This two-part tribute was published in December 1970 and January 1971 on the pages of Public Affairs, a monthly journal published by the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs. —Editors
It was my good fortune to receive many marks of personal kindness from the late Dr. C. V. Raman. On the human side, he was as admirable and lovable as he was eminent as a scientist. He was a kindly, sympathetic man — despite occasional barbs of irony and invective darting out for those who deserved them. On such occasions, the disinterested third party would laugh as at the peeve of a good child. The barb had no venom in it. And the barb was soon followed by the balm of generous friendliness.
Raman was a fascinated by the beauties of Nature as he was provoked by the challenges of her mystery. An expansive lake of clear water, a running brook, the green on the tree, the warble of the bird on its wing, the glory of sunrise, the serene glow of the sunset hour — all such sights and sounds filled him with rapture. Susceptible he was as well to the intimations of literature and music and art. I remember many instances. Years ago, he bought a small agricultural estate near Bangalore and every time he chanced to meet a friend, he would speak with his characteristic enthusiasm about the loveliness of the view there — the water-tank and the ripples in the small rivulet, the woodland and the clear blue sky.
Years before he took charge of the Indian Institute of Science, he used to be a frequent visitor to Bangalore and would, in those days, be the guest of Mr. K. S. Chandrasekhara Iyer (later on Chief Judge of the High Court). They had two interests in common: music and mathematics. Both came together and sat together to listen to concerts of music arranged by a Music Sabha. We could see how absorbed they were in the raga elaboration and the rhythm of its movement. Dr. Raman’s was a double interest — scientific as well as aesthetic. All know of his work in sonics. He devoted hours and hours of time that should have been given to sleep and recuperation to the measuring of sound waves in depth and velocity when set moving on the mrdanga or tabla.
And an experience I can never forget is of the poetic in him. A literary association, mainly of lawyers in Bangalore, had C. V. as the speaker on one of their jubilee days. It was an extempore speech and it occurred to him to dwell upon what he saw and felt in certain countries of Europe, and the chief country to him was Greece — Greece the mother of whatever is of seminal and imperishable value in the civilization of Europe. What came from Raman then was inspired eloquence. It was a vivid memory-picture of the sculptural and architectural riches of Athens, her great amphitheatre, the noble columns and the ancient fanes. His words and gestures threw a spell on the audience and when he finished we felt like people returned from a land of wondrous beauty to our own.
After Greece came Rome. He dismissed this topic in two or three sentences. In reply to a remark of mine to the effect that Rome contributed to Law, he expressed his impatience by a gesture and said: “Law, what is law? Law restricts life; art enriches and enlarges life.”
Raman revelled in literature. His reading was both wide and deep. He knew Sanskrit and Telugu among Indian languages besides his native Tamil, and he was a devoted student of the Ramayana of Valmiki. In English he did not despise the modern. He once spoke to me appreciatively of John Buchan (Lord Tweedsmuir) and offered to give me a set of Buchan.
He was a most effective public speaker. He chose phrases of power and vividness, and there was animation in his voice. “Amazing” was one of his favourite expressions. When listening to him, you were in the grip of his gaze and could not let yourself move this side or that. You imbibed all and understood all. Such was the illusion created. You of course understood a little — just so much as your intellectual preparedness in the subject qualified you to understand. For the rest it was all the nebulous luminosity of a magnificent mind communicating with yours.
Raman was a free-handed giver. And a ready forgiver. He was no accumulator of wealth, and my impression is that the Nobel Prize money was all spent away years ago. He visited Assam. The vast woods and forestland caught his fancy. He bought land and forgot all about it — until a Government tax notice came to remind him. He bought sites in Madras to build a laboratory for himself and then changed his mind and forgot his ownership. He nourished his Academy of Science which cost him not a little, and had to build and equip his own Physics Institute. And he was trustful. He was cheated, and when he discovered it, he laughed it out, admiring the cleverness of the cheat. How can you help being in love with such simplicity and goodness of heart married to such a giant of intellect?
We were sitting at a tea party on the lawns of the house of a friend who was our host, the occasion being a marriage in his house. C. V. caught hold of me by the arm and said (in Tamil): “Look at that house there; the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge is not bigger. It is in such a small place that the Rutherfords did all their work and there are seven Nobel Laureates working there. What is the use of towers and colonnades? You must have men first to make use of your halls and equipment.”
The party was going on entertaining itself with the refreshments placed on the tables. But C. V. went on talking as though he had not noticed the guests or the entertainment. Sir Mirza kept smiling all the time and gently reminded Raman that he was at a tea party. Raman immediately woke up to the fact and took a glass of water to sip it. But having taken one sip or two, he turned to Sir Mirza and began lecturing: “Water is of two kinds: soft water and hard water,” and so on and on. We were all amazed and Mirza could not help laughing. Such was his enthusiasm for the subject. He would have gone on if the Guardian Angel of his life, Lady Lokasundari Raman, had not interrupted and drawn his attention to the delicious dishes in front of him.
Raman was not without idiosyncrasies. But before they could touch the world, they were made smooth and harmless by the graciousness and tactfulness of Lady Raman. How much we are indebted to her for what he meant to us is more than can be measured. She had a genius for self-suppression as well as for judgment. She kept guard over what he ate, and when he ate, and how much he ate; over what he wore, and how he wore it. It must be said to his credit that he submitted himself cheerfully to her disciplining. But for her, Raman’s life should have been disorder and chaos. It might justly be said that the great scientist was never greater than when he deferred to her.
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Some two months after Dr. C. V. Raman took charge as Director of the Indian Institute of Science, I went there one morning to pay my respects to the new Director. He said on seeing me (in Tamil): “Come on. You have come at the proper time. You are precisely the man I wanted here now.”
You will see presently.
C.V.R. asked a servant to fetch the visitor who had sent in his card. The gentleman was the Secretary or Prefect of a students’ mess attached to the Institute of Science.
C.V.R.: What is the great business sir?
Visitor: I represent the Andhra mess. The cooks in our mess are Tamilians. They make everything insipid. We cannot relish the food. We want more chillies, etc.
C.V.R.: I shall see what the matter is.
The visitor goes, another comes: “I come from the Bengali mess. We want a change of cooks. The cooks we have make things so hot. They are Andhras. We want sweet dishes. They don’t know how to cook things for us.”
C.V.R.: Very well. I’ll look into the matter.
Then complaints of the Mahratta mess and of the Karnataka mess and of the Malayali mess.
By this time, C.V.R.’s patience had come to an end. Turning to me he said: “See the kind of research going on here? Gastronomics is the only science here.”
C. V. sent for the visitors, many of whom were loitering about there. When they came, he let himself go for them hammer and tongs: “Gentlemen, what are you here for? For gourmandizing or for pursuing some problem in your subject? Does it matter so much to you whether salt is a pinch more or sugar a pinch less? None of you has told me of any difficulty in your study, but so many of you are so ready to pull a long face over tamarind or chillies. No. I can have no patience with this kind of thing” — so on and on. This was in sharp contrast with their previous experience.
Dr. Forster was an able man — eminent in his branch of chemistry and also a good man. I saw him as a colleague on several university bodies. His policy was to go at it easy. He patronized the Gymkhana Club of IISc and let the students have the luxuries they wanted. He was jovial and joined in their tittle-tattle. He never seriously inquired the students about their work. The Englishman’s theory generally was: “Young men at graduate and post-graduate levels are gentlemen with a sense of their responsibility. It is not proper to frighten them with inspection and criticism. Let them be free with their time and their money.” It is not surprising that popularity came to him and not to Raman.
Raman was an early riser. One day he took it into his head to walk in the direction of the hostel buildings. What did he find? Some students had put their cots in the verandahs and were still in bed — after 6 o’clock! Could that be passed over? No. Raman went near a cot and raised a corner of the curtain over the bed with the end of his walking stick, admonishing the student aloud in his characteristic style. “What! Have you come here to sleep your life away? Is this how you do research work? Morning is a precious time for the student. This is the time when you should apply your mind to your problem. You are a lot of lazy lubbers here. This won’t do when I am here,” and so on.
Another time when he was going his morning rounds his eye chanced to fall upon what looked like a brandy-bottle or a beer bottle in a student’s room, and Raman burst out at once in red-hot anger. The student pleaded that it was not his and belonged to the Gymkhana. But could that pacify Raman? “I don’t care whose it is. If I see such a thing with any student or in the Gymkhana, I’ll drive you all out and close your Gymkhana. Do you see?”
Raman did not suffer fools gladly, nor pretenders. One day a group of them were walking along, and someone among them, sighted a lantana or some other shrub by the roadside and said: “Here is ready-made riches for the country. There is instant fuel in it.” Raman reacted at once: “Will someone bring a match? Let us test and prove the professor’s words.” They all laughed and none could help laughing. But now, could the professor gulp it down? He was of course foolish, as all could see. But is that not a different matter — his foolishness and his ambition to be taken for an omniscient scientist? Fate threw Raman often into such companionship.
Is this the kind of man that can win popularity or peace for himself? The mouth that is the quickest to lick food off your hand is not the slowest to bite the very same hand when angered, and anger is the easy reaction of guilty conscience when irony or sarcasm hints at it. Raman called for himself such ingratitude from many small men. He suffered at the hands of small men who tried hard to look big.
Sir Mirza Ismail was a staunch friend of Raman’s. As Dewan of Mysore he had a voice in the affairs of the IISc. The British Resident had a voice as representing the Viceroy. Sir. M. Visvesvarya also had a voice. All three supported Raman, — although the British Resident’s attitude changed later on. Sir Mirza and Sir M. Visvesvarya were extremely unhappy when C. V. Raman severed his connection with the Institute.
Sir Mirza’s admiration and affection never diminished. Sir Mirza would get up a small tea party now and then, and when asking friends to it, he would mention as an attraction “Sir C. V. will come. We will have a lively time.” At one such party, Sir C. V. and Sir S. Radhakrishnan were fellow-guests. The talk of course was a “feast of reason and flow of soul.”
Raman was in the chair at a symposium, on the question of languages, got up by a Science Association in Bangalore. When my name was mentioned by the Secretary, Sir C. V. cried “Kannada, Kannada.” I said that I would speak gladly in Kannada; but could the audience follow me? There were a large number of Tamils and Telugus and Bengalis there; besides certain others who knew not a word of Kannada. When I stood up, some people shouted “English, please” and I obeyed. Winding up, C. V. said two things: (1) that our emphasizing the local language beyond a point would weaken all-Indian unity; and (2) who can tell, we may come to having to learn Russian someday. I can recall other occasions of Raman’s remarking to me that things in India seemed to tend in the direction of Russia.
Among the close friends of C. V. in Bangalore was Dr. B. K. Narayana Rao the ophthalmologist. It was at B.K.N.’s — over generous plates of delicacies and refreshing coffee — that the first plans of the National Academy of Sciences were drawn — among other participants being Prof. B. Venkateshchar, Prof. C. R. Narayana Rao, Dr. S. Subba Rao and one or two others.
About the time when the relics of Buddhist saints Sariputta and Muggalayana were much in the news, there was some conference in Trivandrum which C. V. attended. Dr. Bhabha was there, and there was also Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister then. Here is a bit of the talk which took place at the tea-party held in honour of the Prime Minister.
C.V.R.: I say, Bhabha, do you know anything about those old bones?
Bhabha: Which bones?
C.V.R.: The bones which the Prime Minister carried on his head and went in procession.
J.N.: They are powerful bones, you know.
C.V.R.: Powerful in politics, I suppose … So, religion has some uses for politicians.
Raman sometimes affected fear of Government. When asked to comment on anything public, he would shrug his shoulders and say: “Don’t you remember I am a Government servant, as the recipient of a Fellowship?”
Raman’s was no one-way-traffic mind. He could see more aspects than one to any proposition. His remarks on things in general are not to be taken as the final summing-up of his thought on any subject. He could be off-handiest in speech, particularly on political topics, and often made himself liable to be misunderstood.
The Rt. Hon. V. S. Srinivasa Sastri had warm affection and deep regard for C.V.R. Once at a large students’ meeting in Arcot Narayanaswami’s School, C.V.R. spoke and V.S.S. was in the Chair. We listened to two splendid speeches, each good in its different way; and as we were returning, I remember Sastri remarking to me, in a rather sad, disappointed tone, about some hasty word that had fallen from the lips of C.V.R. Sastri immediately tried to revise that comment of his: “No Sir, Raman is an independent-minded, thoughtful man. I put him alongside of Gokhale for some of his qualities. But Raman’s anxiety to see things go well sometimes carries him too far. We must be patient with him.”
Raman was mercurial and therefore his mind expressed itself only in part at any one moment. When I said something about journalism or democracy, he would immediately react by saying something the very opposite of what I had said. The company of such a man helps. It brings to your view an aspect of the matter to which you had not given sufficient attention. He redresses balance and corrects. Whenever I had a chance to meet him, I knew that when we began talking to each other, we would come to a clash. But that did not matter in the least either to him or to me.
Raman was a simple man who found happiness in simple things and doubled that happiness by sharing it with others. I chanced to go to the Institute of Science the morning after his return from Mysore, having received the title of Raja-sabha-bhushana from His Highness the Maharaja. He stood beaming in the lace turban and uttariya in the Mysore style. He spoke to one and all about it, bubbling with the joy of a child who has received a glittering new toy. Not that he exaggerated its significance by an iota. The significant thing is that he did not under-value it either. He did not affect cynicism. He let himself be seen that he is not above feeling delight in what delighted so many of his ordinary fellow-humans.
There used to be a small joke between us. The Harijan paper of the Mahatma published an extract from a letter of Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy in which the celebrated savant of India’s culture and philosophy had put poor me among some half-a-dozen Indians recommended for study to his correspondent. How Dr. Coomaraswamy ever came to know of my existence, I have no means of knowing. I never had an opportunity of meeting him. But there the high compliment was, from a great man and endorsed in a sense by another great man. This was matter for funny comment for both of us. C. V. would make namaste to me with great solemnity, and we would both laugh.
Some years ago, a meeting took place in the auditorium of the National College to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Dr. B. K. Narayana Rao, Chairman of the College Committee. C. V. Raman arrived there a few minutes before the time fixed and seated himself on a chair. I went there two or three minutes later. C.V.R. made a sign to me; he made a motion as though to get up, and with a pained look on the face he said: “You must come here and shake hands with me, — great man, — I can’t get up because of a severe stiffness in the back.” But he wore a smile on the face. I said; “Greatness lies where stiffness is in the back; my back is not stiff.” Did he not laugh? O he said: the stiffness and pain had gone in the laughter.
This stiffness too was an exaggeration meant, of course, to make it easy for me.
About ten months ago, Lady Raman came to my house one afternoon with gift of honey and fruit. She said (in Tamil): “The yajaman has asked me to tell you that you must use honey (one or two spoons) as part of your food every day. He has heard that you are in poor health; we want you to get better.” How can anyone help being moved by such warmth of kindliness. What stands out in Raman, next to his achievements in Physics, is his human personality. He was kindly, affectionate and appreciative of things valued by his fellow-humans. He loved a joke; he loved to laugh; he loved to be kindly and helpful.