Delhi and Trieste
The Scientists Pool Officer scheme was instituted by the CSIR to provide scientists returning from abroad interim support till such time they were able to find employment commensurate with their academic background. I used my award for joining the theoretical physics group of the University of Delhi. I had spent five years as a student in the Department of Physics and knew the professors as they were my teachers. Some of my friends after doing their Ph.D. had either joined the Department of Physics as teachers and some others held temporary positions either as Research Associates of the University Grants Commission (UGC) or had obtained, as I had, a temporary foothold using the CSIR Scheme of the Scientists Pool. The new teaching positions were advertised and filled by the University as and when new posts were created to match increase in student strength or when new areas of teaching and research were added. Teaching of the B.Sc.(Honours) Physics courses had been shifted from the Physics Department to the affiliated colleges of the University. I was not inclined to join as a teacher in an affiliated college of the University.
Some of my friends who returned to India after their Ph.D. joined the Department of Physics of the newly set up Indian Institutes of Technology. A nucleus of theoretical physicists was formed at the IIT Kanpur as some good physicists on returning to India had joined it. I visited the IIT Kanpur but decided against joining it as I did not find it to be the place I could settle down for life. I could have joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Physics in Bombay but I had to make my own arrangements for stay as the campus accommodation had a long waiting period.
I was invited by the Madras University to attend a theoretical physics conference. I had heard of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Madras. I wrote to its Director for exploring the possibility of joining it. I met its Director. On the spot he made me an offer to join the Institute, initially in a temporary position. I met in the Institute some persons who had joined it in temporary positions similar to what was being offered to me. All of them discouraged me from joining the Matscience, the short name for Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Without exception each person said that its Director was an autocrat and a difficult person to work with. I wrote to Professor Chandrasekhar regarding my decision to join the Matscience. By the return of post he advised me against joining it.
More than the job I was concerned about the city where I would have liked to live. I was looking for a nice city with a pleasant climate in India. The possibility of exploring the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, did not occur to me. I had heard the name of N. Mukunda but did not know other physicists in the IISc.
I was keen to get married. I was looking for someone with an academic background like mine. My parents were using the traditional approach in looking for a bride for me. They were looking for a girl from within their community. In a Venn diagram intersection of the set of type of girls I was looking for and the set of type of girls from within the community proposed to my parents had near nil intersection. My friends Bob and Judy met a girl from India who had come to Cambridge University for her Ph.D. in Maths. They were keen that I should contact this girl as she had also returned to India after doing her Ph.D. and, like me, was in Delhi. She matched my criteria but she was a Sikh and I would not have been acceptable to her family, and nor was she acceptable to my family. In such a situation I lost interest in settling down in India. Moreover, the heat and dust bothered me. I decided to return abroad. I sent applications for research positions to institutions in Europe and to the Fermi Accelerator Lab in Chicago. I was inclined to take the help of senior scientists I knew in Chicago and Tokyo to help me find a teaching/research position. In the summer of 1968 I had been to the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy. I wrote to Professor Abdus Salam, who was the Director of the ICTP. Professor Abdus Salam sent me an offer to spend a year with him as a visiting scientist in the ICTP.
I left my marriage as one of the uncertainties of life best resolved by fate. I was keen to travel in the Himalayas. Brahmarishi Balanandaji came to meet my parents. I mentioned to him my interest of trekking to Kedarnath. Brahmarishi Balananda Ji had trekked barefoot to Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet several times. He readily agreed to take me on a three-week trekking trip to Uttarkashi and Kedarnath. I was to join him on June 15, 1971, in Rishikesh, for proceeding on our trekking trip.
I was enjoying my stay with Jiji-Pitaji. I was using Pitaji’s car. In the morning I and Pitaji left home together. I would first drop Pitaji at his office and then drive to the University of Delhi. In the evening I would stop at his office in the Ministry of Agriculture and both of us would return home together. I recall an incident I am unable to explain but it is true. It was either 7th or 8th June 1971. I was waiting for Pitaji to finish his day’s work in his office. I saw there Shri Kireet Joshi a sadhak from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. Pitaji commented to Shri Kireet Joshi, “I am concerned about Amar Nath’s marriage.” Kireet Joshi meditated for some time and told Pitaji, “I am seeing imminent marriage of Amar Nath. The girl is beautiful and educated and is an ideal match for Amar Nath.” I was witness to this conversation. I was amused by what was seen by Shri Joshi as I had made my train bookings for going to Rishikesh to join Brahmarishi Balanandaji for going with him on the trekking trip to Kedarnath. I was to be away from Delhi for one month from mid-June to mid-July. On my return from the trekking trip I was going to Yugoslavia for attending a summer school before taking up my assignment at the ICTP. I could not therefore foresee a marriage for me in spite of the vision of Shri Kireet Joshi. Next day Pitaji received a telephone from his friend and colleague Mr. P. N. Jain. He mentioned to Pitaji that his elder brother who lives in Calcutta has asked him to explore the possibility of marriage of his daughter with me and was keen to make a proposal. Pitaji told Mr. P. N. Jain to ask his brother to come to Delhi and meet me first. Pitaji told Mr. P. N. Jain he would consider the proposal further only if his brother finds me a suitable match for his daughter.
I received a telegram from Brahmarishi Balanandaji, ‘Kedarnath trip postponed indefinitely’. A few days later Shri P. N. Jain and his brother Shri K. N. Jain came to our home, 9 Teen Murti Lane, and met me. Shri K. N. Jain told Pitaji that he found me suitable for his daughter and suggested that Pitaji and I should come to Calcutta to meet his daughter. Pitaji had official work in Calcutta on the 15th of June. He arranged a train ticket for me to reach Calcutta on the 14th of June. We stayed with Shamnath Chachaji on Rowland Road. Pitaji and I met Asha. I found her to be the person I was looking for to be my life partner. On the 16th of June in the morning my father-in-law formally accepted me as his would be son-in-law. The date of the marriage was fixed as 2nd July 1971. The wedding ceremony was to be celebrated in New Delhi. As always my fate had kept this pleasant surprise in my life hidden from me. Shri Kireet Joshi when he met Asha told me that she was the same girl he saw in his vision.
In 1971 Himachal Pradesh became the 18th State of the Republic of India. One of the first actions of the state legislature was to pass the Himachal Pradesh University Act. Dr. R. K. Singh was appointed as the first Vice-Chancellor of the Himachal Pradesh University. He met me and asked me to join the Himachal Pradesh University. I was inclined to accept his offer. I had lived in Simla when Pitaji was posted there. It was nice, cool and beautiful. It was free from the heat and dust of the cities in India that bothered me. I told Dr. R. K. Singh that I have accepted the offer to spend 9 months at the ICTP, Trieste. He told me that he would keep it in mind and will allow me to honour my commitment to Professor Abdus Salam. The selection committee setup by the Vice-Chancellor interviewed me in Delhi. Before long I received the formal offer of appointment as the Associate Professor of Physics from the Himachal Pradesh University. I went to Simla and formally joined the teaching position offered to me by the University. I was given leave of absence to take up my assignment at the ICTP. It was a new university. It had to start from scratch. I realised that facilities essential for teaching and research would come up in it with time. Therefore, I was fully aware of the lack of research facilities in it. I alone was answerable for the consequences of my decision to join a new university. I had decided to begin my teaching career at the Himachal Pradesh University without questioning who my colleagues there would be or what would be the quality of students whom I would teach. Mentally I accepted the challenge of remaining active in research in spite of lack of facilities or any other handicap I might face there. I was neither compelled nor coerced to join the new university. I had done it out of my own volition. Therefore, I was mentally prepared for a possible consequence that should I fail to come up to my standards of performance I would hold myself alone responsible. I planned to workout while at the ICTP a strategy for keeping myself active in research in the working conditions I knew I would find myself on my return to Simla.
As I look back to the period I spent in Delhi in 1970-1971 I see the same pattern of going down and up I have faced all my life. I have neither ever consulted nor allowed anyone to influence my decisions, and have always followed what my heart desired. There always was the possibility that I might have chosen the wrong route. But I did not allow doubts in my mind in deterring me from taking it. I knew I would make mid-course corrections if required.
Life had more pleasant gifts in surprise for me. Asha told me the good news that I was to become a father. My entire family which included my yet to be born daughter left Delhi on 28th September 1971 for Italy. I wanted to make our stay in Trieste the honeymoon period of our married life. I decided to use my savings in making our stay in Trieste pleasant and comfortable. We decided to stay in a villa on the sea coast in between Miramare and Monfalcone. The ICTP adjoined the beautiful gardens of Castello de Miramare in Miramare. It was built in 1850 by Ferdinad Maximilian, the younger brother of Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria. The villa we selected to live was five miles from Miramare. We lived in the lower portion of the villa facing sea. It had a vine orchard and a private beach connected by steps. The upper portion of the villa was used by my landlords Mr. and Mrs. Carli and their daughter Sylvia. Initially I commuted to the ICTP by using public bus from Trieste to Monfalcone, which had a stop near my landlord’s villa. As the buses were infrequent I found commuting inconvenient. I decided to buy a car at the earliest. I purchased a second hand white Fiat Cinquecento (Fiat 500). I was used to driving cars with automatic transmission. Though I had the experience of driving Fiat 1100 with a hand shift I was not at all prepared to drive a car with unsynchronised gears.
The villa faced the Adriatic Sea. We had a beautiful view from our living room. We saw beautiful sunsets from there. Asha made friends with Mrs. Carli and her daughter. She would spend time with them when I was away at the Institute. Life was beautiful.
We faced a challenging issue affecting the running of our household. We could not buy in Trieste grocery items needed for cooking Indian food. Italian rice was not acceptable to Asha. We bought fruits and vegetables from the weekly open market held near the water front in central Trieste. Mrs. Carli ensured delivery of fresh bread rolls and milk for us. Asha would give me a packed-lunch of rolls and cooked green peas and a fruit.
At the Centre someone pointed out to me that petrol was cheaper in Yugoslavia and I may find better choice of groceries in the departmental stores there than in Trieste. Trieste shared a border with Yugoslavia. The nearest border town in the Yugoslavian side was Koper, about 40 miles from where we lived. We did not need visa for entering Yugoslavia. We were pleasantly surprised to find in a grocery store in Koper long-grain rice, similar to the basmati rice, imported from Pakistan. We now had found some solution to our grocery needs.
During the summer months, from June to September, the ICTP would get filled with scientists from all over the world; it was hardly used for the rest of the year. The users of its facilities during the lean period were the visiting scientists like me and the theoretical physics group of Trieste University. There were four visiting scientists including me in the ICTP that year. John Strathdee was a permanent scientist there as he was a research collaborator of Professor Abdus Salam. Professor Salam alternately spent three weeks in the ICTP and three weeks in the Imperial College London. He held dual position in these two institutions. Dr. Hemande was the Administrative Officer of the ICTP.
On weekends Asha and I used to go out in our Cinquecento for sightseeing. Venice was about 100 miles from Trieste. We liked making day trips to Venice. We also visited beautiful Friuly town of Udine and the Roman ruins of Aquleia. Not too far from where we lived were the caverns of Grotta Gigante. We also saw the grand caves of Postojna, now in Slovenia.
During the period when India and Pakistan were at war in 1971 Professor Salam and I once ran into each other outside the Reading Room. He looked worried, so did I. He broke the ice by asking me, “Are you getting mail from India? Mail from Pakistan has been disrupted.”
We had visitors over Christmas. Shachindra came from Boulder. He was meeting Asha for the first time. We drove to Milan to receive him. We decided to be in the Vatican on Christmas Day. We saw Bologna and Florence on the way to Rome. Shachindra sat squeezed in the backseat of the Cinquecento. We reached Rome on Christmas Eve. We drove past the illuminated Colosseum. We attended the mid-night mass in a church near the Roman Forum. In the morning we reached St. Peter’s Square and joined the large crowd gathered in it to listen to the Pope’s Christmas message and receive his blessings. When St. Peter’s Basilica opened for the public we went inside it and saw Michelangelo’s Pieta. Sistine Chapel was closed to the public on Christmas Day.
As Bob and Judy were coming from England, Asha made a list in Hindi of the groceries she needed. I sent the list to Bob. They did not know whether the shop they were purchasing groceries belonged to an Indian or to a Pakistani. They were hesitant in showing the grocery list written in Hindi to Pakistani shopkeepers. The good luck was that the shopkeeper could read the grocery list written in Hindi. We spent happy time with Shachindra, Bob and Judy.
I received a letter from Swami Ranganathanandaji that he was passing through Venice and could spend two days with me in Trieste. I brought him from Venice to Trieste. I wanted the scientists in the Centre to meet Swamiji but was reluctant to announce it on the noticeboard. Scientists came to my home to meet Swamiji and were happy to interact with him. I had not mentioned to Professor Salam the visit of Swamiji. The following day Professor Salam saw me checking my mail. He remarked, “I understand a great holy man from India is visiting you.” I asked, “Will you like to meet him?” He replied, “Yes.” I suggested, “Will you like to have a simple vegetarian meal with us?” He said, “Yes, as long as you can arrange mineral water for me.” I also invited Dr. Hemande to come with Professor Salam. I asked Asha to prepare dinner for these VIP visitors as they were coming home to meet Swami Ranganathanandaji. Professor Salam and Swami Ranganathanandaji reached a common wavelength in their conversation in a few minutes of interaction with each other. Swamiji mentioned that he had begun his career as a monk in the Ramakrishna Mission in Karachi. They discovered they had many acquaintances in common. Swamiji went inside his room and brought out with him two copies of his recently published book ‘Message of the Upanishad’ and gave one each to Professor Salam and to Dr. Hemande. Professor Salam pulled out from the inner pocket of his overcoat ‘Interpretation of Quran by Justice Zafarullah Khan’ and presented it to Swami Ranganathanandaji.Zafarullah Khan was one of the leading Founding Fathers of Pakistan and the President of the International Court of Justice.
My area of research was High Energy Physics. It was a fast changing field of research. Working in it required easy access to current research work, both preprints and research journals. I realised that on reaching Simla I would get cut off from my peers and their research work. In any case I did not have the temperament to work on current trends in the High energy Physics. I decided that I will study deeply Feynman’s path integral approach to quantum mechanics. I collected from the ICTP library what I found were the important published works on the theory of Feynman’s path integration and its applications. I planned to use my initial period in Simla in going through the material I had collected and looked forward to making contributions to it by exploring it further.
Asha was now in an advanced stage of pregnancy. She decided to return to India and have her delivery in Calcutta. Mr. Carli asked me if I could move out of the portion of the villa I was occupying as he had got a good offer for renting it out for the coming summer period. I moved to an independent room as I was not in a position to take care of the marble floors and the general upkeep of the portion of the villa with me.
I received the happy news of Gargi’s arrival on the 12th of April, 1972. I had become a father.
We had made miscellaneous purchases during our stay in Trieste. I asked Pitaji to help me in sending our belongings by sea to India. Pitaji asked his friend in the Shipping Corporation of India to help me out. The Shipping Corporation of India sent a cable to its Agent in Trieste to get in touch with me. An Indian sailor from a ship was evacuated in a medical emergency and admitted to the general hospital in Trieste. The Italian Agent of the Shipping Corporation of India in Trieste connected the cable with this medical emergency. He contacted me and informed that an Indian sailor had been admitted for surgery in a hospital in Trieste and asked me to visit him. I was most surprised by this communication. But I thought as perhaps I was the only person from India living in Trieste I had been approached to look up the sailor. I took with me some fruits and visited the sailor in the hospital. He was least expecting a visit of an Indian. He became emotional. He said, “I have been abandoned by the ship I was working for. I do not know the local language. I am lonely. I do not have even a tooth brush. I do not know how I will return to India as my ship has sailed away.” I comforted him. I got for him his immediate needs and offered to visit him whenever he needed my help. A few days later the Agent received the detailed message asking him to help me with the shipment of my personal effects by sea cargo to India. He realised that I had nothing to do with the sailor. He felt embarrassed for having asked me to visit an unknown sailor that too in a hospital. He was deeply touched by my humanitarian response. He was surprised that a scientist from the ICTP had spared his time and visited a stranger without questioning why he was asked to do it. He sent me a letter of apology for the misunderstanding along with some gifts and offered that he would be happy to do whatever I asked of him. I was keen to send a perambulator for Gargi. It was picked up from my home and personally delivered to my father-in-law in Calcutta.
I returned to India and was delighted to see my sweet daughter Gargi. I went to Simla to start my teaching career. My next task was to make arrangements of accommodation, cooking gas and all that was essential to run a household before bringing Asha and Gargi to their home.