This blog has been mostly silent for a month now, for several reasons. One reason is that one of the best teachers -- and best human beings -- whom I have ever known, Dr S C Bhargava, who taught for about 3 decades at St Stephen's College before retiring in 2002, died in his hometown, Jaipur, on December 13. Trying to write a tribute brought out to me my inadequacies as a writer. I could not write something that satisfied me; and I did not want to write anything else.
Now a much better writer has published a tribute: Ram Guha, in The Hindu. He says everything I could have hoped to say, and much more. Go and read it.
Why would a relatively unknown undergraduate college physics teacher merit an obituary by an internationally-known writer, who's not a physicist, in one of India's most widely read national newspapers? Everyone who knew "Bhargava Sahib" knows the answer. People like him are rare, and needed.
St Stephen's College is known for excellence and pretentiousness, depending on whom you talk to; Bhargava sahib, as Guha points out, was the most unpretentious man you could hope to meet, a committed teacher, and a tremendously supportive person when you had problems or needed advice. I first met him, at my father's suggestion (they had known each other since their student days), when I needed to do a high school physics project. (I was one of the many Rahuls that Guha mentions.) Subsequently I interacted closely with him on joining St Stephen's College, and stayed in touch in later years, though not as often as I would have liked. We last corresponded about a year ago; he mentioned general poor health, but I had no idea of the subsequent recurrence of his lung cancer, so it was a shock to learn of his passing. He was one of three memorable teachers I had at St Stephen's; all three are no more, and all died before their time.
Some excellent younger people have joined since I graduated, of course. Undergraduate science education is in a crisis in this country, and we need more people like him. Academic pressures are taking their tolls on young students, and for that too we need more teachers like him. Dr Bhargava mattered immensely, more than most people who earn long obituaries in national newspapers; and I'm glad that Ram Guha and The Hindu have chosen to remember this man before a wider audience.