There is some interest in Telugu sites and Telugu blogs about scientists of Telugu origin. My remembrance is that many were multiligual and multicultural but remembering the origins may help others with their aspirations. In 2004, I wrote a somewhat personal account about Komaravolu Chandrasekharan from Bapatla, a town about 7 miles from Chintayapalem where I finished school. At that time I did not see my friend Raghunathan's excellent article "Artless innocents and ivory-tower sophisticates: Some personalities on the Indian mathematical scene" in this issue of Current Science. It is rather long and if there are any copy right problems, I will remove it. I think that it gives a more objective assessment by one of our best mathematicians. It is difficult to share thoughts or enthusiasm about excellence in specialized fields with others but Raghunathan does it well. Here it is in his own words:
"the people I have spoken about so far are no more. The next person I am going to talk about, K. Chandrasekharan, is living – in retirement in Zurich, Switzerland. He was born in 1920 and was initiated into mathematics by – who else – Ananda Rau in Madras. He went to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to do postdoctoral work. Chandrasekharan worked in number theory and summability – like many others of his generation. His mathematical achievements are of the first rank, but his even greater contribution to Indian mathematics, I think, lies elsewhere. He was an extraordinarily gifted organizer and administrator of science – in the Bradman class, if we use Hardy’s terminology. Homi Bhabha visited Princeton in 1949 when Chandrasekharan was there and offered him a position at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. There is a story about this which I have not attempted to authenticate, but it rings true.
Chandrasekharan was taking a walk with the great von Neumann when they saw
Bhabha walking with Einstein at a distance. von Neumann asked Chandrasekharan if it was true that he was planning to move to Bombay to work at Bhabha’s institute. When Chandrasekharan responded in the affirmative, von Neumann said, ‘That man is as good a physicist as any, but do not let him intimidate you – stand up to him’, or words to that effect. It would appear that KC as Chandrasekharan was known, followed that advice – differences of opinion with Bhabha seem to have been among the causes that led to his leaving TIFR in 1965 and move to Zurich.
I should like to tell you another anecdote relating to KC, of which I have first-hand knowledge. This again goes back to my Princeton visit in 1966–67. I once accompanied a friend with expensive tastes to a clothing shop in Princeton. My friend ordered a suit for himself, while I acquired a scarf (which cost me 16 dollars – in 1966, mind you!). The shopkeeper who kept up a conversation
right through asked us if we knew, von Neumann and we said that we knew of him. Then he asked us if we knew Chandrasekaran and we told him that we did indeed know him; at which point he said, ‘They are the only two gentlemen from that Institute who knew how to dress!’
In the decade and a half that he spent at TIFR, Chandrasekharan transformed the fledgling School of Mathematics there into a centre of excellence, respected
the world over. Chandrasekharan initiated a very successful programme of recruitment and training of Research Scholars at TIFR; the programme continues to this day, along the same lines that he set down. He was uncompromising in insisting on high standards. In his Princeton days, he became acquainted with many of the leading mathematicians of the world and put these contacts to excellent use. Herman Weyl gifted his collection of Mathematische Annalen volumes to the TIFR, thanks to Chandrasekharan. With his unusual abilities, he was able to persuade many leading
mathematical figures to visit the Tata Institute and deliver courses of lectures
over a period of two months and more, to his carefully selected Research Scholars.
Among the many distinguished men who visited the Tata Institute in the fifties,
two names stand out: L. Schwartz (a Fields medallist) and C. L. Siegel. They both had tremendous influence on the way mathematics evolved at TIFR. Schwartz persuaded many of his colleagues and students to visit the Tata Institute. Research Scholars were asked to write notes for the lectures given and these lecture notes enjoy a great reputation in the mathematical community to this day.
Chandrasekharan was an excellent judge of mathematics even in areas outside his own specialization, and responded quickly to the achievements of his wards. Equally, non-performance at the high level he had set had no place at TIFR. Chandrasekharan managed to instill in the students at TIFR, strong commitment to hard work without their losing their romantic attachment to mathematics. One important reason for
his success was the freedom he gave the students to work on what they pleased. The visitors gave them exposure to different mathematical areas, many of them far removed from KC’s own interests, and students were encouraged to pursue whatever caught their fancy. Rev Father Racine from Madras whom Chandrasekharan knew from his Madras days and whom he held in great respect, provided him with a steady stream of talent......
Chandrasekharan’s influence went well beyond Indian mathematics. For some 24 years from the mid-fifties, he was a member of the Executive Committee of the International Mathematical Union (IMU). He also served as the Secretary for two terms and as President for one term. His initiatives on this committee were numerous and valued greatly. He was responsible for the IMU sponsoring the International Mathematical Colloquium held once every four years at the Tata Institute starting 1956. These meetings have been on diverse topics in mathematics; topics that are of current interest internationally and to which Indian mathematicians have contributed
substantially. They have been a great success over the years and an invitation to the meeting is considered prestigious.
I should like to mention a personal experience in this connection. In 1964, Tata Institute held a Colloquium on ‘Differential Analysis’ and the organizing committee headed by Chandrasekharan extended an invitation to me to give atalk. A few weeks before the colloquium, I was told that I should rehearse my lecture before KC in his office. My teacher Narasimhan was also present at the rehearsal. Chandrasekharan’s own mathematical interests had little to do with the subject of mytalk; nevertheless, he listened to me patiently for more than an hour, interjecting now and then to tell me how I should present something and generally giving me tips on lecturing. I had in those days, a reputation as a poor speaker (which I hope does not hold now) but as it turned out, thanks to Chandrasekharan, I gave a lecture that
was received very well indeed.
In the fifties, Chandrasekharan held the editorship of the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society. During this period, several great papers appeared in the journal thanks to Chandrasekharan’s abilities at persuading some of the great
names in the field to publish there.
We at the Tata Institute certainly owe a great deal to Chandrasekharan and are
grateful for the great start he gave us."