Book Title : My Journey in Science - Autobiography of an Indian Scientist

Author : Prof. Hardev Singh Virk, Prof. of Eminence, Punjabi University, Patiala

Published by : Gracious Books, Patiala, India

Year of Publication : 2018; Price : Rs. 300; Pages: 234

Reviewer : Dr. D. P. Singh, Director, CanBridge Learning, Mississauga, Canada

Autobiographical books of Punjabi Scientists are a rare genre. "My Journey In Science" by internationally acclaimed scientist Professor Hardev Singh Virk is a welcome addition in this category. Prof. Hardev Singh Virk, a multifaceted personality, is an eminent Physicist, an ardent researcher, an eloquent orator, a passionate poet, and a globe trotter. In addition he is a devout Sikh, a renowned Sikh theologian and a prolific writer in many areas of Science, Religion and Literature.

On reading “Up Against Odds”, the autobiography of Piara Singh Gill, a world famous Physicist, Professor Virk was motivated to write his autobiography “Mera Jeevan Safar” in Punjabi. Later, the book was transliterated in Shahmukhi and published as an e-book by Academy of the Punjab in North America. In addition, for the benefit of young people, who are born and brought up in the West, and are not well versed in Punjabi language, Professor Virk took the arduous task of publishing his autobiography in English. His autobiography titled as "My Journey In Science" with a sub-title: "Autobiography of an Indian Scientist" contains a lot more detail about his scientific endeavours, as compared to its Punjabi version.

The purpose of "My Journey In Science" is to inspire younger generation to pursue their chosen fields of study, with full dedication against all odds. This ensues from the fact that he has dedicated it to his grand children, who inspired him to write this book. Additionally, the author uses the forum to express his extreme gratitude to all the mothers, the teachers and the seekers of Truth, who inspired him in his life journey, by dedicating it to them as well.

This autobiographical work of Prof. Virk, showcases various aspects of his life. The book is divided into two parts. The first part titled, “Making of an Indian Scientist”, contains eight chapters and the second part titled “Scientific Journey of My Life” contains six Chapters. Deliberations in the first part, focus on his personal life, whereas the second part describes the diverse areas of his research, and his trials and tribulations in their pursual. The last Chapter of the book describes his forays in the domains of History & Philosophy of Science, Physics Education, Sikh Religion, and Punjabi Literature. An exhaustive list of his research publications and books, alongwith his research report on the "Ecological crisis in Punjab", are appended thereafter.

In the chapter “Memories of My Childhood and Family”, the author has vividly described events and experiences of his early life. The events included are the story of his birth, the partition of India, his early school education, and vicissitudes of his mother’s and his own life. The heart-rending tales of partition, glimpses of his maternal and paternal families, and a chance meeting with his fiancé in Chandigarh are also a part of this chapter. In the narrative, the characters description, is well developed and true-to-life.

The arduous part of author's life journey is reported in the chapter “My Student Life: Up Against Odds”. The heinous murder of his maternal grandmother (nani), resulting in a severe adversity to him and his mother, is described herein. In addition, the indifferent attitude of his father, apathetic disposition of his step mother, and open hostility of his step brothers, caused him acute anxiety and great impediments in his life. The author has been successful in portraying, with a stunning accuracy, the hostile attitudes from both collateral and lineal descendents (shariq) in a Jatt family of Punjab. Despite such adversity, young Hardev's ambition and strong determination to pursue higher education, and going ahead for this purpose, with the help of his mentors and well wishers, reflects author's firm resolve to face his situation with great fortitude. Facing such adverse circumstances, spanning over a decade, young Hardev emerges as a steadfast person, who is sturdy enough to face the dire situations of his future life.

The author describes his “Memories of Punjabi University, Patiala and Paris” as the golden era of his life. This period of author's life is replete with several life changing events; e.g. his professional success, enjoying marital bliss, attaining fatherhood, obtaining doctorate in Nuclear Physics, initiating scientific research as an independent expert, publishing textbooks for B.Sc. students, and pursuing his research interest in Sikh cosmology. His indulgence in teachers' politics, and parliamentary elections in India, is also described briefly herein. In this riveting tale of his struggles, successes, glories, failures, and frustrations, Hardev emerges as a visionary, hardworking, experienced, and dedicated scientist.

During the 1979-2002 period, his scientific and educational expertise was put to test, when he was invited to establish a new Department of Physics at the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. Therein, he played a vital role in laying down infrastructure for conducting scientific research, initiating research collaborations, participating in several national and international conferences and meetings. He had been instrumental in setting up an earthquake prediction studies center at the university. The chapter “Memories of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar” covers it all. Operation Blue Star, and its impact on the University, author's foray in Punjabi literature, his efforts for popularisation of science, and his affiliation to ICTP, Trieste (Italy) are all recounted in this chapter. The successful culmination of these multifarious activities, points out his versatility as a multifaceted personality.

Prof. Virk emerges as a Globe trotter in the Chapter; “My Travels Around the Globe: A Synoptic View”. In 2008, he had published his travelogues (three volumes) in Punjabi. A brief description of his travels to Hungary, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand is included in this chapter. Prof. Virk's inherent nature, having an immense respect for women, is reflected in his impressive encounters with a wide spectrum of ladies during his life. He has portrayed a deep respect and appreciation for his mother, whom he adores as the image of God on earth. He has expressed a similar feeling for his Bhua (Father's sister), whom he describes as an iron-willed lady. The author recounts several remarkable incidents of his younger days in the chapter “Role of Women in My Life”. For his candid description of his romantic entanglements, he concedes to having inspiration from the autobiography of Prof. Pritam Singh, a doyen of Punjabi literature. Musing on the solid foundation of a marital relationship, he opines, "It is my belief that husband-wife relationship must rest on pillars of mutual faith and understanding". The situations revealed in the chapter, confirms the author as a living example of such a wonderful relationship and he emerges as a devoted Sikh, with high moral and spiritual principles.

Some mystical incidents of author's life are described in riveting detail, in the Chapter “Some Memorable Events of My Life”. The chapter ‘An Unfulfilled Wish of My Life’ elaborates the professional hurdles faced by the author, to secure the most deserving position as a Vice-Chancellor of a University in Punjab. In a candid portrayal, he unveils the sad spectacle of bribery, corruption, nepotism, and sifarsh (inappropriate recommendation) prevalent in educational system in India in general, and in Punjab, in particular. Thereby, meritocracy is sacrificed at the altar of many crooked practices of hypocrisy, avarices, and abuses of political powers. In his explicit description of the situation author's audacious nature of calling a spade a spade is evident.

Poetic spirit of Prof. Virk finds its expression in the Chapter “Literary Journey of My Life”. In his college days, under the influence of his friends; U. S. Kanwal, K. Grewal, and N. Bharti, who were adept at writing poetry in Punjabi, he too started writing poems and songs in Punjabi. But this phase ended in a short time, as responsibilities of his teaching job took over. The pursuit of his scientific research activities also took its own toll on his poetic characteristic. But, this latent talent, resurfaced during the phase of his romantic entanglements in Paris. The author reports; "As it is almost impossible to translate Punjabi poetry into English, due to different cultural ethos and nuances, so only a few selected poems and folk songs have been translated in English". But even this limited sample of poems and songs, provide a vivid depiction of his sensitive nature. The poetic outpourings of Prof. Virk are full of natural symbolism, cultural ethos and scientific terminology.

The second part of the book consists of six chapters. The chapter; “Moving from Cosmic Rays to Elementary Particles”, apprises the story of the author joining Aligarh Muslim University, his search for a research supervisor in Paris, suffering harassment at the hands of his research supervisor, his return to India, and frustrations of pursuing scientific research in India. In “My Journey in Earth Sciences and Creation of Physics Department”, the author elaborates on changing his research field from Particle Physics to Earth Sciences, playing a leading role in creation of Physics department at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. The monotonous problems of university administration, tribulations of creating infrastructure for teaching and research, and the presentation of his research results at International forums, are part of the tale shared here.

The chapter “Radon Studies for Uranium Exploration and Earthquake Prediction” revolves around author's research activities, using Radon as a tool for biogeochemical exploration of uranium, and as a precursor in the prediction of earthquakes in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. The author's research team was successful in creating an extensive database on Radon measurements in soil, air, and water in India. In the next Chapter; the author describes his investigations in Solid State Nuclear Track Detectors. Being pioneers in using ‘Heavy Ion’ beams for irradiation of SSNTDs in India, author's team was able to formulate a ‘Single Activation Energy’ model of radiation damage annealing in these detectors. “My Encounter with Nanotechnology” is the story of author's post-retirement research activities, taken up at DAV Institute of Engineering and Technology, Jalandhar. At the institute, the author's research team attained success in the fabrication of nanowires and nanoflowers of exquisite beauty.

In the last chapter; “My Forays in History of Science & Other Areas of Interest” the author presents a panorama of his life, with his research interests, in diverse areas such as History and philosophy of science, Physics education, Sikh religion, Ecology, Nature of Reality and Punjabi literature. His notable contributions in these diverse fields of research brought him several accolades from various Government and non-Government organizations.

With publication of about 450 research papers in various research journals of international repute, 40 books and over 70 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. Thus an ordinary rural youth, with his sheer hard work, brilliance, and intelligence, distinct and unique accomplishments, arose to join the company of elite scientists and scholars of national and international prominence such as Nobel Laureate, Prof. Abdus Salam, Pakistan, and a galaxy of world renowned scientists mentioned under acknowledgements. "My Journey In Science " is the story of that young man.

Prof. Virk’s autobiography is quite fascinating and engrossing. Once you start, it is very hard to put it down without reading it till the end. He has a great mastery of presenting his life experiences in a lucid and authentic style. The whole autobiography is replete with open and honest reflections. He is unstintingly honest and unafraid as he excavates his motivations and reservations, his fantasies, and the implications of the choices he has made. Insightful, provocative, and fearlessly frank, Prof. Virk attracts readers with his warmth, wit, and wisdom.

Despite numerous challenges and obstacles in his life, the author has presented a great zest for life in his autobiography. Stylistically it is his best work to inspire and delight readers everywhere. The whole book is easy to read and comprehend. It provides a valuable and absorbing window into scientific research and education system, that for most of us is generally inaccessible. En passant, I am truly amazed, how Prof. Virk has shared all the information so meticulously and with such minute details of dates, times, and places. The much illustrated autobiography describes Prof. Virk's seventy five years' life journey in good detail.

Prof. Virk is a shining example of a scientific researcher, who portrays an interrelationship among the search of truth, science of discovery, literary activities, rationality and spirituality. In addition, he exemplifies the underlying unity of these diverse fields of human thought and action. "My Journey In Science" passes on to us much of the wisdom of this world famous Indian Physicist. 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. "My Journey in Science" 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, M.Sc., Ph.D., P.E.S.I (Ex.) is a Physicist by profession and a writer by choice, Till date he has published about 20 books and over 1000 articles; and has appeared in over 60 TV/Youtube presentations in the fields of science, religion and environment. At present, he is working as Director, CanBridge Learning and Educational Consultant to various educational institutions in Canada. Email: drdpsn@gmail.com
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