It is not easy to write the biography of a scientist. The hallowed precincts of scientific research, around which the lives of scientists revolve, offer little scope for any drama. Theirs is a dull, dour and colourless avocation which is of little interest even to the high brow, let alone the common man.
It is to the credit of retired chief income tax commissioner K Chandrahas that he took up this challenging task to come up with a biography of one of the renowned scientists of India that is at once highly readable, informative and edifying.
Dr Y Nayudamma is probably one of the very few scientists from Andhra Pradesh to make it big in the highly conservative, hierarchy-conscious scientific establishment of India. It is through sheer dint of hard work, an affable nature, a progressive outlook and great leadership qualities that he could reach the top in his chosen field.
The title of the book “The People’s Scientist Dr Y Nayudamma” is indeed apt for someone who always strove for employing technology in the service of the common man. His life-long mission was to connect the research laboratory with the industry to benefit the poorest of the poor. As the youngest director of Central Leather Research Institute in Madras, he left no stone unturned to make tanning a dignified industry and tanners a respected lot.
A self-made man and a farmer’s son in the true sense of the term, Nayudamma made his indelible mark both as director of CLRI and later as Director General of the prestigious CSIR. His multi-faceted talent as a scientist, teacher, administrator and manager par excellence was recognized and rewarded by the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as well as his daughter Indira Gandhi.
The book traces the journey of Nayudamma’s life from his village Yalavarru in Guntur district in 1930s to his student days in Varanasi, England and the US subsequently, his tryst with CLRI from a lowly demonstrator to its director in late 50s through late 60s, his elevation as DG-CSIR and the radical changes he had brought to its outdated style of functioning in 70s, his brief stint as VC of JNU and later as head and distinguished scientist of Centre for Development Alternatives in 80s.
The author’s admiration for the outstanding personality of Dr Nayudamma notwithstanding, Chandrahas does not shy away from making a critical and objective assessment of his subject and his contribution. Referring to Nayudamma’s short stint as JNU Vice-Chancellor, the biographer says, “He was gentle, suave, progressive but not pugnacious enough” to set things right.
The committed and enlightened scientist was also not exactly successful in realizing his mission to “give up our un-yielding, non-profitable, individual-oriented researches and concentrate on a few nationally relevant technological tasks”. “He made a virtue of seeking reconciliation when a little confrontation was necessary”, points out Chandrahas.
The elements of drama in the life and personality of Dr Nayudamma were brought to the fore by the author through various anecdotes. His self-deprecating jokes on his rather unconventional name and 6-foot frame, his two-piece western outfit, his tongue-in-cheek self-description as ‘untouchable by profession’ and his second marriage to Dr Pavanabai in unexpected circumstances provide the lighter and human side of the obsessive technocrat-scientist. A rationalist, he cracked jokes on the likes of Satya Sai Baba asking them to produce blades of grass instead of ash, but interestingly would begin his day making notes on his sheaf of papers by first writing ‘Sri’ in Telugu – a traditional practice in Andhra those days.
Dr Nayudamma was a much sought after scientist-administrator across the world given his hands-on experience in managing scientific institutions in a newly independent country. He travelled extensively across the world and with his natural flair for people and relationships, built a formidable circle of friends in the scientific community across the globe.
Madras was his beloved place where he spent most of his working life and to which he returned after his rather uneventful tenure at JNU. From there, he happily engaged himself in teaching and advising on matters of science and technology nationally and internationally. It was during one such trip to the IDRC board meeting at Ottawa, Candada that Dr Nayudamma, an illustrious son of the country, who made a sterling contribution to leather technology in particular and scientific advancement in general, met with sudden death while travelling on the ill-fated Kanishka airplane which was bombed midway by the Khalistan terrorists.
His untimely death in 1985, followed by his wife Pavanabai’s self-immolation on learning the news, was a great loss to the country as he had many more years of active life left.
K Chandrahas’s succinct narration and the thoroughness that he has brought to the book – along with rare pictures and personal notes of Dr Nayudamma - make for valuable reading.
K Chandrahas; Pegasus India Publishers, Flat No. 102/303, Gitanjali, Plot No.108, Srinagar Colony, Hyderabad-500073. Rs 200