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Champion of pure sciences in an IT hub

Dr. H. Narasimhaiah is said to have tempted his students with `kadlepuri' to stay on for a Physics class on Saturday afternoons. Instilling scientific thought in his students has been his life's breath. This 82-year-old Gandhian won the Sir M. Visvesvaraya Award recently, for his contribution to popularisation of science.

DR. H. NARASIMHAIAH has an uncanny ability to bounce back into news just when you thought he is moving out of limelight. Nothing — neither the IT nor the BT revolution — stops him from talking about the importance of pure sciences. His crusade for promoting basic science education and creating a scientific outlook in society continues unabated.

And so, when Narasimhaiah won the Sir M. Visvesvaraya Award recently, it was for his contribution to popularisation of science. It was in recognition of the painfully long years he has spent for this cause, which has also got him a Padmabhushan.

What sustains the interest of this 82-year old? The constant question mark, which symbolises the credo Narasimhaiah lives by: "Do not accept anything without questioning." His curiosity cannot be satisfied. Questions continue to haunt him. He wants this curiosity to be inculcated among children. And so, lectures, demonstrations, film shows, all on science, go on in H. N. Hall at his National College, Basavanagudi.

Meet the man and he would give you a handbill listing next month's science lectures. Bangalore Science Forum (BSF), which he started in 1962, has been organising weekly lectures for science enthusiasts. Last week, the 1787th lecture in this series was held on Nanotechnology. The number of film shows reached the 525-mark last month.


Dr. H. Narasimhaiah. — Photos: K. Bhagya Prakash

Come July, it is time for the forum's month-long annual science festival. On offer will be lectures from eminent scientists, most of them friends and students of Dr. Narasimhaiah. Added to this are elocution competitions, summer camps, and workshops for science students. This is how "Narasimhaiah's BSF" fights the dwindling popularity of basic science and research, following the invasion of information technology and other specialities.

How far has Narasimhaiah been successful in creating a scientific outlook in an inherently superstitious society?

He says he is satisfied. "I have been able to create an awareness, especially after I questioned Sai Baba's miracles". Narasimhaiah had challenged the Baba to create a pumpkin out of thin air instead of gold rings and watches. Narasimhaiah had also invited the Baba twice to perform miracles in front of a committee. Sai Baba ignored it, but in an interview with Blitz editor, R. K. Karanjia in 1976, he sought to justify "creating" gold chains and watches, saying that he always wanted to give something which devotees could wear.

Narasimhaiah laughs: "Fine, then he must have created many big things, which devotees could keep with them."

Narasimhaiah also headed the Karnataka Government's committee which probed banamathi (witchcraft) in North Karnataka when the menace reached alarming proportions.

After a thorough investigation with the help of experts from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, he came to the conclusion that banamathi was a fear-complex perpetrated by vested interests on psychologically weak villagers. His report is the official last word on the menace, though banamathi stories are heard even now.

All this was decades ago. Age has taken its toll on Dr. Narasimhaiah.

Now, he is brief when he answers questions. Sometimes, he replies in one-liners or mono-syllables.

But, has his rationalist outlook changed? Not a bit. Recently, when the UGC decided to introduce astrology in universities, Narasimhaiah breathed fire and brimstone again.

Freedom fighter, chairman of several educational institutions, an uncompromising rationalist, former vice- chancellor (of Bangalore University), former member of Legislative Council, Narasimhaiah wears all these caps with aplomb. Perhaps, he is the only former vice-chancellor to sport a Khadi cap and emulate Gandhiji's simple living.

For years together, a room in National College Hostel has been his home.

These factors render relevance to Dr. Narasimhaiah's story of struggle (Horaatada Haadi or Struggle All The Way, the title of his auto-biography), even when an IT-crazy Bangalore has acquired new icons, heroes, and values.

NARAYANA A.

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