Freedom with Responsibility! A Centenarian’s perspective to Research and Life

Prof. H.N. Ramachandra Rao (DOB: October
25th, 1909) was an esteemed GURU of the
Indian Institute of Science, a stalwart
who was attached to this institution for
over 75 years and the only person who has
witnessed the Silver, Golden, Platinum jubilees
and the Centenary year.

This article is an ode to one of the ARCHITECTs
of the INSTITUTE.

Be it visiting United States of America to get the Network
Analyzer from General Electric, at the dawn of the Indian
Independence, to ensure the rapid power infrastructure
development of the country or visiting Russia with Prof.
Satish Dhawan, Prof. Dhikshitalu and Prof. Nagaraja, to
procure equipment for starting the School of Automation,
Prof. Rao was an indispensible part of the Institute
Team.
Prof. Rao joined the Institute as a student in the Electrical
Technology department in 1933 after completing his
Masters in Physics from Calcutta. Sir C.V. Raman also
joined the Institute as Director in the very same year, who
had been his Physics professor at Calcutta, too. It was as
a student that he attended the Silver Jubilee celebrations
of the Institute in 1934.
Prof. Rao reminisced about his student days as a time of
full freedom. It was a time when there was no attendance
or strict working hours. He recalled, “During day time
we would be at MG Road or Brigade Road and then
work late into the night at our labs. It was a wonderful
experience.” It was a time when faculty and guides like
Prof. F.N. Moudawala, played the role of an elder brother,
being strict when required, but mostly being accessible
and affable. They would be faculty during the day, and at
4:30 pm, once work was done, they would head off to the
Gymkhana to play cricket, tennis and billiards with the
students. He said of one of his professors, Prof. Aston,
who taught them Electrical Machine Design, “If we tried
to address Prof. Aston as Sir, he’d respond … Don’t call
me Sir. I am not a knight! Call me Professor. That’s how
jovial faculty were at the time”.
After graduating, Prof. Rao joined the Government
Porcelain Factory (now BHEL) in 1936 and got involved
in producing dichromates (used for tanning of soldiers’
shoes during the Second World War), along with Prof.
K.R. Krishnaswamy, of the Department of Chemistry, IISc.
Sir J.C. Ghosh invited him to join as lecturer in 1942 and
then began his second stint at IISc, this time as faculty.
He worked as Professor and then Dean of Engineering till
1969, when he left the Institute to join the Union Public
Service Commission (UPSC). However, Prof. Rao had
continued association with the Institute through out his
life. He has the record of attending every single Ayudha
Puja in the Electrical Department since 1933 to date.
Living in Bungalow No. 13 next to the Post office from
1942 to 1969, was one of the most memorable times
for Prof. Rao and his family. Prof. Rao recalled the great
ambience of the Institute, the fantastic atmosphere, the
freedom to work and play, attending the Golden Jubilee,
meeting several visiting dignitaries, and the wonderful
friends he made here like Prof. K Parthasarathy (the
Relay specialist), Prof. B N Narayana Iyengar, Prof. Satish
Dhawan and Prof. M.S. Thacker.
Prof. Rao’s contributions to the research community
and the country have fetched him many accolades. The
IEEE Centennial Medal, which he received in 1984 at
the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Institute, Sir M.
Visvesvaraya Award for Senior Scientists in 2003 from the
Chief Minister of Karnataka, two CBIP Gold Medals for
research and Fellowship of institutions like the Institution
of Engineers (India), IEI (London), ISI (India) are a few
of them. He attributed all his success to God’s grace.
Prof. Rao strongly believed in the necessity of Change.
The changing face of IISc, from being a campus with just
three departments, when he joined as a student, to the
new face it is today, had been to him, on the one hand
very noteworthy, but also on the other, a little disturbing.
“The number of students, in the departments in those
days, were less and the teacher student ratio was 1:3.
The students were mostly top rank holders from various
universities. They represented the cultural mix of India.
We had so many messes, one for Parsi food, another for
Bengali, Maharashtrian and so on. In fact, the decision
by Sir J.C. Ghose, to merge them all saw an agitation!
Today things have changed. The attitude of the students
of today is different from what it was in his times.” He
said of the Institute and the community within it, “One
cannot be static, they should be constantly changing.
One should be dynamic. Change is Life. Otherwise you
are Dead.”
Prof. Rao believed in the philosophy of Work hard and
Play just as hard. His secret of success is a practical
message to the IISc community…
The aim of research like JN Tata’s vision should be
to solve the problems of the country and improve
Science and Technology. Money and Cheap
Popularity should not be the aim as researchers.
The Secret of Success as a student or teacher
or professor is Full Freedom, not just a freedom
of thought and action, but also a freedom with
responsibility. It is Motivation, the interest and
love for the work that you do. Curiosity and a will
to work at all times will go a long way to reach
your destination. It is the ability to question your
convictions and never just accepting what is.
Prof. H.N. Ramachandra Rao is truly an inspiration to all
of us at IISc and we are indeed grateful to him for having
provided his time and pearls of wisdom. We are also
grateful to his family for the support.

We dedicate this write-up to Prof. H. N.
Ramachandra Rao. The Voices Team
deeply regrets his sad demise a few days
before the Centenary Conference.

P.S: Article written by Kumudhini. I conducted the interview with her.

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