Wednesday, December 16, 2009


It is with profound sadness that I note the passing away of Prof. R. Balasubramanian of IIT-K -- Bala to those who knew him.

Bala was a year senior to us in our Department (of Metallurgical Engineering at IT-BHU), so we knew him quite well. Not only was he the topper of his class, he excelled in many other spheres -- he was a good cricketer (I believe he played in the IT team) and he was the drummer -- a flamboyant one at that! -- in one of the rock groups. As the Gymkhana President, he organized the the biggest and the most spectacular Kashi Yatra -- IT-BHU's cultural festival -- of our era.

In our IT-BHU lives, Bala was a hero, a leader, and a rock star!

* * *

After grad school, and back in Indian academia, I met Bala at many events -- mainly conferences and thesis examinations. I'm indebted to him for his support when I applied for a faculty position at IIT-K.

While we didn't work in the same area, I was always aware of Bala's work -- primarily because of its popular science component.

Bala was at his creative best when he combined his deep interest in Indian history with his expertise in metallurgy (more specifically, corrosion science). Back in the 1990s, he launched his now celebrated study of the Delhi Iron Pillar -- a 'Rustless Wonder' and a 'Metallurgical Marvel of Ancient India.' His research covered not just its extraordinary resistance to rusting, but also its historical context and how the artisans of that age manufactured such a massive monument. [See the list of books he has published].

One can see the influence of this work in his later research into Indian cannons, as well as that into ancient Indian astronomy and metrology -- see, for example, this recent Current Science paper on "the connection of the traditional unit of measure, the angulam, of the Harappan Civilization (~2000 BC) with length measures of the Mughal period (AD ~1600)...," and this one on the astronomical significance of the Delhi Iron Pillar.

Bala was so outgoing and so full of life that he left an unforgettable impression on anyone who had even the briefest of contact with him. As this page testifies, he has also had a positive impact on those who had the good fortune to have been taught by him, or to have worked, played (cricket or music), or interacted with him.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Bala was an allrounder and a great friend.

  2. Anonymous said...

    or played guitar with him

  3. Abi said...

    @Anon (#2): I didn't see any awkwardness in using 'played with'; but since you pointed it out, I have changed it to 'played (cricket or music) with'.

  4. gaddeswarup said...

    Thanks for the article and links. I read some of his popular pieces but it seems that I missed quite a few.

  5. Anonymous said...

    I saw his interview on Michael Wood's documentary on India on BBC. He was passionate and full of energy while he described some of technological inventions of the iron age in India.

    I never took a class from him at IITK - unfortunate for me.