Saturday, February 28, 2009

Remembering a great teacher

Padmasree Professor Dr. R. Ananthakrishnan (1911-1999)

I happened to be one among the many of my generation who was not fortunate to join a career for which I studied. I did my post graduation in Meteorology from the CUSAT (Cochin University of Science and Technology) and despite a first rank and some options to pursue my research in some of the great universities in India and abroad ended up in the banking service. Going forward, I had my field days and I did have my regrets too.

I belonged to the first batch of the course from 1975-77 started by the University and had chosen it because I thought it would improve my chances of landing with a good job and hence retraced from a course in Physics which I had planned earlier.

Author in 1976 at University

In retrospect, the decision was good at least due to one reason that I was to study under a great sage in the form of Padmasree Professor Dr.R. Ananthakrishnan. Dr.Ananthakrishnan was a disciple of the Nobel laureate Sir C. V.Raman and completed his D.Sc, in 1937, under the guidance of the great master, in the field of light scattering.

CV Raman and his close disciples
Dr.Ananthakrishnan is seen standing second from right

In 1975, Dr.Ananthakrishnan was well into his mid-sixties when he came to Cochin University to set up the courses in Meteorology and Atmospheric sciences. He was the Dy.Director General of the Indian Meteorological Department and retired in 1971 as Director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune established under UNDP. He was awarded Padmasree by the Government of India in 1969 and the Raman Centenary medal in 1988.

He contributed scientific research work in every branch of Physics, with special reference to various subjects in meteorology. His book titled, ‘Climatology of Himalayas’ is considered a major work in the field. His research papers in the international and national journals run over a hundred. He also wrote the book ‘An Introduction to Meteorology’ which is considered their “bible “by the students of Atmospheric sciences.

While his scientific works were monumental even by international standards, I thought of highlighting some of the personal experiences about the great master we students shared while studying under him.

Dr.Ananthakrishnan was a teacher in the mould of a Rishi. He was thorough in his knowledge of the subject he taught and had no confusion whatsoever. Probably he founded his path like the sages who wrote the Upanishads who said, “’Nethi, Nethi” (Not this, Not this) till they realized the Absolute. I found the inner meaning of many equations in vector analyzis by sitting in front of this great sage. He seemed to enjoy the analyzis of mathematical equations. Going at great length while deducing some mathematical calculations, he would often say, “You can actually play with these figures “. To this great master, it was quite a playful act to solve big mathematical riddles.

He always used to inspire us. He used to assert that the purpose of education should not be to get an employment. He always yearned for perfection through dedication and commitment. I remember his oft repeated statement: “’There is always room at the top. Only at lower levels you see all the rush”. It took me years to imbibe the real meaning of his words.

He was completely a no nonsense man. We had never seen anything superficial and flimsy about this man. He never indulged in petty talks, gossips, politics or even matters of daily routines.

He was extremely simple in his habits. He used to stay in one of our hostel rooms in the University campus in the Foreshore road, Kochi with only the basic infrastructure in place. This man who was the direct disciple of Nobel laureate C.V.Raman and who was a renowned scientist of national and international importance honoured by the Government of India through a Padmasree was so down to earth that he used to go by walk in the evenings with a cloth-bag to buy fruits, bread and vegetables which constituted his simple food habits.

I and some of my friends like Thomas (Dr.KV. Thomas is now a senior scientist with the Centre for Earth Science Studies, Kerala) and Jose Antony (presently a Dean at the University of New York at Brockport) used to play many pranks and often peeped into the room of the Professor. He, in his abundant peace and sophisticated ways might be seen applying butter to a toast using the knife in the gentlest way possible. Otherwise, we mostly found him reading scientific books or journals.

We had an occasion which threw light into his infinite compassion to the poor. It also showed how far way he lived with his lofty thoughts wandering away from the daily struggles of life. One day while he was taking classes, a wandering woman came with a child begging for alms. The woman came to the entrance of the classes escaping the eyes of a watchman. Suddenly, quite taken aback, the Professor asked us to wait and went upstairs to his room. He returned with a handful of small denomination currency notes, obviously not counted, and gave it to the begging woman who seemed wonderstruck at receiving a large sum and left immediately with folded hands.In those days, it might have been quite a sum and we all got bemused to great extent.

He was a man with exuberance, zest and total dedication to work. He belonged to a generation of our great ancestors who believed in pursuing greater ideals in life and never went after fame and monetary gains. Pursuit of knowledge was the sole mission in course of which they strived for self actualization. He had childlike innocence too as reflected through his spontaneous laughter.

I remember an occasion when another guest professor Wing Commander KK Ramamurthy came to our classroom when Professor Ananthakrishnan was taking classes. They were old friends and possibly were meeting after long time. Both looked at each other, came nearer and went on with their loud laughter born out of surprise which lasted several minutes. It reflected genuine warmth, purity of friendship and childlike reflexes.

Looking back, I realize that I was naïve enough not to have known the greatness of the master. If destiny provided another opportunity to meet him I would sit at his feet and take fresh guidance in lessons to pursue excellence and to be childlike in accepting the ways of the world.

Dubai, 28th February 2009.


Maddy said...

It is always much later in life that you remember some of the fine guidance of your earliest teacher..and then you realize what life is all about..

Murali RamaVarma said...

Absolutely true Maddy. In younger days the realization does not dawn on you that life is a one-way traffic.

Nebu said...

Even if you did not join the career for which you studied, you were really privileged to be in close proximity to and to have studied under such a great professor. The humility and greatness of the man stands out in your narration. All in all it’s a well written tribute to a great teacher, a breed getting extinct fast.

I am really surprised to know that you are a postgraduate rank holder in, of all subjects Meteorology! We planters depend a very great deal on the weather conditions for most of our agricultural operations, especially so in cardamom compared to rubber. A few examples are, an accurate prediction of the weather can save us a lot of expenditure regarding spraying of fungicides in cardamom. And in rubber if the onset of the monsoon can be accurately predicted we can plan the rain guarding and spraying of fungicides of rubber trees accordingly. So also decide on time of application of fertilizers.

Tell me; with all the latest technology is it possible to predict the weather with pinpoint accuracy of a locality on a given day and how many days ahead?

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Nebu, Thank you for the touching comments made on my pranams to my great teacher.He was of the stuff that great scientists and teachers of the likes of Nobel laureates are made of. I was indeed privileged to be his student.

Yes, Nebu, I understand your requirements as a planter. It indeed helps you to know the weather of a day to be successful to save on costs. Nowadays it is possible to predict weather of a geographical area with great accuracy because satellite data are available based on which studies are made. It is also possible to give fair assessment of mid term and long term forecasting of weather. For example, the onset of monsoons on the Kerala tip is predicted with great accuracy even months before. These are made possible by the study of data collected from satellites on cloud types, its speed of movement, atmospheric pressures and temperatures at various heights etc etc. The study of the dynamic atmosphere above our own heads is very interesting because it too rotates with the rotation of the earth around its axis. Scientific studies of this atmosphere made by the likes of Dr.Ananthakrishnan have indeed helped mankind to reveal the mysteries of nature to very great extents.

With modern technology and availability of various data, it is possible to give very accurate predictions of weather over a fair extent of geographic area for the day. The mid term forecasting too shall be fairly accurate with minor deviations, if any.

Murali RamaVarma said...

My friend Thomas mentioned in the post had written as follows:(I used to call him "Thoma" and he used to call me "Unni")

Acharya is God.
Matha, Guru & Athithi are equal to God.
It is great to remember Acharya1
My humble pranamam to the Great Guru Dr. Ananthakrishnan.
And Unni has made a great effort.

Thank you


Dr. K.V. Thomas
Marine Sciences Division
Centre for Earth Science Studies
Thiruvananthapuram - 695 031

Sunita said...

Great post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it because your reverence for your teacher is so obvious.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Sunita, Thank you for your warm comments which touched me instantly. Professor Ananthakrishnan was of a different mettle than that with which common mortals are made of.

sandeep varma said...

Interesting posts murali chetta

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Sandeep for the comments.

meerasworld said...

i have a different request:)could you give me the names of a few historical books,fictional or non fiction,about kerala history?i saw the post about the tribute to your wife.she is absolutely a beautiful lady.
thanks in advance:)

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Meera,

Thanks for the fine compliments about which my wife was very happy. I could recommend many books to you, but shall restrict myself with the following for the present:

Non fiction

1. History of Travancore from the earliest times: Sangoonny Menon
2. The land of charity by Samuel Mateer
3. Native life in Travancore by Samuel Mateer
4. Malabar manual by William Logan
5. Kerala History by Sreedhara Menon
6. Cochin History by Padmanabha Menon

There are many more…….

In fiction, the following Malayalam books are interesting

1. Cheraman Perumal K. Krishna Menon
2. Kerala Simham by Sardar KM Panikkar
3. Marthanda Varma/Dharma Raja /Ramaraja Bahadur all by CV Raman Pillai
4. Panchavan Kaadu by Vaikom Chandrasekharan Nair
5. Swathi Thirunal by Vaikom Chandrasekharan Nair

And here too there are many and the above have been my random selections.

Kind regards,

meerasworld said...

thank you soooo much:)next time when we visit DC books,will certainly take this list and look for them there.thanks a lot!