An Elegiac Gulzar

UntitledShri-GulzarThe many treats on campus in the last couple of weeks- that included the concert by Hariprasad Chaurasia, the lectures by Sivakami, Sharankumar Limbale, C. Rangarajan and by Gopalkrishna Gandhi– were capped, as it were, by the short but intense visit of the poet Gulzar.

Gulzar (aka Sampooran Singh Kalra) came to collect the honorary doctorate that we had conferred upon him at the convocation in October this year, and in the hour-long ceremony, interacted with a full audience in the DST Auditorium. To welcome him to the UoH the Head of the Department of Urdu, Professor Muzaffer Ali Shahmiri had written four stanzas, reproduced on the left (in the Devnagari script).

Gulzar’s acceptance speech was gracious, and much of the question and answer session that followed centred around his poetry and the films that he had written and directed. As the brief discussion drew to an end, though, he let his regret show, that although he had stopped making movies nearly twenty years earlier, the audience focused mostly on that and not his books…

9780670085897And his books- there are as many as 74 listed on Goodreads, with four on the Penguin current list (in English)- are on varied topics for diverse audiences. Poems for the environment, for children, and many collections of short stories, some familiar from the movies that were made from them, but all of them touching several chords. “Kitaabain jhankti hain band almari ke sheeshoon se,” he said, a touch of sadness, “badi hasrat se takti hain maheenon ab mulaqaatain nahi hoti”.

Gulzar1-400x300So much of Gulzar’s legacy is accessible through the visual medium of the movies, but there is also the socially conscious poet and writer who insists that we need to read his work, not just to be spoken to by his songs and dialogues, in order to truly understand what he is all about.

There is much truth in that, and his books not only beckon from behind the closed doors of almirahs, they now also come to us on other devices and platforms, waiting and indeed wanting to be read. One cannot but agree;  opening a book is a good way to also open a mind…


Bend it like Zohra

zsAt recent meetings of the Academic and Executive Councils of the University, we had decided to confer the degree of Doctor of Arts (honoris causa) on Zohra Segal, doyenne of Indian theatre and cinema. Since she wrote to say she was unable to travel to Hyderabad, this was to have been presented to her daughter at our convocation on October 1 this year (see the correspondence below),  but now will be given posthumously.

I had written to her daughter, the Odissi dancer Kiran Segal on 25 June:

Dear Ms Sehgal [sic], I am very pleased to convey the information that the University of Hyderabad wishes to confer the degree of Doctor of Arts (honoris causa) upon your mother, Mrs Zohra Sehgal. We would be most honoured if she would accept this degree at the next convocation which will be on October 1, 2014.

The Departments of Theatre Arts in the Sarojini Naidu School would also like it if she would kindly agree to give a distinguished lecture at the University around that time and interact with the faculty and students.

We do hope that she will agree to be with us in October and I look forward to hearing from you. With regards, etc.

to which I got the very gracious response on 30 June:

zohrasegalDear Mr. Ramaswamy,

Thank you very much for the honour that your University is bestowing upon me! I am now 102 years old and therefore unable to travel anywhere. I hope you understand.

I still remember my visits to Hyderabad in days gone by & I must say that in each visit I had a lovely & delightful audience. In the past whenever I had visited Hyderabad, the ‘culture’ & ‘sensitivity’ of the Urdu language prevailed but, unfortunately it is rapidly fading!

As a suggestion and if it suits you, my daughter Padmashri Kiran Segal could come & receive the Degree and read out some excerpts from my ‘time spent in theatre’.

With best wishes, Padmavibhushan Smt. Zohra Segal

A suggestion that we are very happy to accept, and we look forward to having Kiran Segal with us at the next convocation.

There is a touch of sadness that she is no longer with us, but in her 102 years, she did so much in so many spheres. As a member of the Uday Shankar Troupe, then the IPTA, and of course the various movies that she acted in, including Bend it like Beckham. The demure photograph on the left dates from her time as a dancer, while the more characteristic one above is more recent, and wonderfully conveys the sense of mischief she brought to many of her acting roles.

Either way, she was a great ambassador for Indian theatre, and we at the UoH salute her several contributions to the performing arts!


The Palamuru Seven

37On Monday the 27th January, I was in Mahbubnagar,  at Palamuru University, to attend the Annual Convention of the Andhra Pradesh Akademi of Sciences (APAS), to keep an old commitment, namely to deliver the Sitamahalakshmi Memorial Lecture. And I was fortunate in at least two ways…

The first was that I got to see- after too many years- Ranga, aka Professor S Ranganathan who taught us Organic Chemistry so brilliantly at IIT Kanpur. Ranga, who is now at the IICT in Hyderabad, retired from Kanpur after decades of teaching generations of chemists. His classes were wonderful, and he was one of the first to seriously try to get some of us interested in biology- I remember him and Balu (Professor D. Balasubramaniam, also now in Hyderabad, and at the LV Prasad Eye Institute) inviting a number of people in ’73 or ’74 to try to educate us philistine M Sc students of the exciting things that were going on in biological chemistry. Some of my classmates took the bait, but it didn’t work out in my case… But more of that in another post, maybe.

The second was that I got to see seven of our colleagues being inducted into the Akademi at one go- the largest contingent from anywhere to be so elected! In the alphabetical order of the handout, here they are :

Untitled 3

M. Ghanshyam Krishna of the School of Physics was elected Fellow. His work focuses on the growth, characterization and applications of thin films.

Subramanyam Rajagopal of the Department of Plant Sciences, School of Life Sciences was elected Fellow. (OK, so the photo is an older one, and he does not sport the mustache now…) His group is working on bioenergy related to photosynthesis and phytomedicines. His major research contribution was on abiotic stress effects on photosynthesis apparatus of cyanobacteria, algae and higher plants.

Samar Das, of the School of Chemistry, was also elected Fellow. The focus of his research effort is to synthesize metal-oxide based inorganic compounds and to exploit their host guest, ion exchange and catalytic properties.

Pradeepta Panda of the School of Chemistry was elected an Associate Fellow. His  work is on the design and synthesis of various porphyrins.

S Srilakshmi of the UCESS was elected an Associate Fellow. She is a geophysicist, and the only woman in the group.

S Srinath of the School of Physics was elected an Associate Fellow. His areas are Magnetism, Multiferroics, Oxides, Nanomaterials  and  Thin films.

S Venugopal Rao of theACRHEM was elected an Associate Fellow. He does a lot of things, as you can see on his homepage, but to mention a few areas of his interest,  Semiconductor Nonlinear Optics: Optical frequency conversion techniques [Second Harmonic Generation, Sum Frequency Generation, Difference Frequency Generation], Optical Parametric Oscillators/Amplifiers in the near- and mid-infrared spectral region and construction and characterization of femtosecond/picosecond Ti:sapphire lasers.

And in addition, there were many other colleagues from the UoH there: they had already  been elected to the Akademi in earlier years. The President, Dr Ch. Mohan Rao, being an alumnus, made the presence of the University even stronger, and drove home the point that we are the preëminent research university in AP. And, of course, also in the country. Nice!

Even better Khabar

imagesThe news that Prof. C N R Rao has been awarded the Bharat Ratna should be warmly welcomed in our University. After all he is one of ours, being conferred an honorary doctorate of the University in 2005. And importantly, he has been a mentor, directly or indirectly to many of our colleagues in various science faculties at the UoH.

a56c607e-c8fb-43ae-9c52-eaff0054b27eMediumResHe was on the faculty- one of the biggest stars of the stellar Department of Chemistry- at IIT Kanpur where I did my M. Sc. (Chemistry) in 1974. Actually, he was on the interview panel that selected me for admission in 1972 – no entrance exams then- and although I then did not know who he was, I can still remember one question he asked me then: How many molecules of water are there on earth? It was a serious enough question, and as I was grappling with estimating volumes, dividing by 18, multiplying by Avogadro’s constant and doing all that I could to come up with an answer, he added: When its not raining! 

I took Physical Chemistry from him the next year- he was an inspiring teacher in many ways- and over the years I have stayed in touch with him enough to be very very impressed by his tenacity and his passion for science. In Kanpur when he was already famous and had nucleated the Department of Chemistry, he was just about 40. That he has stayed current and obsessed with his science for the next four decades (and this shows no sign of abating) is phenomenal.

But the news of the Bharat Ratna to him is welcome in many many ways. It is, as he says, also a recognition of the value of science, of scholarship, of research. Having seen the institutions he has built, one could give it for that alone. And CNR does not mince his words- he is an outspoken advocate for research, and has let government after government know that funding for science is inadequate. As we all recognize only too well, funding for higher education is inadequate, and our only hope for excellence is that we get funded at reasonable levels. In the past two days alone, he has raised the sensibility of not just the political class, but indeed the public at large of the need for funds, for support. We need more champions like him.

Maths Teacher of the Year

skOne of the first posts on this blog was about our colleague Prof. S Kumaresan in the School of Mathematics and his involvement with MTTS, the MATHEMATICS TRAINING AND TALENT SEARCH PROGRAMME. The aims of MTTS (and thats largely Prof. Kumaresan) are

  • To teach mathematics in an interactive way rather than the usual passive presentation. To promote active learning, the teachers usually ask questions and try to develop the theory based on the answers and typical examples. At every level the participants are encouraged to explore, guess and formulate definitions and results.
  • To promote independent thinking in mathematics.
  • To provide a platform for the talented students so that they can interact with their peers and experts in the field. This serves two purposes: i) the participants come to know where they stand academically and what they have to do to bring out their full potential and ii) they establish a rapport with other participants and teachers which help them shape their career in mathematics.

At that time, I had written that “The work of Prof. Kumaresan in this arena, in encouraging the growth of competence in our mathematics community, will go a long way in ensuring that although the road ahead may be a bit rocky and steep, there will be mathematicians to help us along the way…”

UntitledThe Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi, has been thinking of how to recognize such contributions. A few years ago they instituted the INSA Teachers Awards. The award aims to recognize and honour teachers who have provided guidance and inspired students to take up careers in Science and Technology. 

We are very proud that Prof. Kumaresan is one of the Awardees for the year 2013. And even more proud that the INSA has recognized the value of teachers who, as they put it, have shown consistent and high level of teaching. Their hope that Prof. Kumaresan will continue to nurture talent in the coming years is sure to be borne out. Bravo!

Welcome! and Welcome Back!

The start of an academic year is a good time- things seem fresh, even if we have been here before, and its a time for new beginnings. The rains have really washed things clean, and the whole environment looks and feels special. So before anything, welcome to all the new students, and welcome back to all the returning students! The campus has not been the same without you… Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

And what better way to start than with the announcement of the Chancellor’s Awards. From this year onwards, the University has instituted five awards for younger faculty, for teaching and research. Nominations will be invited later this year, and the awards will be announced at the convocation in October by the Chancellor, Prof. Hanumantha Rao. This is one small way in which to recognize excellence, and all of us will have a say, both the students as well as other colleagues.

There is a group of happy campers who have been setting up some new resources for the campus. These are in development, so no criticism please, at least not just yet, but here is a list.

UntitledThere are way too many gaps, but we also need volunteers to put up the information. Write in and offer to help if you can.

  • The University needs a place to engage in discussion, and soon we will have a Connect UoH site, where all can post comments, raise issues, get information, and so on…
  • A job portal, both on G-HAN, as well as more specific to the University.


And, starting along with the semester, the conference season gets going as well! Perspectives in Nonlinear Dynamics, is a meeting that we are organizing along with the TIFR, Hyderabad, from 15 to 18 July. This edition of PNLD is the fourth in a series, and the aim of the meeting (that is being held in the Science Complex) is to focus on the open issues in nonlinear science and to identify the directions in which the field is developing. The themes that are being explored at the conference include Chaos, Nonlinear Phenomena in Engineering Sciences and Applications, Nonlinear Phenomena in Biological and Medical Sciences,Synchronization, Bifurcations, Time-delay systems, Extreme events, and so on. All are welcome!

… and this

UntitledI was asked by the Dr. K V Rao Scientific Society to be at their annual meeting and also to give away their annual awards on the 13th of the month.  Founded in 2001 by the friends and family of Dr. Rao (who retired as Superintendent Chemist at the Geological Survey of India) the KVRSS seeks to actively promote and encourage young scientists. This is a rare entity, an orrganization devoted to science promotion at all stages, including the grassroots- they run a number of programmes to nurture talent at the district level as well as recognising the work done in institutes of higher learning.

UntitledIt was therefore a very good feeling to see that three of the awardees this year were students of the UoH, Pidishety Shankar of the School of Physics, Supratim Basak of the School of Chemistry, and M Hanumantha Rao of the ACRHEM. It was equally heartening to see a number of young students from all across the state receive commendations, and the confidence with which all the awardees spoke was very reassuring.

Another achievement of the student body is the victory of our  University Football team in the Fourth Inter-state A. P. football tournament that was held at IIIT-H. As one of the team members and vice-Captain,  Achyut Kulkarni wrote in a mail to me, this is a first for our University, and a feather in the  captain, William Haokip‘s cap! The team came by my office along with the Physical Education Officer and their coach-


The team members are, in addition to  William Haokip (Captain) and  Achyut Kulkarni( Vice-Captain), Kedar Kulkarni, James Tuglut, Kunga Chongloi, Joel, Asif Ali, Bujair, Sai Abhinav, Muanpuia Tlau, Mesevito Terhiijah, Subhash Nayak, Nrusingha Behera, Sense Alaji, Leon Dailiam,  and Yunus Bava.

It was such a pleasure to have all that energy in the office that day- a nice change from the usual goings on. Thanks for coming by, guys, and keep the UoH flag flying high!