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Posted at: Oct 12, 2018, 12:06 AM; last updated: Oct 12, 2018, 12:06 AM (IST)

Pitaji wrote, so students won’t suffer

Pitaji wrote, so students won’t suffer

DC Sharma

One often hears of a century made in cricket or a golden jubilee in the film industry. But rarely does one hear about the golden jubilee of a book. The year was 1993. Almost all prestigious dailies carried the news about the release of the golden jubilee edition by the first Indian author of chemistry books. He was BS Bahl, whose Essentials of Physical Chemistry brought him even international name and fame.

I couldn’t help writing to this doyen of Indian academics, who was once my teacher and later my boss. Such an achievement of writing and rewriting at the age of 82! His instant response stunned me: ‘I’ve done nothing special. If Tennyson could write his magnificent poem Crossing the Bar at 83, and Newton could intensively experiment at 85, why not me? People count a man’s years only when nothing else has to be counted about him!’ 

He was kind and would reply to everyone’s letter, irrespective of his age and status. Though I had heard a lot about him, I had seen him for the first time in 1969 in his office when I had gone to seek admission to MA in English at DAV College, Jalandhar. Many students would call him ‘Pitaji’. I would wonder why. 

Once my farmer-father could not send the fee to me in time. Fearing my name would be struck off, I wrote an application for extension of date and went to his office. He enquired about me and my parents, and granted sanction. As I was leaving, the office clerk called me back: ‘Your fee has been paid.’ ‘Who paid it, Sir?’ I asked in wonder. ‘Pitaji has sent it through the peon just now.’

Born in 1912, he had joined as a lecturer in chemistry at a tender age of 20. He was pained knowing how students could not buy foreign editions of chemistry books. So, he wrote one book after another, till his 13 chemistry books routed out the English editions. He would sacrifice his comforts, leave his young wife and children at his residence, and go to Pehalgam (J&K) to write books. 

He showed remarkable results at DAV College, Amritsar, as its founder principal. Thus, he was offered DAV College, Jalandhar, when Principal Suraj Bhan became the VC of PU, Chandigarh. He was such a punctual administrator that in Jalandhar, people would set their watches seeing him come to work. A keen observer of human sentiments, he had read well the pain on my face when he ordered me to join as HoD (English) at DAV College, Kangra. His words still ring in my ears: ‘We will pay you more. I know good teachers are costly. But it would be more costly if we send a weak teacher there....’

His autobiography, The Vertical Man, was a grand success. He spent his last days at KB DAV-7, Chandigarh, the school he built in the memory of his wife. When he breathed his last at the age of 102 in 2014, the length and breadth of his funeral procession would cover many pages of newspapers.


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