Karpacz and Austin
I received an invitation from the University of Wroclaw to attend the Winter School scheduled to be held at Karpacz from 16 February to 1st March 1975. Professor Cecile DeWitt was one of the principal lecturers of the School and I was to supplement her lectures with my recent work on Feynmans Path Integration. I looked forward to attending it as I was keen to meet Cecile. So far my interaction with her had been through exchange of mail. I had to wait for at least six weeks for each letter to reach her and for her clarifications to my queries to reach me. I would leave sufficient free space in my letters for her to write her replies to my queries. I wanted to meet her face-to-face. She was equally keen to see me.
Instead of summer breaks the Himachal Pradesh University had long winter breaks. Usually the University was closed for teaching in the months of January and February. I did not need leave of absence for attending the Winter School in Poland as it fell in the winter break. But I had to find financial support for meeting the cost of passage from India to Poland and back. Because of financial stringencies the Vice-Chancellor was willing to give me a partial support for meeting the travel costs. Professor Salam offered me a lump sum grant which I could use for my visit to the ICTP and for making some savings from it by reducing my living expenses in Trieste. I applied to the Department of Science and Technology in New Delhi for a travel grant. It gave financial assistance equal to half the air fare from New Delhi to Warsaw and back.
I equipped myself with woollens for spending two weeks in a snow covered ski resort of Poland. Karpacz is on a hill sharing the border of Poland with Czechoslovakia. I planned to take a night train from Warsaw to a station close to Karpacz. My scheduled flight to Rome, which came from Bombay, did not land in Delhi because of thick fog and I left a day later than I had planned. I reached Rome in time for my connecting flight to Trieste. I was in for a surprise on reaching Rome. I was told that all domestic Alitalia flights had been cancelled on account of wildcat strike by the pilots. I had left India with eight dollars as my out of pocket allowance for meeting incidental expenses during the journey. I found myself in an unanticipated precarious situation because I was counting on drawing advance from the ICTP on reaching Trieste. The airline refused to give me assistance as there were thousands of other stranded passengers. I had no choice but to wait at the Rome airport. By late afternoon I was told I could take a special flight to Venice. I was not sure whether my eight dollars would cover the train fare from Venice to Trieste but I had no other choice. I found I could buy a train ticket to Trieste with the money I had. Instead of reaching Trieste on a weekday I reached there late on a Friday evening way past the working hours of the ICTP. At the Trieste Railway Station at a magazine kiosk I noticed Dr. Hemande, the Administrative Officer of the ICTP. He had come to buy newspapers. We exchanged greetings. He left by wishing me, See you on Monday. I could check in a Hotel near the Railway Station as it did not ask for deposit to be paid in advance. Now the challenge was to spend the weekend without any money. I contacted Mr. Carli, my former landlord. He invited me for lunch to his home. He picked me from my hotel, fed me well, and brought me back to my hotel. But I had to spend one more day without money. I have written this story to share the inconvenience caused by the foreign exchange policies of the Government of India then.
On Monday I could drawn an advance from the ICTP. I met Professor Salam. I told him my working conditions in Simla. On the spot he decided to give me financial assistance of US$ 200 for books and subscription of journals, and in addition the Library of the Centre was to send me photocopies of the articles on receiving my requests. This assistance to me from the ICTP was given to me for five years. I am happy to recall that I received support both from unknown and known well-wishers who were keen to help me in settling down in my home country.
I found out while in Trieste that the night train from Warsaw to Karpacz left at 10 pm. This information was insufficient as I had not realised that like in Delhi there could be several train stations in Warsaw. I was counting on getting the needed information on my arrival in Warsaw. I had not made the train bookings in advance and did not know the name of the Railway Station for taking the train. It was my mistake to have decided to travel in a foreign country without proper planning. A stranger realised my predicament. He took me to the right Railway Station, purchased a sleeper ticket for my journey and ensured that I occupied the allotted berth. I am indebted to that person in going out of his way in helping a foreigner.
I was happy to meet Cecile DeWitt. We held several fruitful discussions. I spent a pleasant two weeks in Karpacz. I made friends with Polish participants. One participant offered to take me with him to his home in Krakow. At the end of the Winter School I went by train to Krakow. I saw the beautiful ancient town of Krakow. I purchased an amber resin necklace for Asha. I reached Warsaw by train from Krakow. Another participant who lived in Warsaw met me on my arrival at the Railway Station. He had arranged my accommodation for the night with a landlady who took paying guests. In Warsaw I attended a live concert performance of the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra. After the concert I walked through Warsaws old town. It was rebuilt after the war to look exactly like what it was before it was razed to rubble. It had freshly laid cobblestone passages which were made to look centuries old. Each structure in the old town displayed its prewar picture and the picture of the rebuilt structure.
On my return I became actively involved with research activities. I published a paper in the Journal of Mathematical Physics on The Generalized Wiener-Feynman Path Integrals. At Karpacz Cecile had pointed out to me the linear Cameron-Martin transformations. I used them for working out general expressions of covariances for pro-distributions useful in quantum mechanics. This work was published in 1976. I had also published in 1975 a paper in the Journal of Physics titled Comment on Exact Evaluation of a Path Integral Relating to an Electron Gas in a Random Potential.
Asha joined St Bedes College as a lecturer in economics. We had moved into a newly constructed, beautiful apartment in Summer Hill. The Department of Physics also shifted from the Manse building to the newly constructed Science Block in Summer Hill. I was the Head of the Department of Physics of the University. Dr. Vinay Joshi joined the Department of Physics on his return to India after his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina. He became a family friend.We made a trip to Kalpa in Kinnaur with Vinay Joshi. Dr. Kayande lived in Boileaugunj not too far from where we lived. He mentioned that with his family he was immigrating to Canada. We bid him farewell and were happy to have known each other.
Gargi was four years old and was keen to go to school. Her grandmother came from Calcutta.On the first day of Gargis schooling she took her to the Loreto Convent School, Tara Hall.
Our main entertainment in Summer Hill was going to the Mall by the last train of the day to Simla. After strolling on the Mall we walked home 6 km carrying shoulder bags filled with shopping. Gargi walked the distance listening to stories. Our tea breaks on the way made the long walk manageable. We enjoyed our life in Simla. It was moving in rhythm.
I felt disappointed as a teacher. In spite of our teaching efforts our students did not come up to the standards essential for joining research work. I discovered that almost all of them were recruited by the Directorate of Secondary Education as post-graduate physics teachers. I started questioning the relevance of the curriculum of the M.Sc. course which was designed principally for education of students leading to career of teaching/research in physics. I realised that if the M.Sc. curriculum was reoriented with emphasis on basic physics concepts rather than on advanced physics concepts students would be better prepared for teaching in government-funded schools. I anticipated that it might result in domino effect as good teachers will provide good schooling which will give good students to colleges which will give good students to the University for higher studies.
Dr. R. K. Singh, the first Vice-Chancellor, had handpicked teachers for the University. There were many good teachers who had joined the new university. Like me he had handpicked Dr. Kalyan Chatterjee. He had a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago. The overall academic profile of the University was much superior to that of similar other institutions in the country. But the high academic profile of the University declined noticeably when many initially recruited teachers left and their places were filled locally. I now could not foresee a long term career in this University.
A chance encounter which changed my professional life occurred on a train journey from Calcutta to Delhi. At the Burdwan Railway Station I was pleasantly surprised when Dr. Kayande entered the coach. He told me that instead of going to Canada he had joined the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) as a Professor in Mathematics. He was at the Regional College of Education (RCE) Mysore of the NCERT. This institution had recently started M.Sc. Ed courses in physics, chemistry and mathematics for preparing postgraduate teachers in these subjects. The RCE from its inception was running four-year integrated B.Sc.Ed course for preparing science and mathematics secondary school teachers. Dr. A. K. Sharma, who was earlier teaching chemistry in the Punjab University Chandigarh, had joined the RCE Mysore as the Professor in Chemistry. Dr. Kayande mentioned that Dr. Rais Ahmed, a physics teacher himself from the Aligarh Muslim University, was the Director of the NCERT. He was keen to recruit a Professor in Physics for the RCE Mysore programme. What Dr. Kayande shared with me in that fateful train journey was akin to a similar idea I was toying with in my mind. Dr. Kayande suggested to me to join the RCE Mysore. He pointed out that Mysore City is on a plateau and its weather throughout the year is similar to that of Bangalore and is pleasant. I knew that Mysore was visited by a large number of tourists each day. Dr. Kayande said that on reaching Delhi he would send me the application form for applying to the NCERT for the post in Mysore.
Professor Cecile DeWitt wanted me to spend a semester at the University of Texas at Austin against a leave vacancy. She suggested that I should come there with my wife and daughter. I met the Vice-Chancellor of the University for granting me leave of absence for four and a half months to go to the University of Texas at University. I was shocked and disgusted by his response, Lock the Department of Physics and go! I asked Professor Cecile DeWitt to arrange my visit to Austin for a shorter period matching my winter vacations. She managed to invite me for seven weeks as a Visiting Professor in Mathematical Physics. Arranging a short term appointment for me involved procedural issues and by the time the offer was cleared I had only one week to join. As the appointment was for a short duration it was not possible for me to take Asha and Gargi with me. I would not have been able to meet the travel costs for three of us from the remuneration I was going to receive from the University of Texas at Austin.
I had gone to Delhi to make my travel bookings for going to Austin. I went to the Indian National Science Academy in Delhi for a physics seminar. I met there a professor from the University of Delhi who was one of the members of the selection committee of the NCERT which had interviewed me for the post of Professor in Physics. He knew me well as he had been my teacher. He congratulated me and mentioned to me that the NCERT has selected me as a Professor in Physics. In the Seminar I also met Professor E. C. G. Sudarshan, a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin. He was on a short visit to India. He knew of the offer made to me by his University. Perhaps, he was instrumental in arranging it. He was concerned that I should reach Austin in time to avail the offer. He knew a senior functionary in the Educational Wing of the US Embassy. He spoke to that person and asked me to take a letter from him before going to the Consular Section of the US Embassy for my visa.
My unpleasant meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of the Himachal Pradesh University and my general uneasiness in that institution contributed in making up my mind that I did not want to return to it. I was inclined to accept the NCERT offer. I left for Austin and reached in time for my short term appointment. Cecile had arranged an apartment for me in the Castilian Residence Hall walking distance away from the main campus of the University. She was expecting me with my family.
Cecile told me my assignment in Austin. I had no clue of it before leaving India. As it was a short term assignment I had no time in preparing for it after my arrival. I gave my first seminar less prepared than a novice gladiator released inside the colosseum filled with the Roman gentry interested in seeing action of ferocious lions waiting to devour him. Cecile asked me to teach a short course on Feynmans path integrals. For my first lecture I was pushed inside the seminar hall graced by luminaries such as Professor John Wheeler and other members of the distinguished physics faculty! I survived the ordeal and I do not want to remember how I had managed what was expected of me. I attended a course on product integrals in the Mathematics Department. I used product integrals in working out the Feynman-Kac expression for solution of the Schrodinger equation in the form of a path integral. I worked out the Liouville measure for the formulation of quantum mechanical propagator as a phase space Feynman path integral. Cecile DeWitt, B. Nelson and I wrote a paper Path Integration in Phase Space. This work was published in the journal General Relativity and Gravitation in 1977.
It was a pleasure meeting Yavuz Nutku after eight years. He had married again. He and his wife took me out in their open convertible car to an interior place in Texas about 100 miles from Austin. It had the look of John Waynes wild-west cowboy westerns with a saloon, bar and sheriffs office.
Professor Sudarshan invited me to his home for dinner to join his distinguished guest Professor Hans Bethe. Professor Bethe was the first person who understood the burning process inside stars. The legend is that while strolling with his wife in the campus of the Cornell University he told her that he was the only person in the world who knew how energy was produced by our own Sun which sustained life on earth. He was an outstanding teacher. I met Professor Bethe informally at Professor Sudarshans home and not in a physics seminar. I am happy to recall that I ate a South Indian meal served in thalis with a Nobel Laureate.I have so far restrained myself from mentioning that some of the physicists who played crucial role in my life were Nobel Laureates.
In Austin I mentioned to some of my friends that I may shift to the RCE Mysore. The physicists there discouraged me from making a radical shift in my career. One of them pointed out, What do you know of teacher education? It is a discipline like physics. You will make a mess of your life. You will neither be able to retain your identity as a physicist nor be able to acquire one of a teacher educator. Professor Sudarshan said, Let Amar try what he wants to do. But he gave me one year to indulge in my act of madness. He said, If in a year you are unable to adjust in Mysore we will pull you out from there. He was also the Chairman of the Centre for Theoretical Studies (CTS) in the Indian Institute of Science. He suggested to Cecile to spend three weeks in June-July of 1977 in Bangalore and asked me to spend three weeks in the CTS during Ceciles visit.
I am happy that on returning to India I spent my first five years in Simla. When I look back at those five years I find those were the happiest period in my personal life and were also the crucial years in my professional life. The Simla experience made me well adjusted with the working conditions in India. I realised that should I decide now to shift to some other institution in India I would not face problems of adjustment because working conditions there could not be worse than those I had worked with in Simla.
Once Gargi asked me what I did. She was disappointed when I told her I taught physics to students. She suggested, Bapu, why dont you sell candies and chocolates like the Uncle who sits outside my school? I was firm in my mind that I would prefer following Gargis suggestion to continuing any longer with the Himachal Pradesh University. I neither maintained my lien with the Himachal Pradesh University nor applied for professors post in it. I joined the RCE Mysore on June 15, 1977.