How Sir C V Raman used and abused Press for his advantage


Rajinder Singh is a Germany-based well-known author, having credit of writing many biographies of scientists, especially physicists. He has written extensively on the life and work of one of the greatest physicists, Sir C V Raman. The first part of the series, C V Raman and the Press, traced Raman’s most productive lifetime in Kolkata (1907- 33). The second part of the series focused on his service life as the Director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore (1933-48). This period of his academic career was equally eventful as it was in Kolkata.

Raman will be remembered as a scientific genius having very complex personality. Many books and articles have been written on him, but the present volume revealed a very different side of his personality and explored his unique passion for use and abuse of his relations with the Press to enhance his personal image.

His temperamental ups and downs made his career challenging almost in every position he held and institutions he served. Visible conflicts between him and his peers surfaced everywhere.

Raman spent golden era of his life in Kolkata. He received very cordial atmosphere there and spent 25 years of his life in that city. Initially, he was virtually not known to the scientific world, when he was given opportunity to carry out his research activity at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), Kolkata. On the basis of his scientific work, he was appointed as the Palit Professor of Physics at the Calcutta University. The Kolkata academia provided him all round support for his most significant discovery the “Raman’s Effect” in 1928. Despite of having limited financial resources, he was given travel grant for Europe tour to initiate acceptance and understanding for his new discovery to the world community of science. His discovery created sensation in the world and he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930. On his return from Stockholm with the Prize, he received royal welcome from scientists, government and public at Howrah, Kolkata. He was the first Asian to get Nobel Prize in science, which made him a world class celebrity.

His glorious accomplishments in Kolkata paved the way to be the Director of the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore. The country and the government of that time cherished his scientific achievements as a national asset and it was expected that the future generation would draw inspiration from his leadership.

On March 31, 1933, C V Raman became the first Indian to join the prestigious position of Director of IISc. He was appointed as the Director and the Professor of Physics. At that time the IISc did not have the Physics Department and with his earnest effort, the Physics Department came into being in July 1933. He got embroiled in a controversy, soon after his joining IISc, Bangalore.  Within the six months of his service, two faculty members, Professor F N Mowdawalla and Dr. H E Watson resigned.  At times he ignored rules and regulations, and even misinterpreted them as per his requirements. He made major administrative changes to divert funds from Chemistry and Engineering Departments to Physics. There was a rumor that the Director scared away brilliant students from joining other departments   of the institute, except that of Physics. The institute started facing inner conflict and unrest among staff members, which created endless wrangles and research suffered.

The situation forced the authority to appoint a committee chaired by Sir James Irvin, Vice-Chancellor of the St. Andrew’s University to look in to the affairs of IISc. The finding of the committee report mentioned that the Director’s manner of handling the administration was not acceptable to others. Director lost confidence of the authority and the committee recommended for his suspension from the post of the Director. He was alienated and faced severe humiliation for his rebellious nature. It also recommended for the appointment of a new Registrar to look after the administration of the institute. He was forced to step down to the position of professor of Physics and his short tenure of Directorship came to an end in July 1937. He retired from IISc in 1948.

After the Bengal controversy, people thought that success always breeds envy. Maybe Raman was misunderstood and maligned because he was an outsider in Bengal. But unfortunately his manner of handling situations in IISc, Bangalore also offended people, created instability and turmoil in academic environment. At times, he felt suffocated under government rules and regulations and he wanted autonomy and freedom for his research in physics. Therefore, he established Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bangalore with the help of donation from the Maharaja from Mysore. He shifted to RRI after his retirement in 1948 and served the institute till 1970, when he died. The forthcoming part of the series “C V Raman and the Press” Part-III will cover the last phase of his service life.

Raman was a scientific genius, gifted writer and a brilliant narrator, which further strengthened his bond with the media. He contributed extensively to many learned journals as well as popular magazines. He was a proficient speaker, who could explain most enigmatic scientific events in a language that ordinary people could understand. In those days radio was a powerful media and he made frequent radio talks, which made him popular and reachable to a spectrum of audience. He was an impatient scientist, who never waited for the Press to come to him; instead he provided updated Press reports of his research findings to them. His work on lattice dynamics was reported in Indian Press as a revolutionary scientific finding, but the same was rejected by the international Physics community. In those days because of his celebrated authority, the Indian Press believed and published whatever he informed them, without understanding the validity of facts. His association with correspondents was so close that he misused them for his career gain and at times he stymied them from reporting any controversy against him.

Raman was a unique personality having his weakness and strengths. He made towering contributions in the development of science in India. He will be remembered for making phenomenal scientific theories of different forms of diamond, 2 types of X-ray reflection, blue sky colour due to molecular scattering of light and creation of the Bangalore School of Physics, etc.

Refer to the other books on the same subject, including Journey to Light: Life and Science of C V Raman by G Venkataraman (1988) and C V Raman: A Biography by Uma Parameshwaran (2011), the present narrative is something new and different from what has been written earlier.  Rajinder Singh has touched a sensitive theme very eloquently and elegantly.  He has done thorough research on the subject and scanned books, journals, press clippings from various institutions, libraries and archives around the world.

            All these complex issues make the book an illuminating delight. I recommend it for young students; they will enjoy fascinating facts related to the unconventional genius.