«Edited by Govindjee Urbana, Illinois, USA and Shyam Lal Srivastava Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India i The Cover A photograph of Krishnaji (Dada), 1980 ...»
The quality of dedicated teachers was remarkable; quite a few were form USA, specially the Principals. The buildings, the playing fields and the water sports were extra attraction. Moreover, the coeducational pattern introduced in a conservative society of India was unique for us, though very few families sent their girls to such a college in Allahabad. Dada was a very handsome person; friends used to tease him by “linking” a girl in his class, who probably used to throw slanting glances at him. However, he was one of the simple folks glued to his studies and family that he never had the opportunity to come across any girl near him like that.
Looking back to the story of bicycles in the family even when we graduated from the two wheelers to four wheelers, we never left our old friend (Dost) knowing the harmful potential of a sedentary life. Often, in the Indian scene the steering wheel of four wheelers are left to the care of the chauffeurs (drivers) keeping us out of the focus from roads, making us laziest of the lot; we remain busy reading newspapers, office files or now working on the laptops. Dada never bought a car— he either used a bicycle or a cycle rickshaw when Tongas (horse-driven carriages) went out of fashion till the university provided him a car when he took over as Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Allahabad University. He was a very simple man; he never made any fuss about dress for himself though he enjoyed giving and appreciating good dresses for us all. Let me end the subject of bicycle by telling you that Rajni (wife of Govindjee) used a bicycle for many years at Allahabad (not very common for girls in that town). Let other girls young and old take a cue from Rajni. Today, I learn that Dubai is providing cycle tracks in certain areas like European cities for its beneficial health and environmental effects for the society.
Babuji was no more The sudden passing away of Babuji in 1943 terribly shocked us.
The unknown breaking of thread of life was a turning point for the family. It looked as if Dada grew taller in a day. He did grieve within himself but looking at me, my sister Malati (Bitti), the youngest Govindjee, and my mother lying unconscious, he took over the reins in his rather young but surely strong hands to steer clear of any further calamity falling on us. I was just going to complete my 12th class and Dada his Master’s Degree in Physics. A thought passed through my mind that as Dada wanted to take up a job or join a technical school for ensured employment, I may do the same after getting through my 12th class, in a couple of months, to add something to the kitty of the house. We five were moved to a room in the newly built house of our only uncle Har Prasad – younger brother of Babuji —who had only one son (Keshav Bhai, Krishna Murari), who was older to me. (Sadly, Keshav Bhai passed away in 2009.) We lived there for a few months but Amma was not comfortable as she could never get along well with our aunt (Chhoti Chachi, or Park Road Wali Chachi).
Dada’s appointment at Allahabad University; Dada’s marriage, and other thoughts As luck would have it, Professor Amar Nath Jha, the famous Vice Chancellor of Allahabad University, on knowing about his friend’s (Babuji’s) death called Dada as he had obtained first division in his Master’s examination. Prof. Jha told Dada to join the faculty with immediate effect. Prof. Jha was a very charismatic person and a powerful administrator; only he could take such decisions on the spot. This act of providence put our life back to normalcy; otherwise, there were arguments between Dada and Chacha about who among us, I or Bitti, should continue education. Dada was firm that both Bitti and I would study further, but Chacha had his own ideas. I could get convinced by either of their ideas, but Dada explained to me as follows. He asked me: Have you ever heard lawyers arguing a case in a court? It is their forte; do not listen and care, just be ready as a good Boy Scout to do your heart’s calling. It ended our procrastinations and we left Chacha’s place after finding a neat, rented home in a decent environment in the Civil Lines area of Allahabad (3 Cawnpur (later Kanpur, now Purushottam Das Tandon) Road) owned by a lawyer friend (Mr. Vishun Nath) of Babuji. It so happened that this gentleman’s father was a clerk in the court of my grandfather (Ganga Prasad Asthana2) when he was a judicial officer in a mufussil (a suburban town) of Orai in the United Provinces, now Uttar Pradesh (UP). Vishun Nath’s second son (Sri Dhar) was a class mate of Dada in BSc Classes. Thus we ultimately found a pleasant climate after a brief traumatic period.
Dada got married from this house to a lovely lady our Bhabhi (Bimla) on July 7, 1946. His criterion for a life partner was one and only one that she will keep the family of three ‘brutes’ and Amma together intact all times to come. Dada’s marriage to Bhabhi, Bimla Devi, for me is a fairy tale. Dada was working as a Lecturer in Physics at the University of Allahabad; he was a handsome person, a descendant of an old elite Kayastha family of Banaras (now Varanasi), a pilgrimage town for all Hindus. He had several matrimonial proposals from known families in the community and the University circle. It so happened that the owner of our rented house (Shri Vishun Nath, known to our grandfather), at 3 Kanpur Road, had a visitor looking for a groom for his niece. Mr. Nath casually suggested Dada as a possible groom and gave the background of the young man and his family. The visitor Shri Krishna Chand, District Judge at Allahabad, was the uncle of our would-be Bhabhi. He requested Mr.
Nath to arrange his meeting with Dada. As neighbors, we were called for Tea at Shri Vishun Nath’s sitting room; we chitchatted with the visitor. Judge Sahib was so impressed by Dada’s demeanor, tone and tenure of his talk that he went straight to our uncle Shri Har Prasad at Park Road, as he was the nearest elder male member of the family to consider the proposal of Dada’s marriage. It was agreed that we all would meet the girl at a holy spot, say a temple, in the presence of a holy man by the side of a holy river; so we went over to the Guruji of Barhe (Big) Hanumanji; the statue of Hanumanji is in a horizontal pose, lying on the banks of Sangam (Triveni), the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and the invisible Saraswati. The holy man and the holy atmosphere blessed us all and soon thereafter we brought the fairest of fair fairy (Bimla) to our little home. We were all excited and delighted to have an addition to the noisy pack of brutes.
Govindjee, still a baby of the house, was made to learn to behave.
There was a stream of visitors and sweets to go around. Slowly the hubbub settled down and the routine of school, college and University took us over.
Our late Bhabhi (who sadly passed away on April 18, 2007) fulfilled Dada’s mission of life wonderfully well. I salute both of them when I recollect the smallest of incidents in our lives. My BSc Final exams were coming close and I developed a boil on my cheek.
It was an abscess and it was very painful to me. Amma would not let the family doctor put an incision to drain off the pus. A ‘poultice’ was packed on the face; there was more pain, and no sleep; and you know who was there to take care through the nights? – No one other than Bhabhi. I can go on filling pages with her dedicated care and sacrifices for all of us; her motherly attitude towards us was great for us. I was called Babu by her and I remained the little Babu throughout her life. Bitti and Govindjee were younger, and had surely better reasons to be looked after. Their contributions to this subject would be much more meaningful.
Our saga of growth under the benign shadow of the duo, Dada and Bhabhi, is an epic by its own standards. Our voyage onwards is stranger than fiction. Those left nearly orphans, with no support from uncles or godfathers, stepped out of gory darkness in brighter light— slow and steady. Dada emerged as a grand teacher in the Faculty of Science, of Physics at the University of Allahabad; he was respected and adored by his students as well as by a team of research scholars on the subject of Microwave Spectroscopy that Dada had helped pioneer in India. (See Part A of this book of tributes to Dada.) His newly established laboratory bubbling with activity was his heart and soul. He knew his equipment in such knitty- gritty details that he could guide the students working in the basement while sitting in his second floor office; he could remove any glitches faced by them through phone or when the students came to see him. He was fluent in both English and Hindi, although the latter was once his weak subject. He delivered lectures and wrote scholarly papers, in both the languages, on subjects of academic interest, sometimes leaning towards philosophy. A lifetime service award, for his Science, the Sir C.V. (Chandrasekhar Venkat) Raman award, was bestowed upon him by Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India (Part C, Fig.3). His first laboratory of “Experimental Microwave Spectroscopy” was inaugurated by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India (Part C, Fig. 1). This took place when Nehruji was there to declare open the Technical Wing of the Physics Department of Allahabad University, which had started awarding BTech degrees.
Later, Dada’s stint as an administrator, i.e., as a Pro-Vice Chancellor, has its own success stories. On his retirement, his name and fame brought him in contact with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a world –renowned teacher and practitioner of Transcendental Meditation (TM), who passed away in 2008 at the age of 91. Dada was requested to join him to establish a Vedic University in India, which nearly came into existence but for the serious illness of Maharishi; further, due to his departure from the Indian scene to Europe, this mission remained unfulfilled.
A few things about Dada’s siblings The next academic wizard among us is Govindjee, who after getting top position in his MSc in Botany from Allahabad University (1954), joined as a Research Scholar and a Lecturer at the same University. However, within two years he sailed to the USA on a Fulbright Grant and a Graduate Fellowship in Physico-Chemical Biology at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, to work with Robert Emerson and Eugene Rabinowitch, two founding fathers of photosynthesis research. Urbana, Illinois, has turned out to be a permanent home for him and Rajni, his life partner. He obtained his Assistant Professorship in 1961 (from my perspective at a very young age of 28); he became a Full Professor in 1969, and today, after his retirement in 1999, he is one of the topmost respected scientists in the world of ‘Photosynthesis Research’; his website (http:// www.life.uiuc.edu/govindjee) gives further details.
My sister Bitti (Malati) is equally an achiever. She obtained a first division in BA (Bachelor of Arts), from Allahabad University; it used to be a rare result in the Arts faculty. After her MA in Hindi, subject of her choice, she married a classmate Radha Krishna Sahay and shifted to Bhagalpur, Bihar, where both excelled as Professors of Hindi: reading, writing and teaching, not only in India, but in Germany; they were for several years at Humboldt University in Berlin, then in East Germany.
I did not consider myself very bright; Willy Nilly, I completed my Master’s Degree in Physics from Allahabad University. Later, I felt I was in the wrong field; so, I changed my field. Anyhow, at that time, I started teaching undergraduate classes. My mantras were ‘Catch the Bull by the Horn’ and try to make the best out of the opportunity that comes across.
I had a year to my credit of research work on ‘Absorption of Ultrasound waves’, but probably my heart was somewhere else. At the first chance I had, I left for the USA to study Business Management and after completion of my Master’s degree (in Business Management, University of Minnesota at Minneapolis), I returned to India and joined the growing Public sector undertakings in India and retired as an Executive Director of Engineering Projects India, Ltd, a Government of India enterprise.
The next generation: first child was born The year had nearly passed by when the news came of the arrival of a “bundle of joy”, a baby doll, throwing us in an ecstatic mood.
We bought a cradle, draping it with colorful sequined cloth stitched with janglers heralding Mini’s (Meenu’s) entry into the home. The name Mini was given by the neighbor, a classmate of Dada, she being a miniature fairy. The name changed to Meenu, I do not remember when and how, and then to her formal name Ira. Could it be that Bitti (Malati) had found it out of her classical books with some exotic meaning? All the same we had a thrust of happiness, everyone doting around her bringing lovely clothes and toys almost on a weekly basis.