When I reached Mysore, the College was closed for the summer. Dr. A. K. Sharma was the Principal-in-charge. I was escorted to the office earmarked for the Professor in Physics. The Department of Physics was located in the Technology Building. It had a deserted look. The teachers were away on summer vacation. A girl with her hair dripping with oil entered my office and said, “Sir, my name is Vasanthammal. I will be your Personal Assistant (PA).” She had brought with her a typewriter. She occupied a table in a room adjoining my chamber.
Dr. Sharma was aware that there was general unhappiness in the physics teachers of the College because of my appointment. Their preferred choice for the post was Dr. V. Raja Madhav Rao, who was the Reader in Physics from the inception of the College, and was a local Kannadiga. Dr. Sharma was keen to help me. He had joined the college in 1975. He had to stay in a private accommodation for six months before he could get a quarter in the campus. He was aware that an independent quarter in the campus though of a level below my entitlement was vacant. He allotted it to me.
Dr. K. P. Nayak, the Principal, was a Kannadiga. He was unhappy that the NCERT had posted three North Indians as Professors in the Mysore College. As anticipated by Dr. Sharma attitude of Dr. Nayak towards me was not helpful. He would have raised technical objection that the vacant quarter was below my entitlement and delayed allotment of campus accommodation.
I had come to Mysore with clear ideas on the course curriculum for a postgraduate course with emphasis on basic concepts relevant to education of senior secondary physics teachers. I was by myself as the physics teachers were on vacation. I carried out an uninterrupted exercise of drafting syllabi of physics courses for the M.Sc.Ed and the B.Sc.Ed programmes. When the physics teachers saw the exercise I had carried out they were full of appreciation for it. Instead of raising technical objections such as what I had done was the prerogative of the Board of Studies of the University of Mysore they endorsed it in unison. This was my bold step in creating my working environment in the institution I had joined.
Cecile DeWitt had reached Bangalore and was staying in the Guest House of the Indian Institute of Science. I went to Bangalore and joined her in the CTS. We worked together for three weeks in writing a review article on Feynman’s Path Integrals based on our work. Cecile and I decided to be together in Trieste in the summer of 1978 for completing the review article.
Professor Sudarshan was also at the CTS. I attended an extraordinary lecture given by Professor Sudarshan. It was an evening lecture for a select audience. Professor Sudarshan spoke on Patanjali’s Yoga. He had with him a book on Patanjali’s Yoga written in Malayalam script. He showed us slides of pictures taken by him of his visit with Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Switzerland. In the slides he showed us visuals of persons performing yoga exercises. There were pictures of persons sitting in a group doing levitation. The levitation demonstrations did not show violation of Newton’s law of gravitation. Persons were not hanging in air. The pictures showed that persons could release energy from body and lift themselves like frogs before dropping back. Professor Sudarshan said that the book he had with him gave step-by-step instructions on how to release energy from the body and could be learnt by any person in six months of dedicated practice. He took me along with him to a friend’s house for dinner. I understand that there perhaps were demonstrations of yogic exercises. I was not given an opportunity to witness them and was sent back to the Guest House of the IISc.
Asha and Gargi reached Bangalore. I took them to Mysore with me. We had an unfurnished quarter. It had a garden space. We planted roses, hibiscus and bougainvilleas of different colours. Gargi was five years old. We came to know that recently a primary section had been added in the campus school, the Demonstration Multipurpose School, popularly known as the DMS. We admitted Gargi in the Class 1 in the DMS.
Dr. Kayande and Dr. Sharma were our neighbours. The RCE campus adjoined the campus of the University of Mysore known as the Manasagangotri. Across the road facing our house was the J.S.S. College of Engineering. There was a small gate in front of our house which we used for walking to a shopping area that catered to the residents living in Manasagangotri. In addition to grocery, fruit and vegetable shops the shopping complex had a bank and a post office. The city was multilingual. We could manage with Hindi. Prominent departmental stores and restaurants were owned by Hindi speaking persons. Mysore was a prominent tourist town of Karnataka. It was well known for its illuminated Vrindavan Gardens, Krishnaraj Sagar Dam, the City Palace, the Jaganmohan Palace, Chamundi Hill and the river island of Srirangapattan.
I would rate the physics teachers in the RCE Mysore higher than the colleagues I had in Simla. The teachers here did not claim they were researchers in physics. But they knew their basic physics well. They had undergone training in the use of the teaching-learning resources developed by the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) for the revival of physics education in US schools. In the late sixties summer schools for physics teachers based on the PSSC resources were conducted by experts from the US in RCE Mysore. The physics laboratories were well equipped and also had many PSSC kits. Teachers used teaching aids, demonstration experiments, and films in classroom teaching. Dr. Somnath Datta made innovative physics teaching aids. He was a civil engineer by education. He had switched his academic interests to physics and had done his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The B.Sc.Ed course students came from the Southern States and the M.Sc. Ed course was open to students from all the states of the country. The quality of the students was good.
In addition to the science and mathematics teachers, RCE Mysore had teachers in the disciplines of education, English, social sciences and the southern regional languages. Teachers in the discipline of education formed the core group of the traditional teacher education programme. Their areas of expertise were psychology of education, philosophy of education, and sociology of education, the core areas of the teacher education curriculum. I was disappointed when I interacted with them. They gave their student-teachers templates of how to write lesson plans and taught them the methodology of classroom transaction. But they were reluctant to use any of their teachings themselves. They barely knew their content subjects even to the level required for secondary schools. In contrast my physics colleagues were good teacher educators. An important part of preservice teacher education was use of the Methods Laboratory. In the Methods Laboratory, student-teachers practised classroom demonstration experiments.
We read in the newspapers that as the rains were good the Jog Falls were in full glory. We decided to visit the Jog Falls. We faced difficulty in finding transport for going to the city from the RCE campus.The nearest place from our home where auto-rickshaws were available was Saraswathipuram. It was a mile away from the campus. The College had a staff car and a staff jeep. The staff car was exclusively used by the Principal. I sent him a note that the staff car be made available to me on payment basis for going to the City Bus Stand with my family as public transport was not readily available. His initial reaction was to decline my request. Good sense prevailed, the staff car was sent to my residence.
Gargi was a natural traveller. She did not fuss over meals. I recall that at the Jog Falls, meals for visitors were available only in a canteen. I had difficulty in eating meal of rice with watery sambhar available in the canteen. But Gargi enjoyed it. The Sharvati River plunged down over 800 feet in four cascades namely Raja, Rani, Roarer and Rocket and formed the Jog Falls. We enjoyed our trip.
Gargi picked up Kannada and was happy in her school. I liked my teaching work. I could meet Jiji-Pitaji several times in a year as the NCERT invited me to attend meetings at its headquarters in New Delhi. The Department of Physics of the University of Mysore was at a walking distance from the RCE campus. Bangalore was well connected by road transport with Mysore. Every twenty minutes a bus left for Bangalore from Mysore. I could visit the Indian Institute of Science as and when I wanted.
In April 1978 I went to Trieste for spending three months in the ICTP. Cecile DeWitt also came to Trieste. We finished our monograph on Feynman’s Path Integrals. It was published as a Physics Report in 1978. The CNRS Marseille invited me to a theoretical physics seminar. Cecile was also there. I travelled by train from Trieste to Marseille. Cecile took me for a day outing to Les Baux to see the ruins of an old fort. She told me that aluminium ore was first found here and is therefore called bauxite.
I had spent a year at the RCE Mysore. I had taught both pre-service and in-service teacher education courses. All the same I retained my identity as a physicist. I was reasonably well settled and so were Asha and Gargi. I saw no reason why I should leave the RCE Mysore and shift to some mainline physics institution. I remained in the RCE Mysore. Our stay in Mysore got entrenched when Asha joined the Ph.D. programme of the University of Mysore under the guidance of Professor H. S. Gopal Rao. Gargi was happy with her school. She had made friends in the campus. With the help of Mr. Kuraishy I obtained roses from Bangalore. I liked bougainvilleas and collected exotic varieties. Our garden was full of colour.
I spent my summer of 1979 in the TIFR. In 1980 I went to Trieste for three months. Cecile invited me to Les Houches. The Les Houches Schools were held in chalets near the valley of Chamonix. There were glaciers nearby. The valley was in full bloom with Alpine flowers. Stations on Mont Blanc could be reached by chair car from Chamonix.It is a ski resort of France. In Les Houches I came across a newspaper clip on the death of Sanjay Gandhi in a plane accident.
On the 16th of February 1980, with Jiji and Pitaji, we saw the total solar eclipse from Magod Falls, a state park, not too far from Hubli. It was a grand celestial event. We saw the diamond ring and the grandeur of the beautiful solar corona during the totality period of the eclipse. For more than a minute we were mesmerised by the halo around the Sun. We saw stars in daytime in the sky. Jupiter was on the zenith. Pitaji declared, “What I have seen today has purified me and I will not take my after an eclipse ritual bath.”
Gargi was making good progress in her studies. One day when I was about to leave for the College she asked me to take her to an examination centre for the writing test for the Lekhak competition. I showed my hesitation as she had not told me earlier that she had signed up for some test. Her good luck was that her grandmother from Calcutta was visiting us. I heard her voice, “Amar, take Gargi to where she wants to go.” Gargi qualified in several rounds of the Lekhak competition and was one of the ten students from Karnataka selected for the final round of the competition. Gargi built on her Lekhak achievement and received the National Talent Search scholarship of the NCERT after qualifying its various rounds of tests.
I played a lead role in implementing in the NCERT the Computer Literacy and Studies in Schools (CLASS) project. The CLASS project was around use of the BBC microcomputers by school teachers with content free software such as word-processor, spread sheet, simulation experiments, LOGO, etcetera. The project was planned to be implemented in a cascade model. I converted a hall in the Technology Building into a Computer Resource Centre in the College and conducted training of resource persons for the next level training of school teachers. I had bought a Sinclair microcomputer in Europe. Using it involved a TV as monitor, a cassette player for data input and storage, a printer, and a 12 volt car battery as a power source. I purchased a computer table for organising paraphernalia required for working with this microcomputer. Each of its keys had multiple functions. It is amazing I could play with it though it was far from being user friendly. I developed application programmes for running on the Sinclair microcomputer. I learnt music code and programmed the Sinclair microcomputer and used its sound features for playing music such as nursery rhymes and the National Anthem. With the microcomputer I did data processing for Asha for her research work.
I took up a UNESCO project entitled ‘Technology in General Education’. My contributions to the project were well received in UNESCO. I was invited by UNESCO to present my work at its Headquarters in Paris. It was followed by an invitation to me to participate in the apex consultation meeting for the project held in Beijing.
I hosted the Annual Conference of High Energy Physics at the RCE Mysore. Professor Miyazawa and Professor Nishijima came to visit me. Professor Sudarshan visited me with an international team of physicists. I organised a summer school on General Relativity and Gravitation with support from the University Grants Commission. Professor C. N. R. Rao selected me to be one of the authors of the class XI and class XII physics textbooks for the NCERT. It was part of a national project on science which was being implemented under the direction of Professor C. N. R. Rao.
In 1983 Professor Abdus Salam made me an Associate of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste. It was a prestigious recognition as it entitled me to make three visits to the ICTP at a time of my choice for spending 90 days in each visit. My air tickets were sent by the ICTP and I was paid per diem during my visits. I made visits to the ICTP as its Associate in 1983, 1985 and 1987.
I had worked out a balance between my role as a physics teacher educator and as a physics researcher. I worked for nine months in the RCE Mysore and spent the remaining three months in the year either visiting ICTP (Trieste) or the IISc (Bangalore), or the TIFR (Bombay).
In Mysore I was fortunate to have come in contact with some exceptional persons whom I got to know professionally and as friends. I will like to recall them as they come to my mind and not necessarily in any order. Dr. S. K. Majumder, Deputy Director, Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI); Dr. D. P. Pattanayak, Director, Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL); Professor P. D. Mahadev, Professor H. S. Gopal Rao , University of Mysore; Dr. S. L. Byrappa, RCE Mysore; Dr. K. S. Hegde and Dr. Y. P. Rudrappa, Vice-Chancellors of the University of Mysore. Dr. Rudrappa was considered a difficult person to work with but my association with him was as a friend. He shared with me his extraordinary life story. He came from a poor scheduled caste family. His father was a basket weaver and lived in a village in Chamrajnagar, a backward Taluk of Mysore District. Rudrappa was a good student. For students similar to his background completing high school from the village school was no less challenging than scaling Mount Everest. Dr. Rudrappa mentioned that many of his friends who were brighter than him could not scale the summit of completing secondary school education. He came to Mysore to study PUC course after passing his secondary board examination. His sad experience was facing prejudice from his teachers in Mysore. They tried to ensure that he did not complete the PUC. They awarded him bare passing marks in the examination of practical courses. But he managed to pass. Taking the benefit of reservations for students belonging to the scheduled caste category he got admission in the Mysore Medical College. There was no looking back after that. By dint of putting in hard work he became the Director of Medical Education of Karnataka and finally occupied the apex office of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mysore.
I did not realise that I had spent ten happy years in the RCE Mysore. Gargi had passed her Secondary Board Examination with distinction. She was the first student in her school who had obtained a perfect score in mathematics. Asha had obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Mysore and was awarded Research Associateship by the UGC. I was in for a surprise. I was appointed as the Principal of the RCE Mysore. I became an educational administrator. My identity as a physicist became secondary. It was a major turn in my professional life. In the next sixteen years I discharged various responsibilities in educational administration both in higher education and in school education. All this will follow.
I assumed the office of the Principal in April 1987 and we moved from our quarter after having lived in it for ten years, to the Principal’s bungalow. I felt sad in leaving behind our beautiful garden which we had nurtured for ten years. I continued to teach physics courses along with my work as the Principal.
I faced an undercurrent of hostility towards me from a section of teachers. They disliked me because I had remained a physicist in spite of being on the faculty of the RCE Mysore for ten years. In my academic attitude I was different from the rest of the fraternity. But they could not touch me as there was general appreciation of my administrative and academic abilities both within the NCERT and outside it. I was sharp in taking decisions and ensured their implementation. I managed to implement many development projects in the campus. Most noticeable became the Guest House. It was recognised as the best facility of its type in the NCERT. It was an architecturally impressive building with solar water heating. I took personal interest in equipping it and furnishing it. I wanted it to be run on the model of the Guest House of the Indian Institute of Science. The Administrative Officer was shocked when I asked him to invite the Head Caretaker of the Guest House of the IISc for conducting induction training of the Guest House staff in running it effectively.
The RCE Mysore had a 110 acre campus. It looked shabby because its upkeep was not a priority of my predecessors. I made a plan for its horticultural development. I would not allow any visitor to the College to leave without planting a sapling in one of the designated places marked in the plan. I had a fascination for renewable energy. I came across a newspaper report that an environmental scientist had developed a solar plant which could convert parthenium weed into biogas. I noticed that campus had been invaded by parthenium weed. I managed to reach the expert and entrusted him to setup a biogas plant developed by him in my campus. It required an elevated long platform on which transparent bags filled with slurry mixed with parthenium could be exposed to Sun. I had selected a place for the plant which received abundant sunlight. The demonstration that bags containing biogas could be moved around and used in stoves caught the imagination of school students who shared this innovation with their parents. As the luck would have it a wild peepal tree took roots by the side of the biogas plant. I realised that if it was not shifted to an alternative location it would soon grow into a big tree and cover the biogas plant preventing sunlight from reaching it.
A section of both non-teaching and teaching staff were unhappy with me. I ensured a temporary structure which was constructed surreptitiously be razed before it could be given the status of a temple. The teachers were unhappy when they had come to know the adverse remarks endorsed by me on their Annual Confidential Reports (ACR). The Director, NCERT, had accepted my observations on the ACRs, which were communicated to the teachers. One teacher confronted me with the remarks on his ACR and in rage shouted at me, “Who is responsible for this?” I retorted back, “You are responsible for it!” He left crestfallen from my chamber. Teachers Union of the College resolved to protest against me by sitting silently outside my office each day for thirty minutes. They wanted to hurt me. They realised that I was most sensitive about my horticulture project in general and the biogas plant in particular. There was a neem tree near the biogas plant. In the middle of the night some persons did puja and wedded the peepal plant with the neem tree. The Conservator of Forest in Mysore had agreed to send his gardeners for shifting safely the peepal plant to an alternative location. I received a message from the staff that there would be riots in the campus should I get the married peepal plant shifted away from its spouse. One colleague contacted Asha on phone and said to her, “Is your husband not a Hindu?” I surrendered to this act of madness because this was not an issue worth a confrontation with irrational persons. Some years later when I visited RCE Mysore I saw that the biogas plant had been abandoned and was lying covered by the full grown peepal tree. They took out some more anger by pulling out a sapling planted by me marked with a placard of my name. I ignored this act of vandalism.
My reputation as an effective administrator was generally acknowledged even by my detractors and I became a well known person. The College was nearing its first twenty-five years of existence. I decided to make its silver jubilee a grand occasion. I asked Mr. Kuraishy to engage as many as forty gardeners on daily wage basis and raise gardens in the campus. I wanted a beautiful rose garden. I instructed the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to give a facelift to the campus buildings, renovate its three fountains and make them functional. Before long the RCE campus gained the status of a tourist post of Mysore. Students of the College invited their parents to visit their beautiful campus.
I invited the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Mr. P.Shivashankar; the Governor of Karnataka, Mr. P. Venkatsubbaiah; the Education Ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu; Dr. C. N. R. Rao, as the Keynote Speaker; all the former Vice-Chancellors of the University of Mysore; all the former Principals of the RCE Mysore to attend the Silver Jubilee function of the College. Dr. P. L. Malhotra, the Director of the NCERT, came from Delhi but he graciously told me, “It is your function. I am attending it as your guest.” It was a grand function. The Education Minister of Kerala, Mr. Chandrasekhran, specially came to attend the function but he reached Mysore late and could not attend it. The following day I met Mr. Chandrasekhran at lunch hosted by the Director of the CIIL for the members of the Governing Body of his institute. Mr. Chandrasekhran was keen to visit my College. Although it was a Sunday I arranged his visit and contacted my senior colleagues to join me in meeting the Education Minister of Kerala. He left my campus happy.
I had discontinued my annual pilgrimages to the ICTP or the TIFR or the IISc. In my present circumstances it was not prudent for me to leave my institution for three months at a stretch for doing research in physics. Gargi had passed her class XII with a brilliant performance and had qualified the Joint Entrance Test for admission to the IITs. She joined the five-year integrated course in Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology in IIT Delhi. Asha was made a Research Scientist by the UGC. I was happily discharging the duties of the Principal of the RCE Mysore.
One day I was pleasantly surprised when my Private Secretary Mr. Satyen transferred to me a telephone call of the Higher Education Secretary in the Government of Kerala. He asked for my consent for consideration of appointment as the Vice-Chancellor of the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). I checked with him if he was contacting me at the behest of the Education Minister of Kerala. He responded in affirmative. I sent him my bio-data. Some days later Mr. Chandrasekhran contacted me. He said, “Maheshwari, I want you to make a day visit to Trivandrum. The Higher Education Secretary, Mr. Badhan, will like to meet you as he has to present your candidature to the Search Committee. I want you to keep the entire matter including your visit confidential. Otherwise my plans will get upset.” I reached Trivandrum and met Mr. Badhan. He took me with him to meet Mr. Chandrasekhran. I saw Mr. Chandrasekhran stepping out of the Secretariat building. I wished him. He smiled and said, “I am unable to place you.” I replied, “Sir, I am Maheshwari. You have asked me to meet you.” He reacted, “Maheshwari, I am happy to see you. Will you wait with Mr. Badhan for thirty minutes. I have a party work to attend. I will join you shortly.” He had forgotten me by my face and yet remembered me from his visit to Mysore. He asked me if he could do something to make my Trivandrum visit pleasant. I suggested that I would like to visit Mitraniketan to meet my friend Mr. Viswanathan. He arranged it.
I was at home in Delhi when I received a call from Mr. Badhan. He asked me if I knew someone who could speak on my behalf to Professor Swaroop Singh, the Governor of Kerala, as the file with the recommendation for my appointment as the Vice-Chancellor was with him. Mr. Swaroop Singh was Professor of English in the University of Delhi. I contacted Professor D. S. Kothari. His reaction was, “Of course, I know Swaroop Singh well. But tell me what will you gain if you become the Vice-Chancellor and what will you lose if you do not get this position?” I told him, “Sir, the position is not important to me. I am sorry I contacted you in a moment of weakness.”
A few days later I received a telex message from the office of the Governor of Kerala that His Excellency is pleased to appoint Professor A. N. Maheshwari as the Vice-Chancellor of the Cochin University of Science and Technology.