My Reminiscences of Professor Abdus Salam by Hardev Singh Virk
Visiting Professor, SGGS World University, Fatehgarh Sahib-140406, India
In summer of 1972, after submission of my doctoral thesis in Marie & Pierre Curie University of Paris, I took a train to Sarajevo in Bosnia (Yugoslavia) to spend my holidays in a Slav family, who were my hosts for one week. On return journey, I changed my train at Trieste but never knew that ICTP was just a stone’s throw from Trieste railway station. Thus I missed my first opportunity to meet Prof. Abdus Salam, the director of newly established International Centre of Theoretical Physics at Trieste. I returned to India in Nov. 1972 to join Punjabi University Patiala. ICTP Trieste organised its first course on Physics of Earth in Sept. 1977 and I was selected for it. ICTP started operating from its beautiful new Campus of Miramare on the Adriatic coast.
I was anxious to meet Prof. Salam. One morning, I moved in his office hesitantly after my appointment and started my dialogue in English but Prof. Salam asked me to speak in Punjabi with disarming frankness. I told him about my experimental work in High Energy Physics and the problems faced due to lack of high energy accelerators in India. When I left, he asked me to visit again some time. Our common bond was Punjabi language and culture. He narrated how as a young boy in Jhang, he used to visit Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) to enjoy the sweet pudding distributed at the end of prayer meeting.
In June 1979, I was an applicant for Professor’s post in Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), Amritsar and I asked Prof. Salam for a Reference Letter. He very kindly recommended my candidature for this post but unfortunately the selection committee ignored his letter. When I informed him, he was quite upset and told me that his recommendations are accepted all over Europe but this University named after Guru Nanak fails to recognize his letter. Fortunately, I was selected for a lower post in July 1979 and I joined the University as Chairman of Physics Department to set up a new department. This started a new era in my life and my visits to ICTP became quite frequent. In Oct. 1979, the news of Prof. Salam being recommended for Nobel Prize in Physics was announced in the Press. I asked my Vice Chancellor (VC) that I will like to deliver a popular talk to the faculty on Salam’s work for Nobel Prize but he postponed it for a later time.
In Dec. 1980, GNDU Vice Chancellor, KS Gill, got an SOS from Prof. Nurul Hassan, the then Education Minister of India, that Prof. Salam is visiting Qadian, a small town near Amritsar, to pay his homage to Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, the founder of Ahmedya movement. The VC called me and asked to prepare a Citation for awarding the degree of D.Sc. (Honoris Causa) to Prof. Salam. In my Citation, I wrote that in Belas of Jhang, Nobel Laureates are roaming in place of Ranjhas to meet their Heer. A special Convocation was organised in GNDU to award this degree on 25th January 1981. Prof. Salam made presentation of Nobel Prize winning research work in Punjabi and the audience was spell bound to listen to his journey leading to Cambridge and then to Nobel Prize. A grand reception was held in the evening and I took time to introduce GNDU Research Scholars to Prof. Salam.
On Jan. 26, 1981, I joined Prof. Salam in a public jalsa (congregation) held in Qadian in his honour and Mirza Wasim Ahmed presided over it. The rural folks of Majha belt were pleased to listen to a Nobel Laureate for the first time in their life. I accompanied Prof. Salam to Golden Temple Amritsar where he was presented a robe of honour by the management. He was short of time and we had push him in a flight to New Delhi the same evening.
After Salam’s visit to GNDU, our department became a federated member of ICTP. Almost all our faculty members got a chance to visit ICTP. After my training at the ICTP, I ventured into new fields of research in Earth Sciences, namely, Geochronology, Exploration Geophysics, Earthquake Prediction studies. Professor Abdus Salam visited my laboratory in 1981 and was surprised to see a Particle physicist transformed into a Geophysicist. I also attended courses in Medical Physics at ICTP and on return to India set up the Radiation Physics laboratory in Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.
During my visits to ICTP, I took time to meet my friend and mentor, Prof. Salam. When I presented him my book “Sade Vigyani” (Our Scientists) written in Punjabi, he saw the Photos of all Scientists and asked me why his biographical account is missing? I was looking for some excuse when he asserted his claim to be included as a Punjabi Scientist from the Indian sub-continent in the next edition. He encouraged me to popularize Science in Punjabi medium at School level for the benefit of rural students. During this meeting in 1987, I was entrusted with the job of translating his book “Ideals and Realities” in to Punjabi language which I did on return to GNDU under the title “Adarsh Ate Haqiqat”. I also published 2 more books of Scientific essays in Punjabi with grants received from ICTP for free distribution in schools of Punjab.
Prof. Salam was a frequent traveller in Asia. I was informed that he is going to visit Bangla Desh and on return journey will have a stop-over in India to visit Qadian. I made preparations to receive him in GNDU but soon after got a message that Prof. Salam had a fall and his trip is cancelled. I met him in 1993 in ICTP and found him in a wheel chair attending to his office work. His health was deteriorating fast and he died on 21st Nov. 1996. It was a great personal loss to me. I wrote his obituary, “A Genius called Abdus Salam”, which was published in Current Science in June 1997. I called him a Prophet of Third World Scientists.
Our Physics Department in GNDU was affiliated to ICTP for almost a decade. A Centre for the Promotion of Science was set up under my supervision for popularisation of science in Punjab; research grants were received from ICTP in a project mode; the book Ideals and Realities by Abdus Salam was translated by me into Punjabi and I had the honour to work as a Senior Associate of ICTP (1988-93). ICTP proved to be a launching pad for my research activity in India, culminating in the publication of 380 research papers, 135 popular science articles and 35 books during my scientific career.
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