Remembering Raman

When a 27-year-old metallurgist taught Nobel laureate CV Raman how to speak Russian

On the world-famous physicist's 127th birth anniversary, a former general manager of Bhilai steel plant recalls his association with the legend.

In April 1958, S Narayan was a young metallurgist teaching at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore while he waited to be called up to work on a grand new steel plant in Bhilai. He was poring over lecture notes in his department one day, when a man in a turban and hands tugging at the lapels of his coat was suddenly standing before him. Narayan was more than a little surprised to see that it was the world famous physicist CV Raman who had come to see him.

“Are you free now? Can you come with me for a while?” Narayan recalled him asking.

Raman won the Nobel Prize for his work on scattering of light in 1930, a year before Narayan was born. Now Raman needed Narayan’s help. He needed someone who knew Russian.

Narayan had just returned from Russia the previous winter. Having completed his bachelors degree from the Bangalore institute, Narayan became one of 50 engineers selected to work at Bhilai, a one million tonne steel plant that India was building in collaboration with the Soviet Union. Soon, Narayan was on his way to Russia to train at the Zaporozhye steel factory (now in Ukraine) on the banks of River Dneiper. The metallurgist was armed with a few words and phrases from a Russian language primer by Nina Potapova. The rest he picked up through immersive learning while working in Zaporozhye and studying at the University of Moscow.

When he returned to Bangalore, Narayan was the only person who could solve Raman’s problem. The Nobel laureate had just been conferred the first Lenin Peace Prize for “outstanding services in the struggle for preservation and conservation of peace”. Congratulations were flooding in. He had received several letters from Soviet scientists written in Russian that he wanted to reply to.

Raman took Narayan back to his office at the Raman Research Institute, which was down the road from the Indian Institute of Science’s department of metallurgy.


Narayan at his Bangalore home in 2015.


Narayan recounted how that first meeting went.

I have got all these letters that are all written in Russian. I can’t make head or tail of them. I want to reply to them. Can you help me?” Raman asked.

“I think I can,” said Narayan.

“You can take two weeks,” said Raman.

“I don’t need two weeks. I can take the weekend and by Monday you will have the replies,” said Narayan

“So soon?” said a surprised Raman.

“I know Russian very well. It’s not that difficult,” replied Narayan, who could think of no better way than to spend his weekend than help India’s most formidable scientific brain with his correspondence.

Raman's roses 

Narayan returned on Monday with replies and as a secretary set about dispatching them, Raman took Narayan to his rose garden.

“He had tended perhaps the best rose garden I has seen. At that time he had grown about 200 varieties of roses. There were black roses and varieties I had never heard of, never seen, even though I had visited many botanical gardens,” said Narayan who was happy with such a reward for his services.

But Raman had another request of the young man. He now wanted to learn Russian and asked Narayan to teach him.

Raman asked Narayan to come to his house every morning before starting work. The house, a bungalow named Panchavati surrounded by a sprawling mango grove in the heart of Malleswaram, was walking distance from where Narayan himself lived. And so the lessons began. Narayan used the same Potapova primer to teach Raman basic Russian.

“He evinced a very keen interest, like a Gurukul student of old. Every day he would do his homework and repeat his lessons back to me,” said Narayan. Even though Raman was 60 years old and Narayan only 27, the older man liked to maintain the teacher-student relationship. As payment for the lessons, Narayan would get to sit down with Raman and his wife for a breakfast of hot coffee and idlis.

Soon, Russian was rolling off Raman's tongue. Dobroe utro, he would say to Narayan, wishing him a good morning. Then he would address the younger man as gaspadin. No, no – Narayan would correct Raman. Gaspadin is to imply great respect while appropriate title for a regular acquaintance is comrade.
“The lesson part of it was only 30-40 minutes, the rest of it was just gabbing about this and that,” Narayan said. “He had picked up conversational Russian and would sometimes use it to tease his wife.”


Russian, in a Tamil accent 

Towards the end of almost 100 morning lessons, Raman received an invitation to travel to the USSR to receive the Lenin award and address the Russian Academy of Sciences. Raman was determined to give the address in the Russian language.

“There came the problem,” said Narayan. “Dr Raman had a very strong native Tamil accent. Every Russian word he would pronounce with this heavy Tamil accent and it didn’t sound like Russian at all.”

So Narayan prepared Raman’s speech and recorded the lines for his student to listen to, memorise and repeat. The speech consisted of a few short sentences consisting of words that would not be difficult to pronounce. Raman, however, insisted that it include some messages – that he was honoured by the award given to him against the intentions of scientists in non-Communist countries; that the award was a great honour to not just him but also his homeland.

The speech was a success. In her biography of Raman, writer Uma Parameswaran notes that “after thanking the presenters for recognizing India as a sincere champion of peace, he went on to say that he regretted that advancements in physics were being used to manufacture weapons of destruction. He went on to say that Japan had experienced the power of this weapon… but those who created the weapon failed to take note of the fact that other countries too could develop this weapon and that they themselves could fall victims to similar or more terrible trials”.

When Raman returned from his tour of Russia and Europe, he called Narayan, thanked him for his help and asked whether they could continue their lessons. But 1958 was coming to an end and Narayan was being summoned to Bhilai where the steel plant was soon going to be inaugurated. Narayan went to Bhilai in January 1959 and worked his way up over the years to become general manager but never had the chance to speak to Raman again. “The next time I came to Bangalore Dr Raman was no more and the family had moved from Panchavati.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Han Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.