«Edited by Govindjee Urbana, Illinois, USA and Shyam Lal Srivastava Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India i The Cover A photograph of Krishnaji (Dada), 1980 ...»
June of 1957 was the time when, I think, I was really groomed into the Gurukul (teacher’s family ) of this great teacher, Krishnaji. I went to his house after having passed my MSc and expressed my desire to join research under his supervision. His personality was such that I unhesitatingly narrated the other part of my story also, which was concerned with the pressures through which I was undergoing in the family. I was being persuaded to try to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) which was achievable with my academic credentials. All the well wishers and the family members were unanimous on this except my father (a civil servant himself) who thought that I will not enjoy Administrative Services and Academics would be best for me. As a great teacher, he listened to me patiently and explained (without bias/prejudice) the good and the bad points of both the Administrative and Academic lives. He asked me to go home and come after 2-3 days after giving due thought.
Those 2-3 days helped me to decide unambiguously that my future career would be Academics (and I am glad even after 50 years that I took that decision). I did not realize at that time that my “grooming” into this great teacher’s family had already begun. Decision making was always easy for me later in life under the watchful guidance of the great Guru.
After finalizing the decision, with the consent of Krishnaji, that I would work for my PhD under his supervision, I successfully applied for a CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Government of India) scholarship which will pay me 315 Rupees per month because, as a rule, some incentive increments in the salary was given to students who had a First Class academic record throughout their career. There was also almost a certain chance that I would be appointed a temporary Lecturer in the University which will pay me 300 Rupees per month. Becoming Lecturer at Allahabad University was prestigious. How to decide? Simple! Ask Professor Krishnaji. I followed his advice to become a Research Assistant for the initial first year to concentrate on research full time and then to take my chance to join as a Lecturer next year to gain concurrent teaching experience. When I reflect back, I see that this single decision had shaped me into what I am today. Krishnaji, through some magical method, never let me feel the pressure of doing almost two full time jobs of teaching from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. and later upto 10 or 11 P.M. to struggle with my PhD research. In 1962, some turbulence started setting into my life. I got married and also completed my PhD. Hidden pulls and pressures were building up arising out of conflicting demands of my academic pursuit and family’s expectations. There were pressures within pressures because of the changed scenario in my family. But for me and my wife Usha, Krishnaji was always there to guide us. He stood like a rock to guard our future and welfare. He took the role of elder family man. This was Krishnaji—a complete benefactor.
Krishnaji treated all his students equally and everybody was sure of getting their due from him. He imbibed in all his students a feeling that they were members of a big family and should behave the same way. Each senior was to be treated as elder brother and vice versa.
Even today, after he is gone, we keep that tradition. That is why my younger colleagues of those days (Professors Abhai Mansingh, Shyam Lal Srivastava, Vinod Prakash, Pradip Kumar, Vinai Krishna Agrawal, Vinod Kumar Agrawal and many more, irrespective of the high professional positions they hold and having past their sixties in age, still address me as Bhai Saheb (elder brother) and my wife as Bhabhi (elder brother’s wife). I, on my part, also can never think of disrespecting my seniors Dr. Prem Swarup, Prof. Ganesh Prasad Srivastava and Dr. Shankar Swarup. Though, currently we have fewer occasions to meet each other, but the in-built confidence of having their support and affection is ever present in me. Krishnaji was not Head of a research group but he was Head of a Guru-Pariwar (a teacher’s close knit family).
I cannot desist myself from narrating two of my personal experiences to illustrate the manner in which Krishnaji used to guide his students into newer career options which the particular student, in his evaluation, deserved. One fine morning, in early 1964, I saw on my table an Application Form for a Faculty position in Gorakhpur University. Since I had never asked for it, I thought it might be for another young co-worker who had the same name as mine and was looking for a job. When I went to pass the form onto him, I was told that Krishnaji had specially procured that for me (he had even paid for the cost of the form). This disturbed me a lot. Had I done something wrong to anger him and he wants me to leave his laboratory? What could be more frustrating than being discarded by your own mentor and role model? I had a sleepless night. In despair, I had no other place to go for help other than Krishnaji himself even though he was indirectly connected to my coming to that disturbed state of mind.
That speaks of the degree of faith which we had in him. What I heard from him was a further revelation of his great personality and his relentless concern about the welfare of his students. He told in confidence that he had some plans to move out of Allahabad and he did not want any of his students to face rough weather after he leaves.
Further, he told me that he considers me to have acquired enough training/competence to establish myself independently. Further he thought that this change over to Gorakhpur will also relieve me of the family pressures through which I was undergoing at that moment.
He explained to me that it was a senior Faculty position (Reader, the first Reader to be appointed in Gorakhpur University’s Physics Department) and that it will give me more salary and academic prestige. I told him that the position of Reader generally goes to very senior persons above the age of forty years or so and I am only 26 years of age and as such, I stand very high chance of being rejected.
Therefore, I insisted upon staying with him in Allahabad University as long as possible and would not apply to Gorakhpur University. He disagreed and then gave the dictum, “It is cozy and comfortable under the shades of a big banyan tree, but no plant grows big under its shadows. The plant has to be transplanted to a new ground. And so, I have to move to be able to grow to the heights of his expectations”.
What greatness!! Amazing was this man! As directed by him, I applied and succeeded. That changed my life. Looking back, I now realize that he had done similar things to my seniors and had shifted all his early students to newer environments where they all flourished.
Again, in early 1972, I was in a similar dilemma. I, out of the blue, received an appointment letter from Ravishankar University, Raipur, offering me the post of full Professor and Head of the Department. I was just 33 years old. Professors in India in those days used to be very senior scientists above the age of 50 years or so. It appeared to me and my friends that this letter is not true and it must be some sort of a joke since I had not even applied for the post. How to find the solution of this situation? Simple! Approach Krishnaji. I later learnt that the watchful eyes of some senior Professors of the country (including him) thought me fit for that post and had made the necessary confidential recommendations to Ravishankar University. To illustrate the clarity and concern with which he used to guide his students, I quote a few words from the letter of Krishnaji in response to my letter asking for his advice whether to join Ravishankar University or not. The letter said, “Your appointment as Professor and Head of the Department will be a short term drag on your personal research but it will be a challenge to establish a good Department. I hope that you will accept the challenge.” That letter said everything. Almost under similar situations, after seven years in 1979, I was guided by him to move to Banaras Hindu University as Professor of Physics which is the biggest University of the country where I still continue to work as Platinum Jubilee Senior Scientist of the National Academy of Sciences, India. These stories should not give an impression that he was helping people, left and right, to grow with no accountability. He was no push-over. He always kept an Eagle’s watch to check whether the students from his research family were growing in the right direction or not. If not, they were reprimanded in no uncertain terms. For example, in my case of joining Ravishankar University, I was clearly told that he would like me to return back to Gorakhpur University if I failed to deliver the goods.
In fact, after two years of my stay in Ravishankar University, he went personally to see whether I had come to his expectations or not.
I was glad, I did not disappoint him.
Krishnaji’s concern about his students was total including them and their families. The illness or personal difficulties of his students were equally important to him. I recall a story of my friend and a class fellow (Late) Professor Baikunth Nath Misra who developed Diabetes at an early age of less than 30 years. He would not listen to any one of us, his colleagues and friends, and he was not prepared to go to the Physician on one pretext or the other. In desperation, we reported the matter to Krishnaji. He immediately got into action, fixed an appointment with a Physician, directed Baikunth Nath Mishra to accompany two of us to the doctor and also made us responsible to see that he regularly gets the proper medical treatment. Subsequently, our friend lived a full life beyond sixties and became a respected Professor of Physics at Allahabad University.
Krishnaji always kept track of the welfare of his students’ families and would attend to their problems the moment these were brought to his attention. Wives of many of his students’ families talked of their problems freely with him and his wife (respected Bhabhiji). If at anytime, any of his students were found to have wronged, they were affectionately reprimanded and every one of us listened to him in all humility. The children in the family of his students generally knew a lot about him through appreciative stories being talked about him in the family. The children were very free with him because they knew of the immense love he had for them. He would not hesitate to go even out of his way to keep the due wishes of the children. Once we went to Aurangabad for the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, India. My youngest son Amreesh (Rishu), then, nearly 15 years old, wanted to see the World Heritage site of Ajanta Caves, but logistics to go there were not fitting very well. My son knew of the last resort in situations like this and approached Professor Krishnaji. He had high blood pressure and was not fully fit to take the arduous journey, but how Krishnaji could disappoint a young child of the family. Not only did he make all the arrangements, but he also accompanied us. Such was his “attachment” which made him dear to all. That was just another facet of Krishnaji’s nobility and simplicity.
The leading torch of Professor Krishnaji guided his students’ lives in totality. There are so many stories to tell and memories to cherish that I generally feel happier in not narrating them and keeping them hidden in my heart. That living embodiment of compassion, competence and passion is no more with us, but his legacy will go on and on through his students, grand students, great grand students, and their gratified families. I salute him.
Professor Krishnaji – A True Teacher who was Always There to Help Students Abhai Mansingh Electronic Materials and Devices Laboratory, Department of Physics and Astrophysics, University of Delhi, Delhi-110007, India E-mail: email@example.com rofessor Krishnaji inspired all the students who came in his P contact. (For simplicity I shall refer to him as ‘Krishnaji’ in what follows.) The students who regarded him as their teacher are not only those whom he taught in BSc or MSc or whose research he supervised for DPhil degrees, but even the students of other Universities whom he helped in research, and surprisingly even those whom he just examined in MSc (Practicals) acknowledge him with respect as their teacher. I have met several such students (now teachers), claiming to be students of Krishnaji, now at different Colleges /Universities in India. I asked them how they were his students. A typical reply was “actually Prof. Krishnaji was my examiner, but during a brief period of my MSc practical examination, he taught me how to make correct electronic circuits and created confidence in me that I could learn Electronics, which none of my regular teachers could ever do”.
I still remember that in my batch (1959) of MSc (Electronics), all the students of the class from the front benchers (top 5%) to the back benchers (bottom 5%) felt that Krishnaji liked them the most.
Probably this reflects the fact that he helped and cared for students as human beings irrespective of their academic rank in the class. I may add here one advice Krishnaji gave me when I was going to deliver my first Lecture at Allahabad University. I asked him what I should do to become a good teacher. He said “You can be an excellent ‘subject teacher’ by getting the concepts clear yourself and making them understandable to the students in the class, but to become a good teacher you have to make students feel that you are there to help them in all their academic and personal problems; ‘subject teaching’ is just a part of the job of a teacher.” I have always tried to follow this in my teaching career at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, and in my almost 30 years of teaching at the University of Delhi. How far I have been able to emulate my teacher, only my students can tell. However, I have often said at public meetings in different colleges, during my 5 year administrative tenure at Delhi University, that the problems faced by the present generation of students in Indian Universities, to a great extent, arises from the approach of persons who have gone into the teaching profession.
Earlier generation (when we were students) were taught by teachers, now the present generation of students is being taught by Lecturers, Readers and Professors, many of them have failed to imbibe all the qualities of a teacher. I strongly believe the advice of Krishnaji to me is valid for generations to come.