My Father-in-Law and Mother-in-Law - A Tribute


Amar Maheshwari








††††††††† I wish now I knew my father-in-law more than I know of him from glimpses of his collection of books, his journals and letters he had sent to his wife when he was a 21 year old student at Lahore. He was an intellectual aristocrat and a truly educated person. He perhaps may have been one of the few persons in India who possessed and had read the 54 volume set of the Great Books of the Western World brought out by Professor Robert Maynard Hutchins as their Chief Editor. Hutchins had had the longest tenure as the President of the University of Chicago. He considered education in humanities as the foundation of human thought and knowledge. It may be appreciated that Hutchins during his long tenure collected at the University of Chicago the best minds of the world in all branches of knowledge particularly science and maths and brought to it scientists such as S. Chandrasekhar, Enrico Fermi and a galaxy of intellectual giants to all the faculties of the University and was responsible for setting up the Centre for South Asian Studies and making the University of Chicago a premier university. My contacts with father-in-law were not too many and he left us before I could know him better. Although I possessed a Ph.D. degree in physics from the University of Chicago and had research experience but when I look back my good fortune was that he associated me with his family being fully aware I lacked what he considered holistic education based in humanities.


††††††† He came to our home in New Delhi with his brother who my father knew as both of them were senior civil servants in the Government of India. Mr. K. N. Jain was looking for a suitable boy for his daughter. My father had told me in the morning that day that Mr Jain from Calcutta will visit us in the evening and I should be at home. I had been visited earlier by many persons who wanted to consider me as a possible match for their daughter. They were disappointed because I was indifferent to my future prospects. Mr. K. N. Jain asked me what my immediate plans were. I told him that at the September end of 1971 I was leaving India for spending a year at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics at Trieste in Italy. I had not planned then what I would do next. I was a Pool Officer of the CSIR and was spending it at the University of Delhi, as I had planned to stay with my parents for one year. He did not ask me any other question and asked my father that he should see his daughter to consider her as a match for his son. Later in the evening my father showed me the bio-data of Asha and suggested that I should also reach Calcutta as he was going there on an official visit and that he would arrange a train ticket for me to reach Calcutta during his visit. I will not recall here details of my visit and my good fortune of my marriage with Asha within three weeks of that fateful visit of Mr. Jain.


††††††† Shortly after my marriage I came to Calcutta to take Asha to my home with me as my wife. During this short visit to him he took me with him to meet his close friends.I stayed in a room in the lower portion of the house where he had his rich collection of books and his bedroom. The rest of the family lived in the upper portion of the house. He briefly told me of his interest in English poetry and told me that he was reading then Sri Aurobindoís epic poem Savitri. As I have admitted in the beginning of this tribute I lacked his interest in English literature, philosophy, history and arts I could not assess his deep knowledge of humanities and intellectual abilities. I did write him a few letters from Trieste but he found them to be forced pieces of writing and wrote me back that I need not spend my time in writing to him as Asha was a good communicator.


††††††† As the fate would have it I became during my career the Vice Chancellor of Cochin University of Science and Technology, a post equivalent to the President of a university in America. I had to discover my inner potentials in order to lead the most prestigious institution in Kerala. In addition to faculties in science and technology the University had faculties in humanities. My communication skills both oral and writing surfaced out. I had to grasp significance of proposals submitted by academics in order to provide financial support and pursue their acceptance and release of funds both from the State Government and the Central Government. I have given an account of my academic career in the book I wrote as my tribute to my father on his centenary. My father-in-law would have liked it and been proud of me. Recently, I learnt reading Urdu and have been able to browse his journal in which he wrote by hand using a calligraphy style Urdu poetry. Poets he liked were Ghalib, Iqbal and other eminent poets whom I am unable to identify. Poetry he liked were on deep thoughts on life and human emotions expressed using both Persian and Hindustani words. Though, I have not been able to understand his selection of poetry, jottings in his journal made me think on eternal questions on life and death.I have tried to answer some of his concerns using natural science.My response to his jottings is given in the linked article Life on Earth. He would have found that although I did not become truly educated as per his standards, all the same, I may have acquitted myself worthy of the trust he reposed in me.


††††††† My mother-in-law was an exceptional person for she loved all her children and their spouses equally. She was one person who could put at ease all those who came in her contact. She left everlasting impression of a loving mother who supported me at all stages of my life. As a centenary tribute has been contributed by her children and grand children I may not have much to add in terms of anecdotes.


††††††† It is my good fortune in life that I became a part of the family of my late father-in-law and mother-in-law. I have written this brief note as a token of my tribute to them on the occasion of their centenary celebrations.