Wednesday, December 24, 2008

P. Balaram on Burjorji Padshah's Role in Creating and Shaping IISc

IISc-Stamps In his latest Current Science editorial, Prof. Balaram pays rich tributes to Burjorji J. Padshah, one of the men who find a place in one of the two commemorative stamps (top row, second from right) issued by the Department of Posts and Telegraph to mark the Centenary of the Indian Institute of Science.

Burjorji Padshah played a central role in the creation of IISc. He's the man who was given the task of realizing Jamsetji N. Tata's dream, and he pursued it with extraordinary commitment and vigour. Even after Jamsetji's death in 1904.

Here's an excerpt from Balaram's editorial:

Padshah emerges as an extraordinary figure who corresponded with Viceroys from Curzon to Willingdon, Gokhale, Gandhi (with whom he disagreed on satyagraha), Ratan and Dorab Tata. Descriptions of Padshah by those who knew him, highlight his encyclopaedic knowledge and his courteousness even in disagreement. For a man trained in philosophy, his abilities to manipulate and remember numbers, as recorded by his contemporaries, seem remarkable. At IISc in its early years Padshah seemed intent on nudging the institution to embark on studies in the social sciences and medicine. The 1898 document for the proposed University or Institute of Research included a ‘Medical Department’ and a ‘Philosophical and Educational Department’. The latter was envisaged to engage in a wide variety of disciplines ranging from Indian History and Archaeology to Statistics and Economics. Padshah met resolute opposition to his ideas from the first Director of IISc, Morris Travers. Between 1907 and 1913 there was little agreement but Travers had launched the institution towards its eventual focus of science and engineering. Both men severed their association with IISc in 1914, in none too happy circumstances ...

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An earlier post summarizes Padshah's intense -- but ultimately unsuccessful -- efforts to mould IISc's mandate to include teaching and research in humanities and social sciences.

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I thank my colleague and friend Prof. S. Ranganathan for his e-mail alert about Prof. Balaram's editorial.