A Few Recollections and Reflections
My memories of the Banaras Hindu University (1932-1960) are so many, so rich and so happy that they make the University to me ‘मधुर मनोहर अतीव सुन्दर’.
I remember my first trip when I got down at the Banaras Cantonment station on the 15th or 16th August, 1932 soon after midnight. I was received at the station by a few post-graduate students of Mathematics and taken by taxi to the house of Dr. S.S. Joshi. The very next evening I gave a talk on “The Expanding Universe” in the New Physics Lecture Theatre. Acharya A.B. Dhruva, Pro-Vice Chancellor, was in the chair. The hall was packed and my lecture was well received. The next day Pt. Malaviyaji who had met me at Cambridge in 1931 saw my reprints and the testimonial about the quality of my work that Professor Sir A.S. Eddington had given me for use in India. After two days Malaviyaji invited Dr. S.S. Joshi and me to see him in the evening. In the meanwhile I was shown the University. I met Dr. S.C. De, the Head of the Department of Mathematics and my old friend, Dr. S.D. Chowla, who was a Professor of Mathematics then in the Central Hindu College. I had no intention then of joining the University. I was an Issac Newton Student at Cambridge, two years had yet to run out of the Studentship and I had a ticket for the return passage to London in September.
At 7.30 p.m., as we walked briskly to Panditji’s quarters, Dr. Joshi and I could see the beauty of the campus in moonlight, the hostels, the playgrounds and the college buildings beyond. It was sufficient to set my mind thinking about the sanctity of Banaras and the holy Ganga, of the great teachers, saints and scholars that had visited or stayed at Banaras. With these thoughts uppermost in my mind we arrived at the destination where we saw the shining, smiling face of the venerable panditji at the centre, in the front room, as we crossed the gate. I need not go into details. We talked and discussed many matters for about an hour. No one else was present. In the course of an hour I had a signed a contract agreeing to serve the University for ten years. The terms offered were generous and exceeded the expectations of my friends and well-wishers like Sir R.P. Paranjpye. Thus I entered the service of the University on August 20, 1932.
After all the admissions were over Panditji used to give in the first term, every year an address to the entire staff and students of the University. Within a few days of my joining the University I had the opportunity of hearing this address in August 1932. It was in the hall which became known later as the Shivaji Hall. The hall was packed. It was a hot afternoon. The address commenced at 3 p.m. and ended by 5.30 p.m. Panditji was at the height of his powers. “Always aim high in your studies, in your athletic and sports activities, in your social and cultural activities.” This was the gist and to make the point effective, Panditji gave in his support a number of illustrations and cited effective quotations in Sanskrit and English. He spoke in simple Hindi. Early in the course of the address I was overwhelmed with embarrassment when he made me stand up and introduced me to the audience with some good words about me. The address seemed to be specially meant for me. I was expected to rise higher and higher n my profession by confining myself to teaching and research. It was probably in this address, or soon afterwards in another address, he summed up his exhortation with the verse:
सत्येन ब्रह्मचर्येण व्यायामेनाथ विद्द्या I
देशभक्त्या आत्मत्यागेन सम्मानार्ह: सदा भव II
To me, at the age of about 24 and in an impressionable state of mind, this was a tremendous experience.
Panditji used to remain present at the popular lectures on science arranged by Dr. S.S. Joshi or some other professor. If there was any disturbance in the crowd made by noisy students it was immediatly, quelled by a characteristic gesture. Panditji struck the palm of his left hand with two fingers of the right hand. The effect was immediate. It was indicative of the high regard in which Panditji was held by the students at the time.
Attending a Student ill of Cholera: At 7.30 p.m., we started back, Pt. Ram Narayanji gave Panditji an urgent message just received from the University Hospital. On the way back we got down at the Hospital. Dr. P.N. Mishra was called. He came running and reported the condition of the university student who was seriously ill of cholera. As Panditji proceeded to the special ward where the student was, I insisted on accompanying him. He rebuked me and prevented me. Within ten minutes he was back. He had cheered up the patient and assured him that everything possible was being done for his early recovery. He saw to it that Dr. Mishra had everything that he wanted at his disposal. I was so overwhelmed by Panditji’s concern for students that one of the things that I did later was to visit regularly the students’ ward and later the general wards also. I was for many years a member of the Executive Council and I am glad that I could be of some effective service to the students in the hospital from time to time. Panditji was thus a constant source of inspiration to those who had the good fortune of being associated with him.