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Guru Dakshina: The obscure tale of even obscurer Nobel Laureate

Guru Dakshina: The obscure tale of even obscurer Nobel Laureate

We humans fancy accolades. What could be a better achievement than to win a Nobel Prize for a scientist? True, we have a dearth of Nobel laureates in the subcontinent. Some went on to win the Nobel Prize some couldn’t. One surprise omission from the Nobel Prizes is Prof Satyendra Nath Bose having research traversed across Einstein’s theory of relativity and Planck’s quantum radiation law. Prof Bose couldn’t get a Nobel Prize but almost every physics student studies him. Even better, half of the world’s particles; BOSONS are named after him. As CERN would have it and I quote, “since its discovery Higgs boson has cemented its place in the standard model of particle physics. It has become invaluable in the search for new physics phenomena at the Large Hadron Collider [1].”

The anguish of exclusion of well deserving candidates from the Nobel Prize is understandable but have we really paid rich tributes to the ones who bagged it? Aadab. Narrated here is the story of one of the sons of the soil, scientist beyond excellence, peace advocate and philanthropist at heart, Prof Abdus Salam, FRS. The man whose work laid foundation to the discovery of the famous Higgs Boson particles [2].

Image: Sciencemag blogs
House of Dr. Abdus Salam, Jhang by Ali bukhari

Born prodigy, Prof Salam was relieved from all the household chores to focus on his studies [3]. Being a topper throughout, he excelled in Urdu and English literature. At Sanatan Dharma College, Lahore (later re-established in Ambala after the partition of India [4]), he found his new love for mathematics, owing to his professor. Following his passion, went abroad on a full scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge for a BA (double first-class Hons) in Mathematics and Physics. His doctoral thesis on the “Developments in the quantum theory of fields” garnered him an international reputation. His stint at home as Professor of Mathematics did not go well and he had to return to the UK for a lectureship at Cambridge and later Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London [5].

He made rich contributions to theoretical elementary particle physics. Beaming up with the fertile flow of ideas, Prof Salam weighed in his active and influential participation in international affairs concerned with science and technology. During his prime, he collaborated with and garnered the attraction of geniuses of his times like Robert Oppenheimer and Paul Dirac [6]. He founded the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) [7], Trieste, in Italy in 1964. His work “for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current” earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics 1979, thus becoming the first from his country and community to get one Nobel Prize [8].

Image: BBC article on Prof salam (Getty Images)

Soon after winning the Nobel Prize, Prof Salam made a request to then Indian Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi to locate his Mathematics professor from Sanatan Dharma College, Lahore who instilled the love for mathematics in him. Prof Anilendra Ganguly had migrated to India after the partition in 1947. Two years after receiving his Nobel Prize, Prof Salam paid a visit to his teacher Prof Ganguly’s residence in South Kolkata [9].

Feeble and weak Prof Ganguly could not even get up from his ailing bed. Prof Salam took his Nobel Prize Medal and garlanded it across his neck saying ‘This is your prize, sir. It’s not mine.’ Prof Salam stated that the ‘Nobel Prize was a result of the teaching and love of mathematics that you instilled in me.’ This was 50 years after Prof Ganguly has taught him at the Sanatan Dharma College, Lahore [9].

 

Image: Twitter/Ehsan

Image: Twitter/Ehsan

Another interesting story following the aftermath of this story floats the social media. The University of Calcutta, to honour Prof Salam’s achievements decided to bestow the Debaprasad Sarbadhikary Gold Medal. Instead of accepting this medal, Prof Salam declined and asked it was his teacher who deserved it. The university held this award ceremony at Prof Ganguly’s residence. No one was more contented than Prof Salam seeing his teacher his due respect at last [10].

This is the Guru Dakshina Prof Ganguly deserved and students like Prof Salam are the true flag-bearers of the Guru-Shishya tradition. Despite being the first ****** to win a Nobel Prize, he was disowned in his country for his faith. We need to honour our heroes. Heroes, who transcend the boundary of religion, country, caste or creed.

© Tryambak Srivastava

Footnotes:

  1. https://home.cern/science/physics/higgs-boson
  2. The Pakistani physicist’s work led to the discovery of the Higgs boson, but he was disowned in his home country for his faith. Now a Netflix film is putting him back in the spotlight. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20191014-abdus-salam-the-muslim-science-genius-forgotten-by-history
  3. Salam – The First ****** Nobel Laureate https://www.netflix.com/in/title/81191195
  4. Welcome to official website of S.D College (Lahore), Ambala Cantt https://web.archive.org/web/20131109094420/http://www.mindfreakers.net/sdc/
  5. Abdus Salam Biographical https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1979/salam/biographical/
  6. Tribute to Abdus Salam: commemoration day, 21 November 1997 https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000119078_eng
  7. The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) https://www.ictp.it/
  8. The Nobel Prize in Physics 1979 https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1979/summary/
  9. Abdus Salam and his Hindu teacher https://themuslimtimes.info/2019/10/08/dr-abdus-salam-and-his-hindu-teacher/
  10. https://twitter.com/_Sanobar/status/1184345774991085568
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