Twelve-year-old Jawahar had had a traumatic train journey from Lahore to India. He along with his father and sister had somehow managed to reach India during the partition, in July 1947. The train had come to an abrupt halt at Wagah and a blood thirsty mob had combed through each apartment hacking away at every man, woman and child. Luckily, Jawahar, his father Tulsidas and sister Rama had survived the bloodbath and managed to reach Delhi where they were united with the entire family.
For the next two years, the Malhotra clan stayed in tents at Kingsway Camp waiting to get a piece of land allotted to them so that they could start afresh. Tulsidas, his three brothers, their wives and children were allotted two tents. With the men, women and children totaling 29 members, along with two servants who had come along, it sure was a tight fit. The men made a small tent their makeshift home leaving a bigger tent to the womenfolk and children.
Tulsidas, who had practiced at the Lahore high court as a barrister, was one of the most sought-after men at the camp with practically everyone visiting him for advice on the way forward. Jawahar observed his father closely; the knowledge he possessed and the respect he earned because of it. Although most of his cousins would wile away their time playing pranks, Jawahar was determined to get himself educated. But he didn’t know where to go and whom to approach.
One day, as he was strolling through the narrow paths in the camp, he found a middle-aged man teaching a bunch of children outside his tent, but in Bengali, a language alien to him. Jawahar, who had so far studied in Hindi and Urdu and knew Punjabi, decided not to let the medium of instruction deter him and joined the motley group of kids. Slowly and steadily, Jawahar managed to understand enough Bengali so as to be able to get a grasp of what was being taught.
Two years later, when the family finally moved into their own home, Jawahar found was enrolled in a nearby school, but there, the medium of instruction was English! The principal took one look at Jawahar and on the basis of his height, decided he should be admitted to class seven. Once again, Jawahar had to learn a new language but what made him stand out was his knowledge of mathematics and science. Within three months, he was promoted to class eight and six months later to class nine!
The lure of the cosmos
The principal, an Anglo-Indian gentleman, happened to be their neighbour. He owned a telescope and would spend hours every evening gazing at the sky. Jawahar would watch him from his terrace and wonder what he was so engrossed in. By then, the principal had taken a liking to the bright young lad and invited him over to his place. One look at the skies through the telescope and Jawahar was star struck for life!
Jawahar sure had come a long way. He regularly topped every class in Math and Science and had mastered five languages. He could read, write and speak Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali and English! He was determined to enroll himself in India’s best college and he did! Jawahar went on to complete his post-graduation in Mathematics and Astrophysics from St. Stephens College, Delhi.
One thing remained constant throughout – his passion for the stars, moon, planets, the galaxies and all things celestial. He had by then bought himself a huge telescope and every evening, after a hurried dinner with the family, he would scurry off to the terrace. He always kept a note pad with him and would trace the constellations, their movements and the shifting positions of the planets and stars.
While in college, he drew each constellation with the finest of pens and created a masterpiece of the ‘universe’ so to say. So precious were these to him that he preserved them for the next 58 years, until 2012, when he donated them to the Nehru Planetarium in Delhi. They have been kept on permanent display ever since, as a source of interest and inspiration for budding astronomers. In fact, he was felicitated by Dr. Ratnashree, Director of the Nehru Planetarium on 14th November 2012, in the company of hundreds of school children to mark children’s day celebrations.
To view the ‘Constellations’ collection, check the studio section here
A daughter reminisces
Jawahar’s legacy lives on. He would narrate incidents from his childhood and college days, in vivid details, to his elder daughter Abha. She, in turn, has narrated these learnings to her sons and looks forward to sharing it with her grandchildren too. Yes, dear readers, Jawahar was my father and considering he got me hooked to his telescope, I remain quite fascinated with the night sky.
I vividly recall how animated Pa’s face would become whenever he spoke about the cosmos and the child-like curiosity he had whenever any celestial occurrence was to take place. I particularly remember how excited he was when the Halley’s comet was going to be visible after a gap of 75 years, and that too from India! So there we were, father and daughter sitting up at night waiting for the comet to make its appearance. A tiny fleck came and vanished in nano seconds! It left me perplexed as to what the brouhaha was all about but one look at Pa’s gleaming eyes put my doubts to rest.
Yet another memory etched in my mind forever is watching the total solar eclipse in 1980. While the rest of the families in our locality went around predicting doomsday and spoke about all the ills that would befall those who dared step out of their homes, Pa busied himself with preparations galore. He dug out all the X-ray slides stored in different cupboards and painstakingly cut out broad strips. He then punched holes through the ends and tied ribbons in each hole. Then he wrapped these strips tightly around our eyes so they wouldn’t slip off. Armed thus, we stepped out in broad daylight and waited for the magic to unfold.
At the appointed hour, I could see the shadow of the moon fall on the sun. Within minutes, the entire sun was covered; all that was left was a big circle of fire around the black sun! Day turned into night, the birds stopped chirping and froze in mid-flight. Even the stray dogs whimpered and lay quiet. A couple of seconds later, as the shadow of the moon moved away, I could see a diamond ring form around the dark sun and then gradually the sun shone round and bright as before.
Pa is no more with us but his memories keep him alive in my thoughts. Whenever I learn about a cosmic occurrence, be it an eclipse or a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction or a super moon, I make it a point to watch. Each time I am in Delhi, a trip to the Nehru Planetarium is on my itinerary for sure. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see everyone admiring his works. Who knows maybe someone, someday will get inspired and become yet another star gazer.
Jawahar’s story about how he came to India can be read here.