It is a formidable task and enormous responsibility to steer an institute of IUCAA's proportion and reputation and more so to succeed the man like Jayant Narlikar whom we all hold in great admiration and awesome awe. It is impossible to step into his shoes, I will have to search for his slippers. With the combined efforts of all my committed colleagues and friends, and the friends and well wishers of IUCAA, I would humbly strive to take up the challenge and hope to measure upto it. The support and good will expressed in such an emphatic and warm manner from the friends all over is greatly gratifying and confidence boosting. For this I feel sincerely indebted.
Over 50 years down the negative time line I see a boy of 5 walking on the sandy path 3 miles everyday with other older boys to attend a school. Because his little village, Sarsali in the Churu District of Rajasthan had no school and the slightly bigger village, Dudhwakhara that boasted the three palatial havelies of the millioner seths had one courtesy the seths. When he came to the VI class, there was a new change in the life of school as well as its pupils. The school became a high school with new building having marble floors - marble being a local stone is not so uncommon in Rajasthan. There was a new headmaster, though a local man was coming from several years experience at the prestigious and rich public school of Pilani. He brought in the uniform, extramural activities, drama, music etc. It was a wonderfully refreshing opening out, writing poetry and performing, and sports and games competition and so on. For a small village school, it was a new avatar.
There was another very significant change, for the first time school had a science teacher - again a local man who did B.Sc. - a first from that area. He was also the hostel warden. It is this man who gave me the new direction and perception of reasoning out - rather instilling the spirit of asking questions. There occurred an incident which brought face to face a social issue. In the hostel, one of our mates was harijan who was always served by the upper caste boys. This the warden in his youthful zeal and enthusiasm objected and argued that there is no objective basis for such a discrimination. Some boys protested while some others like me were more than willing to go with this new thought. After a while boys who left hostel came back and all was well again with the new equilibrium.
It did leave something very valuable behind which I have consciously nourished all through. That is a sense of fairness and justice, and that is perhaps any case of unfairness in academics as well as otherwise lands unhesitatingly on my table. This man is Hariram Joshi who lives in Churu after a very successful teaching career, retiring as Principal of a Secondary School. I am sure there may be many like me whom he has perhaps even unconsciously shown the light and direction.
Had it not been for my brother, who is good 10 years older to me and had for the first time in that environ beaten the path beyond metric and gone to Pilani to study, I would have followed the standard trajectory of being a school teacher after metric and could have lived happily ever after jumping from one school to the other every few years. My job was easy simply to follow him and it was more necessitated by the fact science subject for higher secondary classes was not available in the village school and hence to Pilani. It is for the first time I met people from other parts of the country and also heard new languages, particularly from the south. Pilani campus community was very cosmopolitan so much so one could occasionally run into foreigners too. This was a great learning process and because of my innate positive disposition for new things and ideas I enjoyed it thoroughly. These were the early lessons in adaptability and liberal thought which fortunately has never left me and kept me in good stead.
For the first generation learners, parents were happy when you passed your annual exam - I remember my mother asking, have you passed when I said yes, she would say continently "Paise Vasool" - got back money's worth. Any further resolution in terms of marks and class was beyond her perception - those were the happy days. I happen to live for the first time with my brother during my Masters study at Vallabh-Vidyanagar. He had a group of literary friends, I absorbed through osmosis good bit of appreciation of literature and philosophy. My brother did write a book on existentialism in Hindi. It helped me gain a new dimension. Serious reading and writing, occasionally writing poetry too, have remained with me from that time, not counting what we indulged in the Dudhwakhara School.
One of Professor V V Narlikar's students, J Krishan Rao was my teacher in M. Sc. and he suggested that I should go and Join him for Ph.D. at Pune where he had just then moved in for his second innings of the academic career. I was anyway a free bird, nothing to pull back or push on other way, I landed in Pune on 1 Sept. 1966. The first person I met was Anil Gore, the present Head of the Statistics Dept. of Pune University. He was surprised that I had come so far off to study. Well, I told him that when you leave your village, every place is different from that and hence the distance too ceased to make much difference. It is he who opened to me the Marathi culture and life through Yukrand and the other social organizations. Awachat family, particularly Subhash and Indutai provided the emotional support in the initial stages. Strangely I ran into the well known Marathi literary critic Sa. Shi. Bhave and we instantly resonated and became friends. He brought me to Prabhakar Padhey's group that met and had discussions in the staff room of the Fergusson Collge. This is where I met the Marxist thinker and ideologue, Di. Ke. Bedekar. He had an uncanny knack of getting onto your floor and then beautifully expose the weakness of your argument or viewpoint. He had a great rapport with the younger people and my associationship with him was most endearing.
After Ph.D., joined Maths dept of Pune University in 1971 and had a long innings of 17 years. There were good many friends and colleagues who shared similar perspective and views on things and people around. There were number of occasions where people came together and voiced their protest against injustice and I thought this did keep the establishment under some check. Many heated discussions in the Teachers Forum meetings come to mind. Despite N S Narsimhan (of Chemistry dept) being much older and quite different in attitude and form yet we had and continue to have a very strong and warm friendship, perhaps the common thread is sincerity and honesty of our living.
Academically, I was able to build up a small active group in relativistic astrophysics in the Maths dept. and I had started making little noises of an astrophysics centre. Then something most fortuous happened. First Govind Swarup came with GMRT which was followed by Yash Pal's suggestion of setting up a common facility for the universities - an inter university centre. This challenge was picked up mid air by Jayant, and I was instantly in it. Bade goodbye to Pune University and joined IUCAA on 10th Feb. 1988 as its first member - the Project Coordinator. We started right from getting the land and then through interaction with Charles Correa to get the buildings through in good time and IUCAA was complete in Dec. 1992. Initially Jayant, Ajit Kembhavi and I worked as a very cohesive team which not only took care of multifarious tasks of buildings, other infrastructural developments and interaction with UGC and other agencies, also shared the vision of the new and unique experiment, IUCAA we had envisioned. Despite very hard work, it was the most rewarding and enriching experience. I have known Jayant right from my Ph.D. days but it was through this close interaction he became to me a friend, philosopher and guide. We have greatly enjoyed building IUCAA and feel quite gratified when we see our university colleagues using this common resource as it was conceived and dreamt of, not too far back - just 15 years back.
Apart from my revered teacher V V Narlikar, I have been greatly inspired by the two most distinguished relativists - the father figure to the Indian relativity community, P C Vaidya of Ahmedabad and A K Raychaudhuri of Kolkata. They have always stood as solid support for us in IUCAA and whenever the need arose we called upon them without hesitation for wise counsel and guidance, and they responded instantly, never mind whether it required them to travel long distances to come to IUCAA. Our interaction with them carries the parental concern and a respectful distance. Yet however I share a very warm and close bond with Raychaudhuri and which has over the period evolved into a very special and affectionate relation.
There are numerous other friends who have contributed in no small measure to my overall upbringing, I have named only a few of them who happen to play a critical role in my life at a given time. Not that the others contribution is not significant, my sincere apologies to them. For impact is always situation dependent and not so much on the relationship itself, and I have tried to look at the situations quite objectively. This list won't however be complete without the inclusion of the two women who have played very important role in my life. It is from my uneducated mother I inherit sincerity and honesty of purpose and behaviour, unfortunately not her genre of hard work. The other is Sadhana, who has been a fellow traveller sharing all the joy and strife in equal measure of the long journey of over 32 years. I should say that it is our mutual support and growing together that has kept us whole together as well as individually.
At this juncture of looking back and reflecting, I canít help wondering over the whole course and could do no more than feeling startled and deeply grateful and fortuous.
Now IUCAA has reached a critical point when Jayant after 15 years of excellent nurturing and moulding retires in July 2003. The young kid of sand dunes in a distant nondescript little village of Rajasthan, has now grown up and been chosen by some wise men to take up the steering from its creator to tow IUCAA on course and cover greater and wider distance. It feels like a mirage of enormous proportion. And mirage is more real in the desert than elsewhere.