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|1. Excerpts from "Science in Calcutta: The Beginnings", by Samaren Roy; in 'Calcutta: Society and Change: 1690 - 1990'; Rupa & Co publishers,1991; page 136 to 148.|
|Calcutta missed the scientific
revolution, for it was not a city during the lifetime of Galileo and Kepler,
and became a trading settlement only 37 years before the death of Newton.
The scientific revolution was greatly dependant upon the telescope invented
in the last decade of the 16th century, and a curiosity in both Europe
and India. A telescope was presented by the Nawab of Arcot in 1791 to the
Scindia ruler of Gwalior, Daulat Rao Scindia. The existence of any earlier
telescope in the country is not known. An observatory was put up at Madras
in 1890 and later shifted to Kodaikanal. Vidyadhar Bhattachraya, astronomer
to Raja Sawai Man Singh, had some contact with the Lisbon Observatory and
among his collection of books exhibited at Jaipur are copies of the Ephemeris
and the Nautical Almanac. Yet the Jantar Mantar observatories built
for him used masonry instruments, not optical. The observatory nearest Calcutta
was the Jantar Mantar at Varanassi, more than 650 km away.
Sir William Jones died in 1794. The Society continued its activities. In 1808, the Society was in a way bifurcated, with one committee concerning itself with Natural History, Physics and Medicine and the other with Literature. We are here interested in the first group of subjects and have to note that in 1814 the Society's collections were formed into a museum which later became the Indian Museum. We are told that from 1818 the Physical Committee did valuable work, but nothing as outstanding as the discovery in 1830 of the tea plant growing wild in Assam and in 1835 the decipherment of the Brahmi script which recovered from oblivion historical figures like Chandragupta Maurya and Asoka.
Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937)
In 1832 the Society began publishing its own journal, which has the distinction of having printed in May 1884 the first paper by Jagadishchandra Bose (1858-1937). The paper dealt with double refraction.
Ashutosh Mookerjee (1864-1924)
Asutosh Mookerjee probably also contributed to this journal but his publication in 1881 in Messenger of Mathematics, as a student at Cambridge, is better known. To revert to the early years of the Society, in addition to collecting specimens it engaged local artists to draw illustrations and diagrams of the specimens.
Meanwhile, the Hindoo College (now Presidency College) had been founded in 1817 and its first graduates to attract public attention came out in the decade which witnessed the decipherment of the Brahmi script and Alexander Cunningham locating abandoned Buddhist sites and working out a geography of ancient India. One of these Hindoo College graduate was Radhanath Sikdar, who joined the Great Trigonometric Survey in 1840. (The Trigonometric Survey was first started in 1800 at Madras.)
Sir Goorudas Banerjee (1844-1918) ,
Anandamohan Bose (1847-1906)
and Sir Asutosh Mookerjee. There were hardly any facilities for laboratory work in Physics or Chemistry at the Presidency College and it was natural for the brighter students to turn to Mathematics. There were no careers in science either. Both Goorudas Banerjee and Asutosh Mookerjee had to turn to law for a livlihood. Anandamohan Bose went to Cambridge and became a Wrangler but could not pursue the subject any further. Only Sir Asutosh Mukherjee retained his interest in science.
Till 1880, there had only been one solitary Indian who had distinguished himself as a scientific observer. Otherwise the scientific community in Calcutta as well as the rest of India consisted exclusively of European residents. The inaugral meeting of the Asiatic society on January 15, 1784 was attended by 30 Europeans. Indians came into the Society's activities only marginally as field collectors, draughtsmen, illustrators and interpreters of texts. The lone native intruder was Radhanath Sikdar (1813-1870). Around 1880 a campaign of denigration had begun, and one of the participants in that campaign was no less than the Surveyor-General himself, Andrew Waugh. That was a period of intense racism. The trauma of the Mutiny might have contributed to this discrimination, but a more likely cause was the opening of all offices to Indians, which threatened the British monopoly. Major Hedayet Ali Khan was shifted from one job to another, lest a Briton might have to serve under him. The Indian Civil Service, which ruled the country had five Indian members and the need for keeping them down was acutely felt by the British. One of the civilians, Surendranath Banerjea (1848-1925) was dismissed for a minor lapse. Racism had reached its climax in the European agitation against the Ilbert Bill in 1883, which attempted to make Europeans and Indians equal before the law. Indigo planters from Bihar had even conspired to kidnap the Viceroy, Lord Ripon.
Thus, few scientific careers were open to Indians. They could only become subordinate surgeons, physicians or engineers, or they could take to teaching in schools. In 1854, four young men - Bholanath Basu, Dwarkanath Basu, Gopalchandra Shil and Surajitkumar Chakraborti - sailed for England for education in medicine. Even in England, the prestigious universities of Oxford and Cambridge did not admit non-Anglican students till 1870. Most of the Indians going to Britain for higher studies returned as doctors or lawyers. The Opinions Test at Oxbridge was abolished in 1870, and Anandamohan Bose was the first Indian to get admitted to Cambridge. Even on becoming a Wrangler he could not get a teaching job at Presidency College. Jagadishchandra Bose, on his return from England with a Cambridge degree and a doctorate from London, was appointed Professor of Physics at Presidency College on a salary which was only one-third of what his Brirish predecessor had been receiving. This discrimination ended only after his refusal to draw the pittance for three years. Curiously, C H Tawney was the Principal of Presidenct College and he protested against Lord Ripon, the Viceroy from 1880-1884, for intervening in the matter of J C Bose's appointment as officiating professor of Physics.
[Note: Lord Ripon had also repealed the Vernacular Press Act, which had earlier been passed by Lord Lytton, and in 1883 sponsored the Ilbert Bill. The very proposal to pass the bill immensely increased his popularity with the Indians. On his resignation in 1884 he received hundreds of addresses from Indians and his journey from Simla to Bombay resembled a triumphal procession.]
The incident narrated above occured in 1896 after Bose had twice demonstrated the transmission of electromagnetic waves - popularly known as wireless or radio - through solid walls. The situation must have been harder for P N Bose (1855-1935) 16 years earlier when his paper on Siwalik fossils was published in the Geological Magazine of London in 1880. Bose had studied Paleontology and Geology in England. His son, Modhu and daugter-in-law, Sadhana - being dancers and actors - are better known than P N Bose, who is chiefly remembered for having suggested to the Tatas the location of their steel plant at Jamshedpur.
Asutosh Mookerjee's paper in the Cambridge Messenger of Mathematics came out the following year (1881) and J C Bose's in the Journal of Asiatic Society three years later (1884). J C Bose had gone to England to study medicine, but changed over to Physics, having heard of Lord Rayleigh's achievments. Bose's demonstration of the transmission of radio waves took place in 1895 and 1896, the latter in the presence of Lord Kelvin. Bose later studied plant physiology and attained great fame. Otherwise, the beginnings of the Calcutta School of Physics owes a great deal to J C Bose. Grave doubts had been expressed about the ability of Indians to devise and carry out experiments. Bose disproved these malicious lies. Later, he devised ingenious techniques - his apparatus having been made by a local tinker - to study even the faintest response of plants to electrical stimuli.
While the main concern of scientists in the 17th century was in the field of astronomy, and in the 18th century of biology, phenomena discernible by our senses occupied the sharpest minds in the 19th. The nature of sound, light, heat, electricity and magnetism and the means of their propagation and transmission was the domain of classical physics.
None of these subjects were studied seriously in Calcutta or elsewhere in India until 1863, when Mahendralal Sircar obtained his doctorate in Medicine.
Mahendralal Sircar (1833-1904)
Sircar and Asutosh Mookerjee are the two persons to whom Calcutta owes much to the pursuit of science, though neither were able to pursue a career in science. Sircar earned his living through the profession of medicine, though retaining his interest in and close association with Physics. Sircar's contemporary associate was Father Lafont, who in 1870 started a small observatory at St. Xaviers' College. Through their joint efforts, they established the Science Association in 1876 at 210 Bow Bazar Street. Sircar and Lafont lectured on topics in Physics and Dr Kanailal Dey in Chemistry. The name of the Association was later changed in 1878 to the 'Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science' and a lecture hall was added to the building in 1884. The Vizianagram building for the laboratory was built in 1891.
At this stage, Asutosh Mookerjee started lecturing in Physics and Mathematics at the Association after a busy day devoted to the legal profession; later he was joined by J C Bose and Prafullachandra Ray, who lectured on Physics and Chemistry respectively.
) Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861-1944)
However, no research activities were undertaken at the Association; Mookerjee could not spare the time while Bose and Ray preferred to do research at Presidency College, where they taught. Sircar died in 1904.
Research activities began at the Association, though mostly conducted in their spare times, when C V Raman (1888-1970) was posted as an officer in the Indian Audit and Acounts Service in 1907. Although interrupted by transfers, Raman continued his research at the Association for the next 23 years. Raman joined the University College of Science at Calcutta in 1917 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930.
Asutosh Mookerjee became the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University in 1906 and set about to establish the University College of Science in 1914. The Government was not keen to provide the requisite funds and Mookerjee had to raise large sums of money from donors, the two notable being Taraknath Palit and Rashbehari Ghosh. Both were successful lawyers, and competed with each other in their donations. The best available talent was appointed to professorships and lectureships, though the emphasis was on research and not routine teaching.
In 1917, J C Bose founded his own Bose Institute for Research, but Prafullachandra Ray, three yars younger, joined the College of Science. Other professorships went to Ganesh Prasad (Applied Mathematics), D M Bose (Physics) (1885-1956), P C Mitra (Chemistry) and S P Agharkar (Applied Botany).
S N Bose (1894-1974),
S N Bose, Meghnad Saha (1893-1956) and S K Mitra (1890-1963) were appointed lecturers and they went on to achieve great reputation.
Along with the University College of Science was founded the Indian Science Congress in 1914. Asutosh Mookerjee was the man who brought it into being. The Congress meets every year in different places, but its permanent offices are at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, which in 1954 was shifted from 210 Bow Bazar to a more spacious site in Jadavpur.
The School of Tropical medicine, the Bose Institute and the School of Physics have had exceptional work to their credit. In Chemistry there was little achievment, in comparison with the dramatic work of Ross on malaria or of Raman on the scattering of light. Sir Andrew Pedlar worked out the chemistry of cobra venom. Prafullachandra Ray's first success was on the preparation of crystalline mercurious nitrate, earlier regarded as unstable. Both these researches were done at Presidency College. Later at the University College of Science, Ray busied himself with study of nitrates and various mercury salts. At the same time Upendranath Brahmachari in 1917 found Urea Stebamine as a specific for Kala-azar. Brahmachari missed the Nobel Prize, because no prizes were awarded during the war years. At the Bose Institute, marvelous facts about physiology and the behavior of plants were discovered.
J C Bose, however, followed his experiments on the Hertzian waves, by the radio-controlled firing of a canon, devised the first semi-conductor and galino detector which preceded the transistor by about 40 years. All of these were before 1915, for in that year Bose turned to plant physiology from physics.
The Calcutta School of Physics, carrying out its experiments at 210 Bow Bazar and the University College of Science, had its first triumph in 1920 when Meghnad Saha furnished an equation for deducing from spectral analysis the temperature on the surface of a star as well as the predominant element.
In 1924 S N Bose gave a new theoretical derivation of Max Planck's famous radiation law which had ushered in the quantum theory. In this paper, which was translated into German by Einstein himself and published in the Zeitschrift fur Physik, Bose introduced a new form of statistics which Einstein successfully adopted in his theory and which forms the basis of modern quantum theory.
Neither Saha nor S N Bose got the Nobel Prize, apparently because of their strong nationalistic attitudes. But when Enrico Fermi of Italy was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938, it was recognized that Fermi's first work of importance was an extension of Saha's theory of thermal ionization. The work which brought Fermi to the forefront among physiscists is the discovery of Fermi Statistics, a work which was inspired by that of S N Bose.
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|2. Excerpts from "Science in Calcutta: Attitudes", by Samaren Roy; in 'Calcutta: Society and Change: 1690 - 1990'; Rupa & Co publishers,1991; page 149 to 168.|
|In 1799, Abu
Taleb brought Newton back to Calcutta and in 1803, circulated the accounts of his
travel to Europe in manuscript form in
Persian. He was also responsible for introducing the
English interest in philosophy to Calcutta.
Rammohun Roy taught himself English as an adult, after schooling in Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit ... His was an age of religion ... [In the beginning] Science was not a major subject of study at the Hindoo College and other institutions like it. There was not enough knowledge to support their assertions. There were amateur scientists at the Asiatic Society and professionals in the Surveys: Botanical (1897), Trigonometrical (1818), Geological (1851) and Archaelogical (1854) ... but they were all manned by Europeans. Educated Indians were deeply disturbed by a feeling of inferiority. From 1857, when one or two Calcuttans entered into correspondence with August Comte, there was a sense of relief, for the Positivists did not subject Hinduism to the same scrutiny as Christian Evangelists had done ...
Between 1863 and 1886, four outstanding men of science appeared on the Calcutta horizon: Mahendralal Sircar (1833-1904) was a physician, while the rest were mathematicians: Goorudas Banerjee (passing out in 1864), Anandamohan Bose (in 1868) and Asutosh Mukherjee (in 1886). There were no careers in science open to Indians then. Radhanath Sikdar in the Trigonometrical Survey and P N Bose in the Geological Survey were exceptions. Therefore, these four persons had to earn their livlihood through medical and legal practice, even after Bose became a Cambridge Wrangler, and Asutosh Mukherjee gave "an elegant new proof of the 25th proposition of the first book of Euclid". That they retained their interest in science at all is the astonishing fact.
One of the reasons for Mathematics to flourish could have been a desire to escape the heated debate on religious matters prevailing at Calcutta at that time. There was an internal logic in Mathematics which shut out social and religious issues. And it did not require the expensive laboratories demanded by other branches of science. Study of Mathematics was an escapism of sorts, but hard to decry.
Father Lafont was a Jesuit who, in addition to installing a telescope and a small observatory at St Xavier's, joined hands with Mahendralal Sircar. The two founded the Indian Assocition for Cultivation of Science ... Before the IACS could start functioning, there was a debate about the activities it should engage in. Sircar was keen on research, but the bureaucracy thought they knew best what the natives needed ... Funds collected for the IACS totalled only Rs 80,000 ... how scarce funds were and how niggardly the Government was, is best shown in Asutosh Mookerjee's story:
Asutosh Mookerjee wanted to pursue a career in science after he had done post-graduate work in both Physics and Methematics. Goorudas Banerjee, himself a mathematician who had to take up legal profession for a living, was the Vice-Chancellor and sympathetic to Mookerjee, but he could not find the Rs 4,000 yearly which could have permitted the younger man to pursue his interests. Mookerjee enrolled himself as a vakil to practice in the High Court at Calcutta - as a junior to Rashbehari Ghosh ... Sircar invited him to lecture at 210 Bow Bazar in Ohysics and Mathematics, betwen 1887 and 1892, but Mookerjee had to discontinue it when the pressure of professional work increased.
Meanwhile, attitudes were changing at Presidency College. Jagadishchandra Bose returned from Cambridge to join Presidency College in 1885. By a coincidence, elementary physics was added as a subject that year ... Also in 1885, practicals were introduced at the Masters level. Prafullachandra Ray returned from Edinburgh and was appointed assistant professor in Chemistry at Presidency College. These two persons also lectured at 210 Bowbazar Street, but carried on experments at their college.
More importantly, three men with scientific backgrounds - two mathematicians and a chemist - became Vice-Chancellors of Calcutta University. Goorudas Banerjee was Vice-Chancellor in 1886 and Asutosh Mookerjee succeeded Andrew Pedlar in 1906, and on becoming VC was determined to provide opportunities for research, which he himself had been denied. Inspite of not being appointed Research Scholar, Mookerjee had contributed sixteen original papers to scientific journals.
Sircar died in 1904 - having established a center for scientifuc research, but disappointed that not much had been done in his lifetime. It would become a busy center after 1907, when C V Raman (1888-1970) began using its laboratory while retaining a full-time job in the Audit and Accounts Office.
At Presidency College, however, Jagadishchandra Bose and Prafullchandra Ray were distinguishing themselves ... they were not interested in local phenomena, but fundamental research. Jagadishchandra Bose in 1895 demonstrated that electromagnetic waves were not obstructed by solid walls and could be transmitted without the wires that Oliver Lodge had used. The Nobel Prize had not been instituted then and the year that it was (1901), Marconi had succeeded in wireless transmission over long distances, which was of greater practical value than Bose's transmission over short distances. The principle was the same, but there were differences in utility ... Jagadishchandra Bose was the first, and probably one of only two Calcutta scientists whose research was important to science as well had commercial possibilities. Bose, in the truest sense, was the founder of the Calcutta School of Physics, having to his credit one of the major discoveries of the 19th century; he turned down an offer from a British firm for collaboration ... cultural nationalism being cited as the reason ...
Jagadishchandra Bose's interest in funadamenal research did not waver. Over the next 20 years he continued with research in plant physiology and plant responses to electrical stimuli and the unity of life. In 1917, he founded the Bose Institute, which carried on and still performs research in that direction.
Prafullachandra Ray's work of 1896 on mercurious compounds appeared less spectacular to the lay person, but it was equally important as the basis of Physical Chemistry. Ray's first success was the preparation of crystalline mercurious nitrate, earlier regarded as unstable. Later, the study of nitrites and of various mercury salts engaged Ray for several years. Among Ray's pupils, S C Mukherjee in 1910 contributed a paper on ionization of mecury nitirite solution. Two years later, Ray - with another pupil, Nilratan Dhar (1892-1986) - exhaustively studied the physical evidence of the structure of mercury nitrite. From 1912 a steady stream of papers, a total of over 150, flowed from the laboratory of Dr Dhar on varied topics in Physical and Electro-Chemistry.
In 1915 Jnanchandra Ghosh (1894-1959) Jnanendranath Mukherjee (1893-1983) took to research in Physical Chemistry, leading to Ghosh's Theory in 1918 of complete dissociation of electrolytes whose mathematics was revised and improved in 1923 by Debye. Mukherjee later concentrated on Colloidal Chemistry and won laurels in that field of research. Later, Mukherjee became the first Secretary of the Indian Chemical Society, of which Prafullachandra Ray was the President.
... The early successes were not because the city was equipped for research, but because a climate for it had been created. Jagadishchandra Bose trained a tinker to make for him the apparatus he devised for his experiments. Even after Vizianagram Laboratory had been opened and Jagadishchandra Bose at Presidency College had demonstrated wireless transmission and built the first semi-conductor receiver, Lord Rayleigh visited Bose's Laboratory and advised him to ask for a scientific deputation abroad. Mahalanobis did go to England and changed from physics to mathematics, but did not return after his first vacation at home.
Jagadishchandra Bose, on his return from London and after demonstrating the wireless transmitter and receiver, was interviewed by a reporter of The Englishman on May 22, 1897, and asked if there was any prospect of a school of scientists being formed in Bengal. The scientist lamented the paucity of laboratories and the poor equipment of the few that existed, but he spoke of his faith that "the Indian mind would prove itself at least as capable of excelling in science as in literature or philosophy".
... No particular institution is associated with the Calcutta School of Physics. Four strands enetered into it. The oldest was St.Xaviers, where Jagadishchandra Bose was educated. The next was Presidency College where Jagadishchandra Bose taught and demonstrated wireless transmission. The Vizianagram Laboratory at 210 Bow Bazar opened in 1891 but became productive of results, including the Raman Effect, only between 1907 and 1930. The University College of Science, where Meghnad Saha and Satyendranath Bose developed their equations and statistics, was a successor to Presidency College.
Jagadishchandra Bose missed the Nobel Prize again for the semi-conductor receiver of radio-waves in the first quinquennium of the prize for extraneous reasons. Bose had built a contrivance for radio reception which was superseded only in the late forties by semi-conductors and transistors for which W H Brattain received the Nobel Prize in 1956.
The extraneous reasons referred to above were that Jagadishchandra Bose was under a cloud after his successive lectures delivered in 1900 and 1901 at the British Association, the Royal Instituion and the Royal Society on the similarity of responses to electrical stimulus in inorganic and living substances. There were alarming reservations about the Oriental mind being prone to mysticism and synthesis, especially when the first modern scientist from the East had burst upon the Western World. In addition, his competitors resorted to plagiarism and dishonest methods.
Oliver Lodge, who himself turned to spiritualism 16 years later, pleaded with Bose to "go slowly, establish point by point and restrain inspiration". Rayleigh told Bose, "Going too fast! Proceed slowly." But Bose could not be restrained. He even disdained the advice of a firm seeking to patent his discoveries to keep them a secret. At the Royal Society lecture, Bose had a controvery with a leading physiologist, Burdon Sanderson, and a result of which was that his papers ceased to be published by the Society.
... When in 1937, S Chandrashekhar - who had researched at Calcutta for a brief period nine years earlier - described what have come to be known as "black holes", A S Eddington at the same Royal Society meeting expressed his doubts and Chandrasekhar had to wait for almost half a century for his Nobel prize. Sir William Crookes had told Bose in 1901: "You think scientific men are liberal - they are the most conservative of peoples. The are content with what they have now."
Neither Bose nor his advisors were prepared for what was to follow. In May 1902 Bose learnt that Waller, also a leading physiologist, backed by Sanderson, had tried to block his paper being presented to the Linnaen Society - on the plea that Waller had published his discovery in November 1901. Bose asked for an inquiry into the priority dispute which revealed that his papers had been printed before June 1901, but were not published. The Royal Society recognized Bose's priority but did not publish his paper, though it was already in print.
Jagadish Chandra Bose aroused more nationalist pride than any scientist before or after him, and so lakhs of rupees were raised for him to establish his research institute in 1917 ... the years between 1906 and 1917 must be reckoned as those when public interest in science was at its highest. Later fund-raising was mostly for political purposes.
By the time the Bose Institute was inaugurated, Jagadishchandra Bose had contributed 150 papers over 23 years. For all practical purposes, he had shifted his attention from physics ... the change ocurred in 1902 with the publication of the Response in the Living and Non-Living which probably cost him the Nobel Prize.
Jagadishchandra Bose was an electrophysicist who worked when experimental techniques were in the incipient stage, chemical mediators had not been discovered, and hence all his work have not stood the test of time. His synthetic approach to physics, physiology and psychology did inspire a generation of scientists to take a unified view of Nature, that crystallized into the science of cybernetics. Later writers have ascribed to him extravagant views, but Jagadishchandra Bose asserted that "science does not believe in the occult, for to it nothing is extra-physical but only mysterious owing to some hitherto unascertained cause".
Between 1781 and 1835, the controversy with regard to education raged strongly between those developing the indigenous system and those wanting to transplant the European system. The former have been called the Orientalists and the latter Anglicists. The issue was not as narrow as the language employed as the medium of instruction - as misrepresented often, as is still today - The dispute related to importing the New Learning of Europe, or sticking to the Indian Systems, which were closer to medieval scholasticism prevalent in Europe before 1541. That was the year when Sorbonne introduced the New Learning.
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