade people, Indira Gandhi downwards; his ability to inspire younger people; and his innate love for teaching all combined to make the educational TV program a spectacular success. USA had made its satellite available only for a year August 1975-July 1976, and turned down India’s request for an extension. India then decided to continue its programs by contracting a commercial satellite from Ford Aerospace. More importantly India decided to develop its own satellite network as part of INSAT program.

Yash Pal became a household name with the Doordarshan science series called Turning Point which began in 1992 and ran into more than 150 episodes. Sadly, TV channels today, Doordarshan included, will have no use for  a Yash Pal. Even if such a program were to be telecast, it will not get TRP.

A great man’s life is greater than the biographical details. Yash Pal belonged to an era when nation building occupied top most place in individual and collective agendas and science was seen as the chief instrument of nation building and economic growth. If a country’s GDP does not depend on science, science cannot flourish in that country. Non-science based economic growth can neither be sustained for long nor can it be equitable.

In radio astronomy, telecommunications and allied fields, India was able to establish symbiotic relationship between the educational system, pure research, strategic science, and industry. That is how success attended the efforts. There is a general lesson here.

Ironically while the society’s dependence on technology is increasing sharply, respect for principles of science is decreasing even more sharply. Real tribute to Prof Yash Pal will not be to name a building after him or to institute an award or a lecture or a medal after him, but to revive national interest in and curiosity about science.//


Why Brahmins have been important in Hindu Society

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on June 26th, 2017 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

If pandits have enjoyed pre-eminent position in the Hindu society for centuries, there is reason for it. Pandits have not tried to act as a moral force. Rather they have drummed up scriptural support for actions already taken by influential persons. The following is a true story. A young man came to vast landed estate on his father’s death. He decided to demolish an old structure standing in the fields. In the process there appeared from the ruins a majestic king cobra who immediately spread its hood. Ignoring the entreaties from the labourers to leave the naag devta alone, the young man smashed its head with a stone. His distraught mother immediately rushed to the family pandit. The snake was dead and the young man had come to a position of great wealth. No purpose would be served by trying to place him on the defensive. Wisely, pandit ji gave the ruling: On the contrary, the young man has performed a great service to the snake by liberating him from his lowly yoni. It can now hope to be born in a better form.

( For this and other stories/jokes, visit

The Kochhar clan

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on January 18th, 2017 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Excerpted from

Rose, HA (1911) A glossary of the tribes and castes of the Punjab and North-West frontier province ( Lahore: Government Printing Press) Vol. 2, p. 522


“The Kochhar claim to be an offshoot of the Seth and say their founder

was left an orphan, his father having been slain in battle. He was

brought up by his sister and their name is derived from Kochhar [should be kuchharh], ‘lap.’

The Kochhars have an interesting custom connected with a bride’s first

pregnancy. Six months after her pregnancy she deliberately feigns

displeasure with the members of the family and goes to some other

house. The bridegroom on hearing of her departure goes in search of

her after having his head, moustaches and beard clean shaved.

When he finds out where she is, he collects a few of his brotherhood

and goes to the place where she is staying. After many entreaties

he promises to give her an ornament, and then takes her back to his

own house.”