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Lest we forget: The ‘son of soil’ JC Bose

As the nation commemorates ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, marking the 75-year of its Independence, there will never be a better time to remember the great scientist and luminary – Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose – on his birth anniversary on 30th November. Popularly known as JC Bose, his life is a glaring example of ‘nation above self’ as the great son of soil had served science throughout his entire life for the benefit of humanity without caring for the patents and personal gains. His name is indelible in the annals of the modern history of Indian science as there are hardly any matches to his contribution in establishing the roots of modern western science in India and shaping its contours. Bose is considered the founder of modern science in the Indian subcontinent.

 Born in Mymensingh, in his mother’s parental house, now in Bangladesh on 30th November 1858, the same year India, which the East India Company was administering since 1757, came directly under the crown rule, Bose started his education in a vernacular or Bengali School. This pathshala was founded by his father, Bhagaban (Bhagwan) Chandra, in Faridpur. His father served the British India Government in various executive d magisterial positions. It may be noted that he could have easily sent his son to the local English School. However, he wanted his son to learn his mother tongue and know his own culture before learning English and understanding the foreign culture. In this Pathasala, Bose studied with the children of peasants, fishermen and workers. In their company, Bose imbibed a love of nature. Bose often attended Jatras (folk plays) in village fairs, which inspired him to read the great epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. The character of Karna in Mahabharata influenced him profoundly. To quote Bose: “From his (Karna’s) low caste came rejection, came every disadvantage; but he always played and fought fair! So his life, though a series of disappointments and defeats to the very end – his slaying by Arjuna– appealed to me as a boy as the greatest of triumphs. I still think of the tournament where Arjuna had been the victor and then of Karna coming as a stranger to challenge him. Questioned of name and birth, he replies, “I am my own ancestor! You do not ask the might Ganges from which of its many springs it comes: its own flow justifies itself, so shall my deeds me!’ Further, he wrote: “Like that of my boyhood’s hero Karna, my life has been ever one of combat and must be to the last. It is not for man to complain of circumstances, but bravely to accept, to confront, and to dominate them.”

 His achievements are no ordinary feat but what makes his life inspiring for others, particularly the young scientists, is the endurance and propensity with which he continued his research work in a small 24 square foot room at the Presidency College, without being bogged down by the adversities that he faced in terms of shortage of resources and other support. With no laboratory or equipment to his aid, Bose devised new apparatus for his first research on electric radiation with the help of an untrained tinsmith. It is only because of his unflinching devotion and commitment to his scientific experiments that he devised and fabricated a new type of radiator for generating radio waves and built a unique and highly sensitive ‘Coherer’ or radio receiver for receiving radio waves. Bose’s coherer was far more compact, efficient and effective than the ones used in Europe. Sir J.C. Bose demonstrated his wireless microwave experiments at the Royal Institute, London, in January 1897. However, this predates the wireless experiments at Salisbury Plain in May 1897 by Marconi, to whom the Nobel prize was awarded. 

Having graduated in  BA (Physical  Sciences)  from  Kolkata  University,  Bose  was  not  exactly  sure of  his future. He went to study Medicine to England,  for which his  mother  pawned  her  jewelry  to  raise  money, however,  Bose  could  not  cope  with  the  rigors  of  the course,  and    had  to  quit  because  of  ill  health. Later, he went to  Cambridge  for  a  course  in  Natural  Sciences,   in  the  Christ  College  there. Also, he was the first Asian to be awarded a US patent in 1904. Bose and the legendary mathematician Ramanujam were also the first Asian fellows of the Royal Society, London as well as those of Vienna and Finland. Bose has been recognized by The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as a father of radio and wireless communication. His work was also commemorated by IEEE as the oldest “milestone achievement” from Asia. 

 Besides being a physicist par excellence, another remarkable contribution of J. C. Bose was that he was the first in the world to initiate interdisciplinary research by probing plants from the vantage point of physics – an integrated biophysical view of life that is in vogue. His studies on coherer led to the discovery of the common nature of the electric response to external stimuli by both living and inanimate objects. He pioneered the understanding of electrical and mechanical responses to stimulation, the transmission of excitation in plant and animal tissues and in vision and memory. He  documented  a  characteristic  electrical  response  curve  of  plants  to  stimuli as  well  as  a  near  absence  of  response  in  plants  treated  with  poison  or  anesthetic.

Driven by his love for countrymen and lofty nationalistic ideals, Sir JC Bose (1858-1937) founded Bose Institute and dedicated the Institute to the service of the nation on his sixtieth birthday (November 30’th, 1917), while delivering his famous speech. The Institute was founded as “not merely a laboratory but a temple”, with its principal aims being the advancement of science and diffusion of knowledge. Two of his famous books are “Response in the Living and Non-Living” (1902) and “The Nervous Mechanism of Plants” (1926). The latter book was dedicated to his friend the great poet and Asia’s first Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore’s great admiration of Bose reflects in his poems. 

The Indian Botanic Garden at Shibpur was renamed in his honour in 2009. A crater on the moon is named after him. However, no tribute can suffice Bose’s contribution in firming modern science roots in India and the Indian subcontinent and his selfless love for the country and fellow citizens. Lest we forget.


More Resources:

 1. Bose Institute, Kolkata

2. Projects at Bose Institute, Kolkata Institute

3. Jagdish Chandra Bose Memorial Lecture

4. J C Bose National Fellowship

5. JC Bose Fellows 2020-21

6. JC Bose Fellows 2019-20