Book Review : The Inspiring Life of Abdus Salam
Author Dr Mujahid Kamran , vice chancellor Punjab University,
Department of Physics, Government College Lahore
Publisher – University of the Punjab, Lahore 2013 ISBN 978-969-9325-11-3
The Inspiring Life of Abdus Salam by Dr. Mujahid Kamran
I purchased a copy of this fascinating book after going to 3 book stores in Lahore last year. From 1982 when the first biography appeared, so far five biographies have appeared on the momentous life of Dr. Salam. First one was by Dr. Abdul Ghani 1982, Azim Kidwai 1989, Jagjit Singh 1992, then Gordon Fraser 2008 and now Dr. Kamran 2013. Not only that I have read these biographies I have all of these in my personal library, besides a vast of collections of documents related to the life of this outstanding Muslim physicist since the time of ibn al-Haitham 1000 years ago.
It was in 1980 that Dr. Abdus Salam expressed his desire that Dr. Kamran should compile his biography. It took nearly 25 years to fulfill this desire. Previous to this book Dr. Kamran’s several articles on Dr. Salam have been published in various journals and newspapers. As a professor of theoretical physics Dr. Kamran was well suited to pen such a biography. In 1985 he was awarded Abdus Salam Award.
The distinctive feature of this latest biography is; which is not found in all previous biographies, that the examination results of Salam from matriculation to masters 1940-1946 have been published from the original Punjab university records. This must have been a daunting task.
Dr. Kamran book is insightful, inspiring and gives you the glimpse in the life of a complex man. There are intriguing anecdotes narrated in this comprehensive book, especially the chapter the physicist and the man.
For instance a former student of Salam, Dr. Delbourgo makes the following observation about Salam’s ability to guess what would be right without having worked out the mathematics. “ When standing up to argue with him on one of the finer points of the problem you had to be pretty darn sure of what you said because he had a wonderful intuition about the answer and was much more often right than wrong. When out of desperation you would confront him and ask him how he could be so certain, he would break into his wicked smiles, twiddle his thumbs, lean back in his chair, raise his finger and point upwards. Mind you if you stood your ground and (on the odd occasion) turned out to be correct, he did respect you for it”.
Luciano Bertocchi, former deputy director of ICTP, states in the Fall of 1956 he “received a copy of the written lecture notes on dispersion relations delivered by Salam at Rochester Conference. The lecture notes were very typical of Salam’s style, to be able to pick up, in physics as well as in other domains, the most important points, and to look at them very carefully, neglecting the less important details, provided the final result was correct.”
Prof. Gordon Feldman (d. February 2014) has observed the following regarding Salam’s passion for physics. “Abdus (Salam) was not only excited about his own ideas but also excited when he read about something but he had not known before and thought was simply beautiful. I remember bursting into the office once and on the blackboard he drew a short line segment with two little circles attached to the end and with his eyes glowing with excitement he said, “ tha’s SU(3)”. Needless to say neither Paul (Mathews) not I had a clue to what he was talking about.”
Professor Luciano Fonda had to this say about donations given to students by Salam: “I became aware of his great humanity of his donations to the poor without making himself conspicuous. As a matter of fact few people know that with the money he received from prizes conferred upon him, he constituted a fund for donations of instrumentations to the physics departments of developing countries”. (p273)
Professor Abdul Waheed told Dr. Kamran that when he informed Salam that he had prayed for him at the Holy Kaba, Salam’s eyes turned wet. His eyes became many a times when told that ordinary people of Pakistan respected him immensely.
Salam’s nephew Nasir Iqbal who worked at ICTP for several years, sometimes cooked Pakistani food (mincemeat with potatoes) which Salam relished. Sometimes he would wait for Nasir to cook something that he missed because he had lived in the West for so long, mostly on his own. Once Salam was so happy with Nasir that he held his hand and prayed for him. But Salam was to stay alone. Salam had devoted his life to physics and to ICTP. Even when he was ill he had no companion, no one at his home with him at Trieste. In 1987 Salam was official guest of Punjab government. He was invited to a dinner at a Chinese restaurant, he refused.
Nasir Iqbal told the author that one night Salam fell down in his Trieste home and lay on the floor all night as he could not get up. His driver went inside the residence next morning and saw him lying where he had fallen. (p.279)
With regards to Salam’s contributions to CERN Dr. Carlo Rubia observed, “I still recall the vivid enthusiasm and clarity of Abdus (Salam) vision on the future of CERN: he used to insist on the relevance of concentrating primarily on key, strategic choices related to fundamental questions. I believe that he has contributed in a major way in defining the next 20 years of CERN.” (p.262)
Surprisingly the Ahmadiyya sect Salam belonged to has not been mentioned at all. One of the passionate supporters of Salam in Pakistan is Dr. Hoodbhoy, strangely none of his work has been consulted.
This is the first book which has appeared in Pakistan after 32 years. In view of the prevailing provocative, hazardous and hostile as well as intolerable political & religious milieu in the Islamic Republic, it is audacious on the part of the distinguished author to have published this biography. To utter Salam’s name is to invite trouble. Dr. Kamran deserves applause. This engaging volume is a valuable addition to biographies of Dr. Salam, one of the outstanding unifiers of 20th century. In my personal library I have a shelf of favorite books. This tome certainly holds a conspicuous spot.
On a personal note I would like to state that I had the privilege of corresponding with Dr. Salam for 15 years. I translated into English one of his biographical article, mailed it to him, he had it typed up on a computer and sent me a copy in 1992. It has been quoted by many well-known authors including Gordon Fraser. I have compiled 3 books in Urdu on his life and achievements, translated scores of articles from English into Urdu and Urdu into English. I have CD’s of his 2 interviews which he gave to a radio station in Toronto and his formal talk to Ottawa Ahmadiyya community in 1982. He was kind to send me his book Unification of Fundamental Forces when it was published, and 10 copies of Ideals and Realities.
If someone asked me how you would describe this book in one word, my answer will be INSPIRING. (Zakaria.firstname.lastname@example.org Toronto, December 4, 2014)