Higher education must become meaningful
Indians traveling to the United States to study should be made aware of the world-class institutions that India has
My mind goes back to 1945 and 1946. I was a graduate student in pure mathematics. We were only six students. Shree Satyen Bose was our teacher. He wore the Dhoti Kurta (snow white). Our classes were on the 3rd floor and there was no elevator.
Bose and Einstein collaborated on research that led to the discovery of the Bose-Einstein (Bosen) theory. Bose loved me and wanted me to go study astronomy at the Mount Wilson Observatory in America after I finished school. He was disappointed when I did not continue my studies.
I come from a very poor family. My mother died of tuberculosis without proper treatment due to lack of money in 1936. My family had high expectations of me earning money because I was brilliant in education. But I became brilliant in business. I started to learn business from my uncle in 1946 alongside my studies.
I entered into full business in 1946 and retired in 2000. I have been very close to the Ramakrishna mission since 1951. The mission had a wonderful teaching institute at Narendrapur in the suburbs of Calcutta with about 3,000 students. Among the top 10 students of the University of Calcutta, at least two students were from Narendrapur. I dreamed of having something like Narendrapur but on a small scale run by the monks of the Ramakrishna Mission.
Shree Arjun Singh was Minister of Human Resource Development. It belonged to Madhya Pradesh where I had established a technologically challenging graphite electrode factory. I had become very close to him. He was attending the lectures of Swami Atmanandaji, whom we used to invite to Bhopal for lectures.
The mission had a number of educational institutions but no university. They decided to establish one at Belur Math in their large complex on the banks of the Ganges. They decided to send a delegation of monks to meet Arjun Singh. Knowing my closeness to him, they asked me to accompany them. His answer was good; the next meeting was fixed after a month.
The Ramakrishna Mission had three topics in mind for the University: (i) disaster management of which they had practical experience in floods and famines; (ii) rural development; and (iii) poverty reduction. I wanted them to include math so that their performance could be compared internationally.
I met Arjun Singh alone and asked him while interacting with them to emphasize math. He was enthusiastic. The department has done its homework. An additional secretary and other officers attended the meeting. Five senior mission monks and I attended the meeting. On Singh’s emphasis, the mathematics was agreed.
He was very impressed that the proposed vice-chancellor was a scholar of physics and taught it to graduates of the mission college and another monk, Mahan Maharaj, was a great scholar of mathematics and of international renown.
The mission pointed out that teaching mathematics would be expensive. Teachers should be paid generously. As there are Nobel laureates in other subjects, mathematics also has competent laureates. The mission wanted a grant of Rs 40 crore and Singh agreed.
The mission has started looking for a math specialist to start this course. Fortunately, there was a Bengali mathematician, Abhijeet Dutt, at Kyoto University doing research with Japanese students. He wanted to come to Bengal. With his return, RK Mission University has become a hub for mathematics in India. The board included four mission monks and four ministry officials. Singh appointed me to the board. He told the mission that I had extensive experience dealing with bureaucracy and would be helpful. Thus, I became a member of the board of directors.
Unfortunately, Arjun Singh passed away in 2011. Dealing with the ministry has become difficult.
The senior Sanyasinis of Sarda Math once came to visit the university. Abhijeet Dutt greeted them in his half pants and a sports tee. The Sanyasini were not very comfortable. Nobody said anything to the professor but he started to feel uneasy. He quit and returned to Kyoto. It was unfortunate. I wish the mission had taken better care of the professor.
After Arjun Singh disappeared, I found out that my name disappeared from the board without my knowledge. I was not happy.
In 2020, I came across an IIT Dean. I informed him that I have four thousand students studying for senior secondary at four places where we have schools. I asked for his help. He visited one of our institutes and was very impressed with our research activities. We looked forward to some sort of association with ITI. But nothing came.
Recently, my daughter has become very enthusiastic about our schools. So I fixed an appointment with the Dean of an IIT. The dean was warm and informed me about their mathematical research activities carried out by postgraduate mathematicians.
Likewise, I am now associated with Harish-Chandra Maths research institute in Allahabad. Thanks to my daughter’s participation, my good health and my alert mind, I am hopeful that I will be alive to see India produce a proficient maths laureate.
I asked the Vice Chancellor, Swami Atmapriyanadaji to include artificial intelligence and donated Rs 15 lakh for it. He was also thinking about artificial intelligence. One of his students teaches artificial intelligence at the South African university; he agreed to join soon. I hope something will emerge.
I watch my friends and my own family. My grandson went to the United States to study mathematics. After two years, he wanted to specialize in a branch of mathematics whose expertise was available at Cambridge; he moved to Cambridge. I hoped he would make his mark internationally, but he lost interest in math.
It is difficult for me to assess whether his studies abroad for five years did him any good. He launched into music and joined Fayaaz Dagar, where I also joined him to renew my interest in vocal music. He also lost interest in vocal music and joined sarod, and moved to Bombay because his teacher was in Poona.
One of my grandsons on my daughter’s side was educated abroad and entered the business. It is difficult to conclude whether his education abroad was useful.
Likewise, my granddaughter on my daughter’s side has been doing architecture in the United States with great enthusiasm. On her return, she joined an architecture firm where she did well. But it is no longer in the field of architecture.
The young generation of wealthy people are not used to working hard for a living.
They are guided by their temporary whims.
The United States earns billions of dollars from students coming from China and India. India spends a large amount of foreign currency on Indians studying abroad. Wealthy families send them abroad even after upper secondary education. After graduation, the United States is well equipped for studies in artificial intelligence, space travel, mathematics, and more. But what do we get?
The Bangalore Institute of Science and the Institute of Atomic Research are world class. IITs are developing well. Indians traveling to the United States to study should be informed of the international status of some of these institutions.
(The author is Chairman Emeritus, LNJ Bhilwara)