Times of India (12-03-2003)

'I love life and I want to work, work and work...'

Dr H. Narasimhaiah or simply 'HN', is one of the few Gandhians alive. At 83, his morning walks in Lalbagh have not ceased; nor has his zeal for education or his amazing sense of humour. He still lives in the same hostel room in NHS where he moved in 57 years ago. A crusader of science and education to contemporaries and 'Ajja' to many National High School students, the man behind the Bangalore Science Forum speaks to Bhumika K.

Born into a very poor family: I was was born at Hosur in Gauribidanur taluk in 1920. My father was a 'coolie meshtru' who earned rice and ragi in return for teaching elementary Kannada to children. My mother was a daily wage worker; I had one younger sister. I studied up to 8th standard in the Government School in Gauribidanur. There was no high school, so I had to discontinue studies for a year.

Walked to Bangalore because I did not have a rupee: My middle-school headmaster M.S. Narayana Rao was fortunately transferred to Bangalore. He liked me so much he asked me to come to Bangalore to continue my studies. I walked to Bangalore over two days because I did not have a rupee on me. I stayed with him for six months before moving to the Poor Boys' Home in National High' School (NHS) where I started studying.

Wearing khadi from age 13: I started wearing khadi, inspired by the teachings of Gandhi, since I was 13. And I have been doing so ever since, on economic grounds - my wearing khadi gets a poor villager his meal. Earlier I used to spin khadi too. Even though I have a doctorate in nuclear physics, I still feel there is place for khadi as long as there are poor people. When I studied for my doctorate in America, I replaced the khadi panche with khadi trousers.

A chance to meet Gandhi because I knew Hindi: I met Gandhi in 1936 when he came to Bangalore. We students of NHS were waiting in the shade of a tree in Kumara Krupa to meet him. He asked to speak to someone who knew Hindi and translate his speech into Kannada. My teachers sent me forward and Gandhi asked me: 'Naam kya hai?' I told him. Then he asked me, 'Hindi aata hai?' and I said, 'Thada-thoda' and he laughed. How could a 9th standard student like me translate his Hindi speech?.

I went through a Hamletian dilemma: I was doing my final year B.Sc. Honours in Central College when the Quit India Movement was launched in 1942. I wanted my degree badly. But being greatly influenced by Gandhi and other leaders, I wanted to join the movement. I was like Hamlet for some days - "to join or not join". Then I took the most momentous decision in my life. I decided my duty to my country was more important than a degree.

Not much difference between Central College and Central Jail: I spent nearly nine months in jails in Yeravada, Mysore and the Central Jail in Bangalore during the Quit India Movement. Throughout my student days, I stayed in free hostels. So when I was in Central Jail, which was just opposite my Central College hostel, I found no difference between them both gave me free boarding and lodging.

Marriage is a gamble, a lottery: I have told many people the reason I have not got married is that I forgot! Marriage is a natural instinct. But I was so engaged in and dedicated to a purpose from morning to night, there was little time to think about it. Moreover, marriage is a gamble; if there is no compatibility between the couple, God save them! I normally don't take chances. During my stay at the Ramakrishna Ashram, I was work and also influenced by teachings of  Vivekananda. Now sometimes I do feel lonely. only momentarily. I miss companionship, not just in the sense of having a wife.

Question, and there will be progress: I have always questioned everything in my life; my scientific temper took shape in school. If you don't question, anything amounts to stagnation, and there is a status quo like there is now in religion. Everybody can be a rationalist. I hold only Universal Laws as being true. All other laws and practices are manmade.

I'm not an atheist: I don't go to a temple because God is everywhere. A temple is like a jail for God. I don't believe in religious practices or commercial Gods either.

I always wanted to be a teacher: In school I was considered a good and an earnest student. And I liked teaching. In middle school I used to help other students. I have dedicated my life to service, influenced by Gandhiji. I have worked with missionary zeal to collect crores of rupees to set up numerous educational institutions all over the state. I have that same zeal even today. My will powerand determination have seen me through life. How else do you explain my survival on uppittu, rice and yoghurt for four years in the US?

I don't want to die: I still have that 'jeevana preeti' or love for life. Once, some of my students put up a drama in Bangalore. After the show, they wanted a photograph with me. The boy who played Yama (God of Death) came and stood next to me. I told him not to get too close to me as I didn't want to die. I asked Yama' to spare me as he had spared Satyavan. But the very smart Yama said I had no 'Savitri' (Satyavan's wife who prayed to Yama for her husband's life). In fact, I don't want to die. I want to work, work and work.