Know your Prof #1 – Prof. Somnath Bharadwaj

As a part of a new series of articles – ‘Know your Prof’, The Scholars’ Avenue caught up with Prof. Somnath Bharadwaj of the Physics department. He is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and joined here as a professor in 1998 after completing a phD at IISC Bangalore. We spoke to him about academics and other matters, to better understand his perspective on life in Kharagpur.


TSA: How did you get interested in physics?
SB: How I got interested, I can’t say; but from class XI on wards it was natural.


TSA: Can you tell us about your hobbies?
SB: My hobbies? I go swimming. I also like trekking. During vacations, I go trekking. I also walk in the nearby areas outside the campus and like cycling to roam around.


TSA: Are there any other fields that interest you besides physics?
SB:  I was interested in many other things in school. I was interested in Economics in class 11-12th, but after that I decided that I will study Physics, not Economics. I had taken economics as an extra subject in School: you have to choose one extra subject. So, I had economics and I found it very interesting but then I decided to study physics. I also read about these Indian scriptures and to an extent, historical things also interest me.


TSA: Do you hold any political views?
SB: I do not hold any political views, but I don’t believe in any kind of extremism. One should be tolerant and moderate; other than that I don’t hold any strong political views.


TSA: When we enter college as freshers, we get unrestricted freedom and a number of engagements; it’s too easy to get distracted. What are your thoughts on this?
SB: First of all, people should have clear idea about the purpose of life. I can’t claim that I have full idea but at least some idea should be there. If somebody is absolutely unethical and immoral, then obviously he will go on the wrong path, but if someone has very a positive picture, a positive idea, that will definitely take him in the right direction. So, the first years should be involved in activities, have friends, mix with people and get involved in studies and sports; that way, there is very little chance of someone going in the wrong direction.


TSA: Is there anything that you think that we don’t pay enough attention to during our stay here?
SB: Well, during the stay here, we are only concerned with the campus. We hardly ever go and see the people outside. Even when I was a student, I very rarely used to go and meet the people outside the campus. I think as a human being living in this country, you are privileged; we are all privileged.We are living in a campus so nice; it is like a five star hotel. There’re so many restaurants, grounds and auditoriums. Everything is there because we are being maintained here by the country, by the efforts of the people. We should come to know them; so, we should go outside. Just outside the campus, you will see that we are living in a very backward area. Just outside the campus there is a tribal area; there are very poor tribal people. At least, go and get exposed to the reality around us. Just go and see for yourself. Observe the people and how they are living. People should not only just restrict themselves to their hall and institute.


TSA: How would you compare higher study vs placement?
SB: Placement? I don’t know. I never went through placement and all. I have no idea: I did physics and joined for PhD. Okay, I did go for some placement but that was just to see what it is like; I was not interested. Koi lena-dena nahi placement se. But if you genuinely have some substance inside you, you will do something. Nobody can stop you. Placement is just one means of getting a job; it isn’t everything.  If you have some material inside you, which will definitely make you do something that is worthwhile.


TSA: What are your thoughts on higher studies? Should everyone opt for it?
SB: I’m not saying that. But one should aspire for something genuine: need not be higher studies. It doesn’t matter what interest or passion you pursue, but do it honestly. What usually happens for most people is that they do something and their whole life passes by. So, think about it carefully: what do you want to do, whether it appeals to you or not and how will it influence others. You should think about these things and decide what you want to do. It can change from time to time. Live life with intensity. Whatever you do, you should do intensely. Do good things. It isn’t that you have to do this or that particularly. So, should everybody go for higher studies? Why? It’s not required. Do something good and do it with all your intensity, all your strength.


TSA: What about corporate life?
SB: Go to corporate if you think so. But do it with vigor. Do a good job.


TSA: Is there any piece of literature that you will recommend students to go through?
SB: I will recommend that you go through the works of Swami Vivekananda. It’s very inspiring. What Swami Vivekananda says is that India is mainly a spiritual country. Each country has its own strength and if they stick to it, they will do very well. He said that America was a business economy and that England’s strength was their politics and their army at that time. Our India is mainly spiritual. If we leave spirituality, we are nowhere. In England if you ask someone about God, he will ask you how it will help in politics. That is their aim. They believe that by having a good Prime Minister, their country will progress. However, in India whatever material thing you give a person, he will ask you how it will help him grow spiritually.Vivekananda walked all over India with (no) money: living with poor people and helping whoever he encountered. In an era where Indians were losing confidence in themselves, because of both, their decaying lives and the British propaganda that all Indian knowledge and spirituality was junk, Vivekananda made “revival” his mission; he pushed the narrative that we have tradition, that we have history. Accepting the views is not important; but do go through his work.


TSA: Is there any specific field in physics that interests you most?
SB: I work on cosmology. I study the universe and work on the large structures in the universe, that is the clustering patterns for Galaxy cosmology. That’s my research area.


TSA: Can you tell us about research conditions in India?
SB: They are not so good. Research is an intellectual exercise. You need instruments and finally a brain.


TSA: What’s the difficult part about being a professor?
SB: The difficult part is that sometimes students don’t get interested in what we teach.


TSA: How do you think the student teacher relationship has changed over time? Has it deteriorated or improved?
SB: I can’t say anything, but the number of students has increased. If you have less students you can interact with them, otherwise we hardly get to treat each student as a person. We just see them as faces in the classroom.


TSA: Would you like to add anything more?
SB: From my own side I want to say that students are very career oriented. I don’t think it’s very good; people should be relaxed. Come and see here. What happens is that people from 1st year start talking about placements and internships. I, somehow, don’t like it. People should experience life. In you our time, it was not like this. People were not so stereotyped about these things. Be relaxed, don’t waste your time, enjoy life and learn many things. The experience of life is what life is after all, not your bank balance. Broaden your Horizon about the world. We should learn to live in this diverse culture.


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