First Prof. B. M. Anand Memorial Lecture by Prof. Yash Pal
Panjab University Physics Department, Chandigarh, 10 April 2015
Introducing Prof. B. M. Anand and Prof. Yash Pal
President International Astronomical Union Commission: History of Astronomy
Panjab University Mathematics Department, Chandigarh
It is a matter of great honour and happiness for me to be able to make a few remarks on two eminent scientists associated with the Panjab University Physics Department. Between the two, Prof. B. M. Anand and Prof Yash Pal represent a continuum that covers the past eight decades of Panjab University: from the beginning of the Physics Honours School system to the world-wide recognition of the Physics Department as a research centre.
Panjab University website home page says that Panjab University is one of the oldest in India. A more precise statement can be made. Panjab University is the fourth oldest in the subcontinent, after the three in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. It has a distinction which is historically very significant. Panjab University is India’s first university to be named after a region rather than a city.
In the Presidency towns, community leadership was in the hands of people who owed their wealth and prominence to English education and association with the British. These universities and their students therefore were naturally inclined towards modern subjects. In contrast, leadership in the Punjab and adjoining areas like Kashmir vested in feudal elements, landed class, chieftains and kings. Accordingly, priorities for Punjab University were different. If the Presidency universities were look-towards-England universities, the Panjab University was a via-Bathinda university in the sense that one of its earliest tasks was bestowing formal education system recognition on proficiency in what at the time were known as oriental subjects: Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi.
In other words, to begin with, science was not among the University priorities. And yet, when a modern institution has been established, it has to rise to meet the aspirations of the people. Honours School system was introduced in many subjects: Arabic, Sanskrit, Botany and mathematics. We have been repeating this factoid in a parrot-like fashion. But, very little is known about its pre-history. What was the system before it? Why was it considered necessary to make a change-over? Who initiated the move and what arguments were offered? We do not know the answers, which must be lying buried in the pre-1947 archives. There is an urgent need to create a special fund which should be utilized to obtain copies from Pakistan, British Library, etc., of archival material and old publications, relevant for a rigorous study of advent and growth of modern education in the Punjab region.
The introduction of Honours School system in Physics in 1934 had an important corollary. Bal Mokand Anand was hired as a lecturer that year itself. He obtained his M. Sc. in 1928, following which he worked at Government College Lahore, as a University scholar; and in the Government Irrigation Department as a research assistant. Remarkably, he focused on research publications from day one. His work appeared in a wide variety of places, ranging from Nature to a Punjab government memoir.
Anand came from a poor family. If the family had been well-off, Anand would have preferred to be a medical doctor. The offer of scholarship brought him to basic science. There is a lesson here relevant for modern times also.
In his younger days, Anand was mentored by two eminent physicists of the day: J. B. Seth and P. K. Kichlu. Today, we have Prof. R. P. Bambah in the Auditorium. After his M.A., the eminent mathematician Sarvdaman Chowla mentored him in Lahore at intellectual, professional and social levels. Training and grooming young talent is the most important part of senior persons. Unfortunately, today, academics and scientists, have become so obsessed with improving their own cv that they have no time for or inclination towards improving the cv of the youngsters under their charge.
I would like to make a suggestion to the Anand family. Anand Memorial Fund has been established and commemorative lecture series is a part of the Fund activities. I suggest that the sphere of the Fund activities be expanded to include occasional interactive sessions, workshops, etc., to pay attention to such important areas as mentoring, research paper and research proposal writing, scientific ethics, etc. This activity will be very useful for senior students and young researchers alike.
As far India is concerned, activities of Punjab University Lahore were disrupted by the Partition. East Punjab University was hastily established in October 1947. Its Physics and Chemistry departments had a refugee status in Delhi University till 1949 when Hoshiarpur became the temporary home. Interestingly, at the time, Punjab Government had very attractive offers from Patiala and Kapurthala which however were declined. I have recently been told via e-mail by a 90-year former Hoshiarpur-days student, now settled in USA, that the rather unattractive location of Hoshiarpur was chosen on the suggestion, to the Central Government, by Professor Diwan Chand Sharma. I have so far not been able to find any corroborative evidence for this assertion. Incidentally, in 1952, Prof. D. C. Sharma was elected a member of the first Lok Sabha from Hoshiarpur constituency.
History assigned Prof. Anand the important task of reorganizing Physics teaching and research after the interruption caused by the Partition. Permit me to make personal point. I joined the Physics Department in 1962 after the 11th class, and left it with an M. Sc. in 1967, the year Prof Anand retired. The newly established Nuclear Emulsion lab was very popular with senior students. It was the only place in the whole building which was air conditioned.
As a student, I have a striking memory of Prof. Anand. He was unpredictable. The year was 1965, the war with Pakistan was over, and the date sheet for term examinations was announced. No student wanted the exams to be held. There had been interruption in studies due to general excitement and more tangibly blackouts. An application was addressed to the Head of the Department and signed by almost all the students. Prof. Anand met the students in the corridor outside his office and flared up: Yeh kya trade union bana rakha hai. (What is this trade union activity.) I responded by saying: Trade union nahin hai. Sub aapke paas aane se darte thay. Isliye socha ki likh ke de dete hain. (There is no trade unionism. Everyone was scared of coming to you. So, it was decided to give it in writing.) He immediately cooled down: Mujse mat daro. Pakistan se bhi nahin. Kisi se bhi nahin. Sirf Bhagvan se daron ( Do not be afraid of me, even of Pakistan, or anybody. Be afraid of only God.)
One of the students of East Punjab University during its Delhi days was Prof. Yash Pal who obtained his M. Sc. in 1949 and thus never came to Hoshiarpur. Anand would have been proud of him. In his Ph. D, paper written in 1953, Anand quoted Yash Pal’s work. Prof. Yash Pal has always been known as a distinguished scientist in the world community of scientists. Panjab University is proud of the fact that he has been guest faculty here. I am sure, a copy of his cyclostyled lecture notes on cosmic rays can still be found somewhere in the Physics Department library.
Over the years, his activities have acquired a societal dimension. Prof. Yash Pal has been instrumental in initiating societal use of space technology in India. His natural flair for science communication came up on the national level when Doordarshan provided him with the then popular medium. A paradoxical situation has since arisen. The society’s dependence on high technology is increasing rapidly. At the same time, its respect for science is decreasing even more rapidly. In the past we were worried about pseudo-science. If you flip through various TV channels, you will notice a new phenomenon, namely, the birth of pseudo-mythology. The greatest recognition of Prof. Yash Pal’s multifaceted work would be to make science education, science research and science communication a national movement.
The little brochure that you have in hand gives a summary of Prof. Yash Pal’s professional life. It however does not do justice to him. The most important aspect of Prof. Yash Pal’s life has been his benevolence which has been rising with age. Life has been kind to him. He has been spreading this kindness ever since.
I now invite Prof. Yash Pal to deliver the first B. M. Anand Memorial Lecture. Two young men, Yash Pal and Ram Prakash Bambah were together in civil defence work in Lahore. To continue the collaboration, I invite Prof R. P. Bambah to chair the session.