Professor Devi Datt Pant (1918-2008)
by Prof. Prem Ballabh Bisht, IIT Madras
(this is reproduction of the article originally published in the webpage of photophysics lab at IIT, Madras).
I visited Professor Pant on 18th May 2008, the next morning I reached Haldwani from Chennai on a private trip to North India. He was lying on his bed after the morning breakfast. His son woke him up and told that Bisht has come. I was a little uncomfortable when he did not recognize me on his first glance. Then he said * Oh, Dekho..*. We then started *talking* a little bit.
He was very weak and lying on his right side. He was trying to listen to me with his hand curling around his left ear. He was responding in short but with the same vigour as he would about 20 years back in the laboratory.
*Naini Tal lab*, the Only Thing He Was Interested in:
I told him that I had a recent communication with the Naini Tal laboratory people. I told him that I was going to give a lecture in the lab/department there next week. He was happy only to know these details. When his son came to this room, he asked me: *how are you going to Naini Tal?, by Taxi?* I said yes, Then promptly he said: *Ham bhi challenge* (I will also join you).
This was the only topic he was interested in. I also told him that I would like to meet the Vice-chancellor (VC) for some sort of help to the lab. The problem was that the only teacher-scientist who is now affiliated with the lab has been given the Bhagirah task of controlling the examinations of the whole university. I wanted to meet the VC to release him from this work so that he could contribute to the lab. Prof. Pant asked me- *Do you know him (VC)?* Later I felt surprised that he could indicate that unless I know the VC, there will be nothing.
We also talked about that I was helping the laboratory from Chennai by giving a bit of guidance and helping the person-in-charge by boosting his morale. The only problem is unless the university releases him from the *examination work*, nothing can happen. I told Prof Pant that the person is rebuilding the lab nicely and he will be back to the lab with more time in a short-while. He said, * Right now he is young (that*s why university needs him) , but soon it will become *late* (for him)! (later when I went to Naini Tal for the lecture, I could not meet the VC, but did meet the person during and after the lecture and communicated our discussion completely). During the discussion he asked me * Is it Sunday today?*, I said *yes*. I took my tea (prepared by his helper). I held his hands, gave a pat and massage on his forehead. I saw the wet eyes. [At that moment, we both could communicate to each other and probably said a good-bye]. At a later moment, when I was sitting with his family for a few minutes, I saw that he walked from his bed room and joined us (sat on a chair in the living room). Actually on every Sunday, his former student H. D. Bist visits him, who came with his wife when I was about to leave.
Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, a Manuscript Returned by the Reviewer -Still in the Hands of *to be Well-Trained* Students:
I knew Dr. D. D. Pant when I was a child in Champawat in a village(Darah). I knew him because he stood in an election from Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) with *Ugta Suraj* (Rising Sun) as his election symbol. I had convinced my mother (and a few other neighbouring Aunts) to vote for him (although my father was a Congress supporter). Later after my M.Sc. when I joined the lab for the Ph.D., I did not believe that this person fought a national election? One of my seniour colleague Pushpa used to tell us * He lost all the money in the elections and every one has left him now*. Oh, what a pity, UKD is still fighting for its very identity in the fertile land with all the instruments ready, waiting for the spectra and lifetimes to be recorded, which the professor had foreseen almost 3 decades ago. I am sure a student who is professionally trained in this art will make history for the UKD in coming future.
Department of Physics, Samman Pat (Honour Board):
While we were doing B.Sc., one of my class mates (Ravi Purohit) used to comment: * Beta padho, Samman-Pat par naam aayega*. During late eighties Prof. Pant was working in the lab as *Emeritus Professor* for a DST project on a very small fellowship, which was barely sufficient for the monthly expenditure. (For example, a few years later, junior research fellowships were either more or equivalent to his fellowship). In Naini Tal during winter vacations, when the regular teachers can not even prepare their minds (whether they should go to college), one could see Professor Pant walking uphill from Mallital Maszid-side to the college everyday (except Sunday/ holiday) around 9:30-10 AM. After coming to the lab, he used to read popular books, discuss science, society, politics or anything. During those times, he was not well-taken by the department! The department on one hand was proud of his presence, while on the other they envied him and tried to discourage the activities of the lab or by doing every small thing they could (e.g., removing even his photograph from the Principal*s room).They even forgot that D. D. Pant was the head of the same department/college or, the founder vice chancellor of the same university! Facts are facts and they can not be changed. Often while going back from the lab at or after 4:30 PM, he will walk up and find the exit door of the department closed and walk back to the other door and will remark *See they are very efficient in time when it comes to closing the door of the department.*
In NainiTal College, during 8th and 9th decade of 20th century, as was a popular nationwide trend students unions were being hijacked by the local leaders. The student unions used to make way not to prepare any leadership but to take some contracts or hijack jobs of the university etc. The student community was being misused. Some of us started opposing such trends in the hostel which resulted in some attacks on us. In some cases, the over speeding vehicles near the hostel resulted a Chakka Jam in front of the Brook Hill Hostel by Hostel inmates. These two activities delayed me by an hour or so to reach the lab on these two occasions.When Dr. Pant came to know of the reason of delay, he said *Good, that*s the way to oppose any undemocratic thing*. It was such a friendly approach. Over the years, actually I had developed a very good friendship with Dr. Pant. Not everyone will know that Dr. Pant used to *keep the resignation letter in his pocket* while he was the *Director of education* or the VC of the university.While discussing science, he often used to comment on our approach of supporting our views unnecessary by saying *Look, it is not winning a case in the court by a lawyer, it is the truth you should look for*. His approach of tackling the scientific problems still motivates us.
An International Figure:
Prof. Pant worked with Herzberg and Michel Kasha and visited several countries several times. When Kasha came to know of the work published by Pant in Indian Journals, he said *You are very Patriotic! You could have published all this in American Journals for the large citations.*DD Pant was a friendly figure. He made very good friendship with everyone he came in contact with professionally or personally in India or abroad. Kasha used to send New Year Greeting card-cum letter every year. Late Professor D. P. Khandelwal was in his good books for the *management skills*. His work with Khandelwal was extensively cited in a book of B. Belford and B. Rabinowitch (1965).
Farewell to the Stalwart of India:
When I returned from my home town (after working at a primary school for the newly opened science center), although a bit busy with many things and family problems, I wanted to meet him again, but was not able to prepare enough courage, as I had come to know that he is not doing very well. I had left Haldwani on 10th June. I was in Delhi on 11th May on my way back to Chennai, when Dr. Sanjay Pant called from Lucknow that he is no more. I had lost one of my great friends, a teacher, a fatherly figure.
Prem B. Bisht
IIT Madras, 14 June 2008.
A Brief Biodata of Prof. Debi Datt Pant
[Slightly modified version of the one published in 2006, Proceedings of Seminar at Naini Tal]
Born: 1918, Village : Deorari (Pithoragarh) U.P. (now Uttarakhand)
Died: 2008, June 11 (Haldwani, Uttarakhand).
M.Sc. Physics, Benares Hindu University, Varanasi in 1942 (First batch of Spectroscopy student of Prof. R.K. Asundi).
D.Sc. Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi 1949.
Worked with Prof. C.V. Raman at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (1942-44) on Photoconductivity of Diamond and the luminescence spectra of Uranyl salts.
Worked at N.R.C., Ottawa with Herzberg, a Nobel Laureate, 1960.
Fulbright Scholar (1960-61) worked in Prof. M. Kasha*s Lab.
Established research laboratory at D.S.B. Degree College (Nainital). The initial work on Uranyl salts had been extensively quoted in *Spectroscopy and Photochemistry of Uranyl Compounds* by B. Belford and B. Rabinowitch (1965). Various aspects of luminescence of Inorganic and Organic molecules dopants, etc. using steady state and a locally fabricated life time measurement device upto micro-second range was studied. Interesting D2O effect was found in lifetime and quantum yield. Energy transfer studies were made in rare earth. The research activities in the lab have been extended to the study on photophysics of structurally and biologically important molecules using steady state and time resolved spectroscopy in nano- and pico-second ranges.
About One hundred forty research papers have been published and twenty students have received Ph।D. degree under him.
Awards, Recognition and Academic roles
Awarded fellowship of Sigma Si, USA 1969.
Awarded fellowship of Indian Academy of Sciences Bangalore.
Received Raman Centenary Award.
Asundi Centenary Award.
Also actively involved in several other educational programmes with UGC, U.P. Govt., Govt. of India, Science Education, NCERT, etc.
Selected for USID programme to study Science Education in USA. Participated in International Conference in Columbus, Ohio, Gordon conferences on Spectroscopy, Raman Centenary, CNR Paris (1976), Himalayan Ecology, etc.
Foggety short time visitor Rockyille (1982 & 84) etc.
Lecturer at Agra College, Agra.
Professor at RBS College, Agra.
Professor at DSB Govt. College, Nainital, Uttaranchal (1952-62).
Principal, DSB Govt. College, Nainital, Uttaranchal (1962-71).
Director of Education, UP 1971-72.
Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttaranchal (1972-73).
Vice Chancellor, Kumaun University, Nainital (1973-77)। Since 1978 Emeritus Professor, Advisor and Principal Investigator of several sciences research projects.
Contributions of Prof. D. D. Pant
Dr. D.D. Pant was a rare and judicious mix of a physicist, an educationist and a social activist. He was an institution in himself.
He was a student of Nobel laureate, Sir C.V. Raman and had the rare distinction of doing his post-doctoral with him. Dr. D.D. Pant imbibed a scientific temper from the great C.V. Raman and an insatiable quest for truth for which the great scientist was known. Dr.Pant was his favourite student and he profusely expressed his appreciation for him and wanted him to work in the lab of a Nobel laureate, outside India. Dr. D.D. Pant infused with a spirit of nationalism and Gandhian ideology politely refused the offer and opted for a career in teaching and research in Agra College, Agra at a paltry sum of Rs.100 only. Dr. D.D. Pant sacrificed his career and preferred to popularize Physics in a nation which had been shackled by the alien yoke.
Dr. D.D. Pant did not make a compromise with his ideology of popularizing Physics in India. Untouched by brain drain, he stated in a recent interview that *I have no regrets for sacrificing my career and I don*t gloat over what I sacrificed; but given an opportunity, again I would follow the same path.*
In 1964, he declined the position of Professor and Head of the Physics Department of Rajasthan University because research equipment support was not assured to him. In 1972, he resigned from the coveted position of Director of Education, Uttar Pradesh to become Dean of Science and Humanities at Pantnagar University so as to continue his work as a scientist. In 1973 he accepted the founder Vice Chancellorship of Kumaun University for fulfilling his childhood dream of disseminating education to masses in the hills who could not afford education outside the region owing to economics constraints. His motto was :education for those who are residing in fragmented pockets in geographical isolation. It was a result of his total dedication toward research that the Physics Department of D.S.B. Campus, Kumaun University earned an international repute with the most advanced equipments in the frontier field of Time Resolved Spectroscopy and its identification as a national centre in this field. To him also goes the credit as a Vice Chancellor that he invited Professor K.S. Valdiya and Professor J.S. Singh to join Kumaun University both of whom were awarded FNA (Fellow of National Academy of Science) during his tenure as Vice Chancellor.
For a person of his academic achievements several honours were conferred on him and he got the opportunity to work as a Fulbright Scholar (1960-61) with Nobel Laureate Prof. M. Kasha of USA and in Henzberg*s Lab in Ottawa. He was awarded the Raman Centenary Gold Medal and had the rare distinction of being the first scientist to receive the Professor Asundi Centenary Award.
He had been a great teacher, had supervised the research of 20 Ph.D. students, and published 140 research papers in National and International journals. All the Ph.D. scholars from his school of Photo Physics have blossomed into good teachers and scientists and are working in leading institutions, both in India and abroad.
Dr. D.D. Pant was an avid reader and had a voracious appetite to delve into subjects like Ecology, History, Philosophy, Culture and Literature, etc. His communicative and oratorial skills are impeccable and he had a tremendous capacity to simplify any subject and communicate it to the audience in an extremely popular style. His penchant for reading and his analytical skill laced with outstanding dialogue delivery and language had made him a very popular teacher and a thinker.
Dr. D.D. Pant was a self-made man, with a very humble background. He got his early education in a village school of Pithoragarh district and had to negotiate a distance of 50 km to the road head from his village. This is why he had a deep insight into rural problems of the Himalayan region. The ruggedness of the terrain, its inaccessibility and lop-sided development by the U.P. Govt. in Uttaranchal, his anguish and concern for the region inspired him to institute the Uttarakhand Krantidal and mooted the idea of a separate hill state.
Dr. D. D. Pant became a lifetime legend as founder Vice Chancellor of Kumaun University. The quality which distinguishes Prof. Pant from rest of the Indian scientists is that he combined undertaking research of highest quality with his commitment to social work that is reflected in his widespread popularity among the masses of the rural hills. His awe inspiring popularity had wafted through the masses and made him a source of inspiration not only for students but also for the village folk. It would not be an exaggeration to state that his humane attitude and sensitivity towards societal problems had made him a folk hero in Uttarakhand.