Satyendranath Bose, the Man Behind the Boson Part 3
Satyen Bose served in Dhaka for about 25 years. Here, he initiated a X ray Crystallography unit, even fabricating and designing his own equipment and did some excellent work on the structure of crystals. He also researched radio waves. As one biographer states” “In 1938 Bose investigated the problem of total reflection of radio waves in the ionosphere. It is said that it was M. N. Saha who induced Bose to look into this problem. To quote one of Bose’s colleagues Dr. Satish Ranjan Khastgir: “Prof. Saha had once come to Dacca from Allahabad. He gave a lecture in the Physics Department. He addressed a huge gathering at the Curzon Hall. Saha spoke these problems relating to reflection of radio waves from the ionosphere on which he was working. He asked his friend Bose to work out a solution for an intricate problem like this. Appleton had given three conditions for the reflection of radio waves; Saha introduced a fourth one based on the hypotheses that there is no absorption of radio waves in the ionosphere. But Saha knew himself that the assumption was arbitrary. So he requested Prof. Bose in the open meeting to give a general solution to the reflection problem. After this lecture Satyendranath concentrated on the problem and finally succeeded in finding a general solution.”
He finally managed to return to his beloved Calcutta in 1945 as the Khaira Professor of Physics at the Calcutta University. During the early fifties, he published several important papers in the Unified Field theory. Einstein, however was not in agreement with his views on this matter and he had planned to visit him and discuss the matter. Alas, Einstein passed away in 1955. Bose was grief stricken at the passing away of his ‘ Master” as he always referred to Einstein. He reportedly destroyed his notes on the Unified Field theory and never worked on this again.
However he was instrumental in setting up an important department of Organic Chemistry in the Department of Physics where he investigated the structure of various Indian clay materials with the help of a dedicated group of young researchers who banded around him. One of them was the legendary Ashima Chatterjee who later became India’s leading expert on medicinal plants and their chemistry.
He retired in 1956 from the University and was appointed the Vice Chancellor of the Vishwa Bharati University. This University, set up by Rabindranath Tagore was basically a fine arts university; Bose was sent there to set up the Science Faculty. However his tenure of two years was marred with misunderstandings with the long term members of the Staff there who resented “ Outside “ Interference in their long standing systems. Retuning to Kolkata, he was appointed a National Professor in 1959, a post that he led until his death.
Bose had interests in many other fields . He was one of the first popularisers of Science and was great advocate of teaching in the mother tongue. To this end he set up the Bangiya Bignan Parishad (Bengal Science Association) which took up this work. (In an earlier post, I have talked about Gopal Bhattacharya, who worked with him and edited the journal of the Association.) He was a fine esraj player and had a deep interest in Indian Philosophy. However he did not approve of the mixing of science with Vedic texts and the idiotic attempts by the “it was all in the Vedas” school to add a religious angle to science. He got many honours during his lifetime, including the Fellowship of the Royal Society and the Padma Vibhushan. However he richly deserved the Nobel Prize which he never did get. There are rumours that the British Government was against this plain speaking nationalist being awarded the Nobel Prize. This ludicrous omission is somewhat similar to the non award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mahatma Gandhi.
I will end this account with a few anecdotes culled from various sources about this unconventional man . In meetings, conferences or in any public forums Bose would often close his eyes and people would think that he had fallen asleep. But he used to be alert all the time. To quote S. D. Chatterjee: “The conscious and the unconscious appeared to have a strange deep unity in his restless brain. At different level of perception the legend curved out a superb figure of a giant who was engagingly childlike and a man of supreme genius who was entirely human. Often he appeared to be immersed in laziness, but the somnolescence was full of alertness. Once presiding over a lecture of Professor Niels Bohr at the Saha institute of Nuclear Physics, he had closed his eyes and it seemed that he was asleep. But when Professor Bohr hesitated before the blackboard and said ‘Perhaps Professor Bose can help me here’, he at once opened his eyes, explained the mathematical point and seemed to revert to his unseeing meditation. On another occasion, at the same venue, he was presiding over a lecture by Professor Frederic Joliot Curie. After introducing the speaker in English, he closed his eyes as usual. But when Professor Joliot asked for an interpreter to render his speech in French into English and none came forward, Professor Bose opened his eyes, stood up and translated Professor Joliot’s speech into chaste English sentence by sentence.”
Another time , when he was the Head of the Department of Science in Dacca University, some postgraduate students came to him. They prayed for the postponement of the examinations. Bose did not agree to this. "Examinations cannot be postponed without valid reasons", he said. The students threatened that they would not work and go on a hunger strike if their demand was not conceded. Bose said, "I am prepared to resign; but, I am not prepared to postpone the examinations without valid reasons". The students were not prepared for this reply. They did not wish to lose such a good teacher. So they quietly accepted his decision and went back.
It was impossible for Bose to put up with injustice done to the students. Once Asutosh Mukherjee, another legend in his lifetime, set the same problem for the M.Sc. Examination consecutively for three years. And in those three years, no one attempted to solve the problem. Placing this matter before the examiners, Mukherjee thundered, "Do you not teach the subject properly?" No one else had the courage to answer. But Bose was not afraid of speaking the truth. He stood up and said, "If the problem itself is wrong, how can the candidates solve it?" Many of his friends felt that Bose was indiscreet in having given such a reply. But Asutosh realized his mistake and commended Bose.
Satyen Bose died on February 4, 1974.