Bangalore, Prashanth G N, Nov 17, 2013, DHNS: Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao or CNR Rao, the eminent scientist chosen for the country’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna for 2013 on Saturday, is the same man who struggled to pay a monthly fee of Rs eight at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) while studying MSc between 1951 and 1953.
Space scientist Prof U R Rao and aerospace scientist Prof Roddam Narasimha — CNR’s childhood friends who also studied with him — recalled their younger days with him.
“I and CNR were staying at BHU’s ‘Brocha’ hostel in 1951. He was doing MSc in chemistry, I was doing MSc in physics. We stayed in different blocks but would meet in the canteen or the students’ mess. We would also meet at functions of the Kannada Sangha. BHU was an all-India university, so there were sanghas of different states,” Prof Rao told Deccan Herald.
He recalled that CNR’s favourite subject was physical chemistry. S S Joshi, the principal of science college in BHU and a professor of physical chemistry, tutored him. Rao and CNR would attend different classes due to the subjects they had chosen, but would meet while paying the monthly fee.
“We were financially not so well-off and could not afford the BHU fee. We would pay Rs 8 per month as fee and had to depend on freeship. One day when I was in a queue trying to pay the fee, CNR was standing right in front of me and struggling to pay the fee. The fee clerk, a pundit, would always find it difficult to pronounce south Indian names. He would never get CNR’s ‘Chintamani’ right. He would write in a book, ‘chinta…chinta…’ and CNR would always be known as Chinta. He could never pronounce Chintamani.”
CNR went to BHU as MSc was not offered anywhere in south India in the 40s and 50s, Rao said. “I used to have an ayyangar, a mohanty and a Telugu boy as friends. CNR was one more in my circle.”
According to Rao, CNR deserves the Bharat Ratna every bit. “He is particularly good in chemistry and has done extensive work in physical chemistry, solid state chemistry, materials sciences and even in nanosciences. For the wide work he has done and the way he has promoted science in India, CNR is a worthy recipient of Bharat Ratna.”
CNR’s other childhood friend, Prof Narasimha, of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), reminisced. “We were schoolmates in the 1940s. Since then, for almost 70 years we have been friends. His passion for science has not diminished a bit. He has absolute commitment to science and is as enthusiastic about it as he was 50 years ago. That’s the most remarkable aspect of his personality. He has done extraordinary amount of science, a range even youngsters cannot match.”
CNR deserves the Bharat Ratna for his wide range of work in physical chemistry, solid state chemistry, physical chemistry, materials science and nanosciences. “He is the leading scientist in the country, globally the most widely known Indian scientist and India’s most cited scientist.” Narasimha described CNR as the “unquestioned spokesperson of Indian science and Indian scientific community”.
CNR was responsible for the growth of fundamental science in India, establishing the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, new laboratories and centres of research like JNCASR, setting up the chemistry department at IIT Kanpur and IISC, Narasimha said.
The other side of CNR’s personality? “He loves Hindustani classical music; loves jokes, loud laughter and telling stories. He always cracks jokes with his colleagues even in committee meetings. These aspects of him do not come through in public. I recall a very interesting comment by Prof Satish Dhawan of Isro who brought back CNR to IISc. Prof Dhawan told me: ‘He’s a dynamo.’ I think it summarises the personality of CNR who has extraordinary energy.”
He has unmatched energy: IISc chief
IISc Director, P Balaram, has said Prof C N R Rao has “unmatched energy.”
“Most of us wish we had one 10th of that energy and enthusiasm for work and science that he has,” Balaram told Deccan Herald after CNR’s name was announced for Bharat Ratna on Saturday. He was a student of CNR when the latter was a professor of chemistry at IIT Kanpur.
Balaram further said: “CNR is the most accomplished and prolific scientist in India today. His dedication to science for over 60 years is extraordinary and very few people can claim to have worked so hard so long.”
The IISC director also said Prof CNR was the perfect role model for other scientists to emulate and a great institution builder. Prof CNR built the chemistry department at IIT Kanpur, then at IISC, and then at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research.
“Prof CNR has been central to science policy-making over the last three decades. He worked as adviser to Rajiv Gandhi and is now adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. That’s a long span. On the personal front, I can say Prof CNR is a very warm and friendly person and very outgoing.”