From science to philosophy, the people of India have proved their expertise in every field of work, time and again. As we enter the 76th year of Independence Day, we are eager to share the story of a ‘forgotten’ scientist, who contributed prominently in the field of science and was committed to the freedom movement.
Born in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, he was in 9th standard, when his father passed away. His father wrote his last wish on a slate, stating that his kids should pursue college.
His father would have been proud knowing that he became an institution-builder. As a founding member of the Indian Association for General Relativity, he played a key role in bringing together a community of Indian scientists working in the field – a stellar line-up that includes names such as C.V. Vishveshwara, Naresh Dadhich and Jayant Narlikar, the last of whom went on to become the first head of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune.
Consider a massive, spherical star radiating large amounts of energy in outer space. How does the gravitational field around it behave? Of several possible questions that could be addressed by applying Albert Einstein’s revolutionary theory of general relativity, propounded in 1915, this was an important one. And the solution, known as the Vaidya metric, was first obtained by the mathematician and theoretical astrophysicist.
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He would go on to make important contributions at the intersection of GR and astrophysics over the following decades, working on topics like supermassive objects and black holes in addition to exact solutions.
Prahlad Chunnilal Vaidya, an Indian mathematician, and physicist contributed a lot to the field of India’s research in Science.
However, despite his stature in the world of scientific research and the high positions he occupied, Vaidya never lost sight of his roots. A lifelong Gandhian, he was marked out by his khadi kurtas, white Gandhi cap, and a preference for the bicycle as a mode of transport. The institutions he was most proud of setting up were geared towards improving the teaching of mathematics at all levels, from the grassroots up.
By all accounts, PCV never yearned to be in the public eye. He was a ‘rooted cosmopolitan’, engaging with the world but happiest in his native land, keen to democratise knowledge through the use of his mother tongue and that of the people around him, a ‘constructive worker’ in the Gandhian tradition of his youth.
Today as we remember him, we feel proud as Indians. Vaidya published several memoirs from his days as a teacher, such as ‘Chalk ane Duster’ meaning “Chalk and Duster”, and ‘America ane apne’ (America and Us), which are from his days as a visiting professor at the Washington State University. You can always look for these and give it a read.
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