Raja Ramanna: Reminiscences

Ramanna was appointed defence minister by VP Singh. As a balancing act MGK Menon was made science minister. (Both held independent charge but had the rank of a minister of state.) In 1990, Survey of India DehraDun organized a meeting on the occasion of George Everest’s 200th birthday. Defence Minister was give the opening address and I was reading a paper. Those were the days of Mandal unrest. Since I knew Ramanna from his Bangalore days I asked him if I could come with him in the military helicopter. Most graciously he agreed pointing out that I would have to pay the prescribed charges. I was parked at Delhi. There was a phone call saying Defence Minister speaking. For a while I got confused thinking the call was from his office. A military jeep was sent to where I was staying to bring me to his office. Given the general unrest, arrival of a military jeep and my being whisked off became a topic of local interest. VP Singh had called a meeting of the Council of Ministers. Could I read Ramanna’s address? I took a midnight taxi and brought his address to DehraDun. The government fell soon thereafter.
Ramanna had a tremendous sense of humour. One of his regrets was that the people he met in the public life did not quite appreciate it, Worse, they took offence.

Ramanna was chairing a lecture in IISc campus ( in the auditorium near the main gate). After the lecture an oldish man stood up to ask a question or make a point. He bagan: First of all I wish to complement the learned speaker on his brilliant and lucid presentation …blah-blah. Finally he decided to come to the point by saying However,
By this time Ramanna had run out of patience:You have spoken enough. Now sit down!

Ramanna has a genuine curiosity about things and welcomed addition or correction to his knowledge base. It is well known that the trigonometrical sine originated in India whee the term used in Sanskrit was jya. How does jya become sine, he wanted to know. I did not know. I spent some time in the library and answered his question the next time we met. Jya was rendered as jaib in Arabic. Jaib was an existing word in Arabic meaning folds of a derss. Jaib was literally translated as sinus in Latin

In an inaugural address Ramanna attributed the calculation of the highest peak in the Himalayas to Everest’s tenure as Surveyor General . During the tea break I explained to him that the peak was calculated after Everest had retired and it was named in his honour by his successor, Andrew Waugh. He appreciated the information, for future use.

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