"Mera Jeevan Safar" (Autobiography of Prof. H. S. Virk) - Book Review by Dr. D. P. Singh*
Book : Mera Jeevan Safar (Punjabi)
Author : Prof. Hardev Singh Virk
Publication Year : March 2017
No. of Pages/ Cost : 160, Rs 250
Published by : Gracious Books, 23 Shalimar Plaza,
Opp. Punjabi University, Patiala.
"Mera Jeevan Safar" is an autobiography by Prof. Hardev Singh Virk, revolving around his experiences in scientific research, educational administration and literary fields. It consists of his recollections right from his childhood, passing through the turmoil and after effects of India's partition. As a hard-working student wanting to pursue his dreams, he had to pass through the rigmarole of India's judicial system to get his legitimate claim settled over his maternal and paternal properties. In addition, he lets us know about his challenging career spanning more than 40 years. Even after his retirement in 2002, he is still serving his much cherished goal of spreading the beacon of education. The events are not necessarily described in a chronological order and, in fact, can be read independently of each other, though it is recommended to read them from beginning to the end.
Though autobiographical books are galore in Punjabi literature but this is the first autobiography written by an International Punjabi Scientist in his mother language. The book in addition to preface and appendix, contains 10 chapters. The first two chapters: "Memories of my childhood" and "Tragic years of my life" elaborate on the topsy-turvy period of his childhood and youth.
Mera Jeevan Safarbegins in Majhiwala Bhuler (Chak No. 270), Dist. Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), erstwhile-India during Hardev’s childhood. The first section of the autobiography tells of his upbringing in a loving and well-to-do family. He recounts vividly the vision of his mother. His memories of childhood in West Punjab evoke rural customs and religious practices consistent with recent scholarship on 'Punjabi religion'. He delights in telling us of his numerous adventures in his student life. While he is in school, he willingly tells us he was inclined to opt for English literature, in which he scored 90% marks in High School, more than his score in Mathematics. He acknowledges with great gratitude the help and guidance rendered by his many teachers and fellow students.
Next two chapters: "Fourteen Years at Punjabi University" and "Twenty Three Years at Guru Nanak Dev University" describe the ups and downs of his professional life as a teacher and a researcher. In October 1965, he joined Punjabi University, Patiala as a teaching instructor. Soon he jumped into the fray of University politics, and became President of Punjabi University Teacher Association in 1970. However, scientific pursuits were much nearer to his heart. Thereby, as soon as, he got an opportunity to pursue his research interests in France, he immediately decided to follow his chosen bailiwick. As young Hardev was ready for his journey to Paris to pursue his dream of scientific research, he had to leave India with a mind full of uneasy emotions about his young wife, little sons and old mother. Working hard, he completed his research work, in a short duration of about two years. With his extraordinary accomplishments in his research pursuits, he obtained the ability to challenge even his supervisor's scientific attainments. For this extraordinary feat, Paris University, Paris, France awarded him the degree of D.Sc. Though, while in Paris, he barely spoke French, and yet he was able to defend his research thesis vehemently in French. His audience was surprised by his fluency in French. Later on, he landed in Panjabi University, Patiala and started a Geo-Physics research group there. He then made his way to Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar in 1979, where he played an instrumental role in establishing Physics Department, which later on became an internationally recognised research centre of Physics. This brought him many laurels in the form of memberships/associateships of prestigious international research academies, such as International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy and Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) etc.
In the chapter titled "My Foreign Visits - A Bird's Eye-view", Prof. Virk summarizes his interactions with International Scientists, in his areas of research interests, be it SSNTDs, High Energy Physics, Earthquake studies or Nanotechnology. With publication of about 400 research papers in various research journals of international repute and about 60 foreign visits related to his research and educational activities, he emerges on the world scenario as a great scholar, an eminent educationist and a professional scientist. In the chapter "My Scientific Journey", while describing the journey of an ordinary rural youth to the making of an International scientist, he expresses his deepest admiration and gratitude to many great scientists. Some of these include : Prof. Piara Singh Gill, Prof. Max Morand, Prof. Abdus Salam, and Prof. George Marx, etc.
In addition to being a scientist of International stature, and a teacher par-excellence, Prof. Virk is a prolific writer, with a strong commitment to popularization of science in Punjabi medium. With about two score books and hundreds of articles to his credit, in the diverse fields of science popularization, history of science, religion and spirituality, he is a well known author in India and abroad. He has been awarded Shiromani Sahitkar Purskar by Govt. Of Punjab for his outstanding contributions to Punjabi language in the field of science and literature. His literary interests and pursuits are described in the chapter titled "My Literary Journey". He has the expertise to write in various forms of literature, such as prose, travelogue, and poetry.
The chapters: "Story of my family", "Some women in my life" and "Some amazing incidents of my life" shed lights on various hidden aspects of the author's life. Throughout the book , Prof. Virk seeks to explain that the difficult times of one's life, with a pragmatic approach, can turn into great learning experiences. A notable feature of the book is the unblemished truth and universal approach that Prof. Virk adopts to science, religion and spirituality.
I found his writing style to be genuine and engaging, and also appreciated the human element in it. For example, at the time of partition of India, when his family had to leave their paternal village to reach India, on the way, his father left his other family members, in search for his mother (Hardev's grandma), who was left behind. This reflects an unparalleled mother-son bondage.
I find occasionally some quantum jumps in the narrative, perhaps to avoid unnecessary details. However, this does not distract reader's attention, nor does it detract him/her from enjoying it. I can only admire Prof. Virk for having the courage to write his memoirs and sharing his experiences with us truthfully. This is a great read that I would highly recommend. The much illustrated autobiography describes Prof. Virk's seventy five years' life journey in good detail.
It is difficult not to like the author with his unpretentious style. To be sure, there are some weaknesses in the book. The structure is a little unpolished , and there are a few printing errors. Also while the author answers many questions, he invites even more. For example, What is the impact of his research on everyday life? How has his Radon and Uranium studies led to a better understanding of prevalence of cancer in certain areas of Punjab and elsewhere? Nevertheless, the book provides a valuable and absorbing window into scientific research and education system, that for most of us is generally inaccessible.
Prof. Virk is a shining example of an educationist, who not only portrays an interrelationship among the search of truth, science of discovery, literary activities, rationality and spirituality but exemplifies the underlying unity of these diverse fields of human thought and action. Whilst explaining a scientific issue, he is as lucid as if he is telling an interesting story. In fact, we feel a sincere attempt on his part to describe it in more detail or to reveal the relevant facts or ideas. Prof. Virk's autobiography is a lively, spellbinding account of his unique and eventful life. Stylistically it is his best work to inspire and delight readers everywhere. Prof. Virk is unstintingly honest and unafraid as he excavates his motivations and reservations, his fantasies, and the implications of the choices he has made – and those he has yet to make. Insightful, provocative, and fearlessly frank, Prof. Virk attracts readers with his warmth, wit, and wisdom.
The autobiography passes on to us much of the wisdom of this compassionate and gentle teacher. Whether you believe it or not, all this makes for wonderful and glorious adventure in reading. Even if you are not a physicist, this is an enjoyable read. Mera Jeevan Safar has the potential to inspire countless readers / learners around the world and gives them a unique insight into the life of an international scientist cum litterateur. It is a timeless book, to be rightly treasured by all learners and truth seekers.
* Dr. D. P Singh is a teacher cum writer, with about 20 books, 1000+ articles and 50+ TV/Youtube presentations in the fields of science, religion and environment, to his credit. Based in Mississauga, Canada, at present, he is working as Director, CanBridge Learning and Educational Consultant to various educational institutions in Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org