My father - Professor Bhatla

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Manmohan Bhatla, born in 1939, studied at Punjab Engineering College, Roorkee University, and got his Ph. D. from Oklahoma State University. He worked for Roy F. Weston, Inc.  as an environmental engineer for 40 years, and was a Vice President of this company for 30 years. During this time, he led many high profile and cutting edge projects in pollution prevention and remediation for industries in the US and Europe. He received a Medal from the Water Pollution Control Federation for a "Significant Operations Contribution." He has over 25 publications to his credit.

Prof. Bhatla

Professor H.R. Bhatla 1911-1992.
Professor of Physics, Punjab, India

These are some of my memories of my beloved father, a very complete and a wholesome human being.

My father, Professor Hans Raj Bhatla, was a professor of Physics. He practiced his cherished profession for 55 years, first as a professor in Government College in pre-Partition East Punjab, followed by in Government College, Hoshiarpur, and Punjab University College, Hoshiarpur. After his retirement, he took up his work again as the Head of the Physics Department at Gandhi Memorial National College, Ambala for another decade of service.

I remember him fondly not just as a father but also as a professional. In post-Partition India, for most of his teaching years, he was also his college's Bursar, apart from teaching Physics. This meant that he was a very busy man on the college campus. He supported numerous aspects of the college administrative life, including watching over the finances, college policies, sports events, student aid and discipline programs, graduation and prize distribution, and all college events and ceremonies. My two years (1954-56) of study at Punjab University College, Hoshiarpur gave me the sense that my father was the prime mover of this giant college machine. He loved it.

Prof. Bhatla and Mr. Dewan

Professor Bhatla (left) with Mr Dewan Anand Kumar, Vice Chancellor, Punjab University, at a college function

In spite of a very busy schedule and teaching duties, his passion and avocation was to help the students in all possible ways, and at a very personal level with procuring financial aid, mentoring, and career guidance for studies. My observations lead me to believe that both students and faculty members loved to be with him.

He inspired and helped numerous students to go abroad for advanced education, and personally helped prepare their documents, and even filled their applications. I personally recall several of us came to USA for their Ph. D. degrees in 1961 alone on efforts instigated and supported by my father. I was one of those persons.

One notable example of his persistent nature of assisting students was his championing the push for education of a reluctant youngster with little financial means and an overwhelming resistance from the family to continue education beyond matriculation. This man went to become famous as Dr. Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics.

Dr. Salam came to India from the UK in 1981 to attend several ceremonies organized to honour him. He sought out Professor Bhatla and visited our home in Rajouri Garden, in Delhi. He recognized Professor Bhatla as a man who invoked in him the love for physics. Dr. Salam's respect for his teacher was genuine.

He refused an invitation for a function organized by the Honourable Chief Minister of Punjab because Professor Bhatla could not be with him on the dais due some protocol. The minister relaxed his requirement, and accommodated Professor Bhatla on the stage. The ceremony was successfully concluded.

Dr. Salam and Prof. Bhatla

Dr. Salam (left) and Professor Bhatla (right), 1981.

In 1954, Professor Bhatla put himself in play for a Ph.D. degree in Physics from Leeds University, England under Dr P.B. Moon. But, he ran into bad luck. The day before the flight to Birmingham, he developed a severe and debilitating backache. He was not able to stand up and function. My father took this in his stride as a divine signal, and decided to drop the idea of going abroad then and there.

Now, when I think about that afternoon, I am still in awe of the difficult decision of my father to drop the work of all preparations made by him and his family for his planned trip abroad. I still wonder about how the future would have played out if he would have completed his studies in England. With hindsight, we did fine with him not leaving us all for an extended period of time.

In personal life, my father was very discriminating and disciplined about the food he ate. He was a foodie but he practiced measured and wholesome eating through food diversity. He did not put on weight.

He was very proper about clothes and dressing. I fulfilled his request for a Basalino hat and an electric shaver when I made my first visit to India after completing my studies in America. Most likely, he inherited this trait from his father, Rai Sahib Bishan Das Bhatla, who was very westernized in grooming and attire because of his lifelong position as an executive with the British military establishment. The British gave him the title of Rai Sahib for his service in London, and he attended the coronation of King George VI.

Still, my father was an intensely family man, and the best father one could ask for.

Let me illustrate.

In April 1961, I was nearing my final exams at Roorkee University (now IIT Roorkee). Just the pressure of upcoming oral presentation got me into a deep depression because of my severe stuttering problem. I must have written a letter to Dad of my dark thoughts of committing suicide. I was surprised to see my Dad showed up at the hostel one morning. He took an overnight train to be with me. The dark clouds cleared with Dad's encouragement.

In the summer of 1961, he was helping me get all the visa papers ready to go for studies in America. I was 21 then, and had completed my Masters in Engineering. On a very hot June afternoon, we were not able to get a riksha to go to the Surgeon General's office, some two miles away, for a medical exam. Dad offered me a ride on his bike, and we had to make several rest stops on the way to escape the intense sun and exhaustion.

In one of the test, I had to read the numbers in a colour book; it was a test for colour blindness, with which I was not familiar. I failed the test and was declared colour blind. We could not accept it, and did not understand the implication of this failure. So much so, I wondered about my eligibility to go abroad. Dad felt that probably the difficulty was the heat and exhaustion we had come through during our travel to the office. We were able to reschedule the test for the next day. I failed the test again. We looked at each other without any words. In time, I realized that there were no consequences of this deficiency.

I was on my way to USA in August 1961.

Finally, I want to share about my father's hands off encouragement and guidance style he applied to us while we were growing up. His words ring high in my head. He told me, "Remember who your brother is and his accomplishments." Dad motivated me by only pointing me to the role model he wanted me to keep in focus, my brother Pran.

Pran stood second in all of Punjab in Intermediate level exams. He went on to the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (the first IIT of India) and graduated as a civil engineer. He practiced his profession with the state government, with Military Engineering Service at the central government, and the private sector with great distinction.

My father was a great communicator. I loved to read his newsy letters. We exchanged bi-weekly letters for good part of three years while I was in Oklahoma State University working on my Ph.D. I would just wait for his letter, since phone conversation was prohibitively expensive then.

He was up on current events both in India and abroad.  He was an avid readers of popular magazines and newspapers such as Time, Life, Look, National Geographic, Filmfare, Tribune, Hindustan Times to name a few. He loved movies. And Dad belonged to a local civil lines club and attended it six days a week. He was one of the finest Rummy players and was known well for this among his colleagues.

I cherish the memories my father created for the whole family and for me. Through his great guidance and devotion, all five of his children became successful professionals.

I revere this forward-looking man of all seasons.

I am certain that all my brothers Pran and Ravinder, and my sisters Bimla and Manorma salute him with reverence, gratitude and love.

______________________________________

© Manmohan Bhatla 2015

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Pran Bhatla   |2015-08-28
My father himself was a brilliant student having distinguished record in B. Sc.
(hons) physics in the university. Since my Grandfather was out of country, he
could not guide my father, who was busy supervising construction of our house
in Meghiana, after his B. Sc. It was through the efforts of family friend D.R.
Varma, that my father could get admission in MA (English) in Govt. College,
Lahore. Prof. J. B. Seth refused admission for M. Sc. Physics since it was too
late and it would be difficult to catch up with course already covered in the
class. On intervention of the Principal. Prof. Seth reluctantly agreed. My
father ,though, topped in the very first exam.

Dad was an avid photographer.
He ran the Photographic Club during his first posting at Govt. College, Shahpur
near Sargodha (Pakistan). His Voiglander camera is still with me, which had
inspired me to take up this hobby and even win some prizes.

Prof. Bhatla was
against paid tuitions as a principle, though he always helped students clear
their difficulties through informal discussions, sometimes for hours even at his
residence. His emphasis was to clear the basics. I remember the evening before
my Intermediate (F. Sc.) physics exam, with my mother telling him that he never
teaches me. He sat with me past midnight generally discussing various topics and
basics. This was aptly brought out by no less an eminent physicist than Dr.
Abdus Salam in his convocation address at GND University, Amritsar. He said, in
the presence of my father on the dais, that my father was responsible for the
sound foundation of physics in him.
All of us, his progenies, heartily share
the sentiments expressed above by my brother Manmohan.

Just for the record, I
got only the fourth position in Intermediate and second position in
Matriculation of Punjab University.
Bimla Goulatia   |2015-08-29
Dear Mohan,
After reading your memories about our father, Papaji, I am
motivated to put down some of my own.
Before the partition of India in 1947
Papaji was teaching Physics in Govt . College Lyallpur now Faisalabad,
Pakistan.
I was 5 years old and vividly remember him dressed as a Pathan for a
Fancy Dress event at the College. He looked handsome, tall and thin in Salwar
and waist -coat wearing a Kulewali turban . At another time I saw him milking
our cow since the milkman did not show due to a curfew because of Hindu , Muslim
riots.
I too admire him as a family oriented person. He assumed the
responsibility of keeping our grandmother and his sister with us in Hoshiarpur
after we fled from Pakistan. He voluntarily took on the responsibility, got the
sister married, and kept his mother with him for her entire life even though he
had an elder brother and a sister both living in post- partitioned India.
He
laid great emphasis on academics and wanted us all to do well in studies. He
often reminded us,” you might lose everything, but the knowledge will remain
with you forever”. He was reciting this from his own book of life
experiences.

I still recall the moment on that early morning when the news of
my brother Pran securing 2nd position in Panjab matriculation exams was shouted
out to him. Papaji was taking a bath and on hearing the result he just came out
in a towel wrapped around him. He remarked that he knew Pran will do well” but
not that well”! He was very happy.
I was a very “musth” person and not
very hard working at studies. Papaji would always find me sleeping. He once told
me” you compare yourself with Pran”. I responded to Papaji “you want me
to get a 1st division that I will get” and I did.

Continued below
Bimla Goulatia   |2015-08-29
... continued from above
I was very fond of singing , dancing and movies. He
would say “ she should be married to a Cinema Wala” but luck delivered a
different plan. I got married to a Doctor and myself became a Doctor. I
remember him as affectionate though not demonstrative, caring , disciplined,
contented, hardworking, positive, forward looking person and always helping
others. I miss Papaji and love him.
Ravinder Bhatla   |2015-09-07
I am Ravinder, the youngest sibling.

I remember papa ji as a happy and
content person. He worked hard and drew pleasure out of simple things in
life.

Papa ji was a clear thinker.
Manmohan wrote the 1st draft of his write
up in a matter of less than 2 hours. I found his draft to be ready for
publication. It is clear where Manmohan inherited his writing skill from. Like
dad Manmohan is a clear thinker too.

Recently my brother-in-law, Rajinder had
asked me to write something about dad. I forwarded Rajinder’s email to Pran
and Manmohan but for myself I drew a total blank.

Manmohan told me he was
going to write something about dad. So over the course of last few weeks I
recollected my childhood days with papa ji. I am totally overwhelmed by how
papaji’s presence in my life shaped my persona.

It is not possible for me
to compress papa ji’s contributions in a few paragraphs. But I hope, one day
to be able to do full justice to papaji’s legacy.
Professor H.S. Virk   |2015-09-08
I enjoyed reading this article on HR Bhatla but will like to point out some
discrepancies, as Prof. Salam was a friend, guide and Philosopher for me. I
wrote some essays on Salam. His father was Inspector of Schools, and encouraged
him for higher studies. So I do'nt believe what Manmohan writes about
Salam:"One notable example of his persistent nature of assisting students
was his championing the push for education of a reluctant youngster with little
financial means and an overwhelming resistance from the family to continue
education beyond matriculation. This man went to become famous as Dr. Abdus
Salam, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics."
I received Prof.
Salam and HR Bhatla in the University as Dean Science Faculty on 25th Jan. 1981
at the Convocation. Prof. Ish Kumar (Prof. of English) was also present. Prof.
Salam paid tributes to both of his teachers. I need one more clarification:
Abdus Salam studied in Govt. College Jhang. It is my loud guess that HR Bhatla
and Ish Kumar both taught him in GC Jhang and not in GC Lahore?
Professor H.S. Virk   |2015-09-11
I posted my Comment 3 days ago but it has not appeared. Let me inform u that
Manmohan Bhatla made 3 factual mistakes:Abdus Salam's father was an Inspector
and he could afford for his higher education; Hans Raj Bhatla taught him Physics
at Govt. College Jhang and not in Lahore; Punjab CM did not invite Abdus Salam,
hence there is no question of protocal as claimed by Manmohan. HR Bhatla was
allowed to sit on the dais with SALAM in presence of Governor of Punjab, Mr
Hathi.
Editor   |2015-09-12
Thanks for pointing out the errors. Obviously, there should not be factual
errors in the articles that appear on this website. However, this website is
based on personal memories, including family-based memories. The reliance on
memories means that inevitably, given the long time that has passed and the
possible hearsay character of the memory, that there will be some factual
errors. Since the website does not have the resources to fact-check every
detail, one purpose of the comments section is to allow readers to point out
possible errors. If the errors are not fraudulent and are only tangentially
related to the story, it is enough for the reader's comment to appear after the
story, as in this case.
manmohan bhatla   |2015-09-15
Dr Virk, thank you for the interest in my father's legacy.
Out of curiosity, I
googled you and was very pleasantly surprised to note that you are a very
accomplished scientist and an administrator with a long list of professional
contributions and recognitions in India and abroad. l congratulate you for
earning a good name and fame. India will certainly celebrate your celebrity
status and will be proud.
I will attempt to address your comments/and complaint
of discrepancies below. Please excuse me for the lengthy response. I felt it is
necessary.
Just as a backdrop I was not aware of Dr Salam and his reputable
presence until my Dad's passing in 1992.I was moved by the memories I learned
from my family about a connection between Dr Salam and his teacher Prof Bhatla.
So, out-of-the blue, I wrote to Dr Salam about my Dad's passing. And I recently
read a long handwritten letter dated Nov 1, 1979 from him to Prof Bhatla which
related an exchange of very intimate details between the two friends( Student
and the teacher!).
Dad provided the information directly ,that I wrote about
,to my family members.One can say that the only weak link as to the accuracy
may be the degradation of human memory due to the passing of the time.
Now to
your three points
The memories I printed are the story told in my family as
they recall.
Point 1.
I was curious and did some digging to find independent
sources without knowing what I will find. In the last couple of days I found a
rather detailed biography of Dr Abdus Salam recorded in a book Cosmic Anger by
Gordon Fraser ( you may Google it if you have not already read it). The book
tells us that the older brother of Muhammad Hussain, father of Dr Salam, was a
District Inspector of Schools (p47). Muhammad Hussain himself was a school
teacher and a man of very modest means the biographer writes (p49).
manmohan bhatla - part 2   |2015-09-15
Dr Virk, It will be helpful if you were to disclose your source(s). Then we can
set the record straight on your and others ( the biographer's) assertions.
Prof
Bhatla recounted to his son Pran (who remembers the words to this date) that
Muhammad Hussain met with him and described his hesitation and doubts for Abdus
to continue college studies due to financial pressures. Dad convinced and
assured him that Abdus who had stood first in Matriculation Exams in the whole
of Punjab held a great promise, and had a great future. He assured them that
Abdus will be awarded scholarship to continue college. It was done. The
biographer states that Abdus got two scholarships for his college studies after
his high school. Twenty rupees per month was the GC scholarship (p53).
Also, I
refer you to an article written by my brother on this web site titled "From
Meghiana to Hoshiarpur, 1947” by Pran Bhatla. Please read the Epilogue which
has reference to Abdus Salam's joining college after matriculation.
Point
2
The story told by my family is that Dr Abdus Salam had invited Dad to
Amritsar where he was attending a convocation. The purpose of the meeting was to
just chat since the two had not gotten time together due to Dr Salam's busy
schedule. Then , there was a little time lapse and then an urgent request from
Dr Salam for father to be present at the convocation. The explanation provided
was a difficulty in getting permission for Prof Bhatla to be on the dais with
him which he wanted.
I labelled this difficulty as a protocol in my writing.
Anyway, Dr Salam got his way with the convocation authorities in having Prof
Bhatla besides him.
Rajesh Priyadarshi Sangwan   |2016-10-27
Very impressive tribute to a father by the family members!I am moved!
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