Feb 17, 2005
Remembering Dr H Narasimhaiah
Last week, a veritable institution of Bangalore—as much a part of public and individual memory as the MTR restaurant, Lalbagh and Basavanagudi’s famed green cricket parks— Dr H Narasimhaiah, scientist and educationist extraordinaire, passed away at 84.
Known to the hundreds of former and current students of National High School and the National College, fondly as HN, Dr H Narasimhaiah, was a lifelong Gandhian - a man of strict, disciplined habits, reinforced by living singly and very frugally. HN lived in the same bare hostel room of the College for over 50 years, first as a student, then as its lecturer and Principal and finally retiring as the head of the ‘National Education Society’ that runs the institutions. His lean, tall figure, always clad in a white Khadi dhoti-Jubba and Gandhi topi, could be seen walking about the campus; in later days, leaning on a stick.
Fiercely critical of the superstitious ways of the families of most of his students, HN sought to instil a strong scientific temper among his students and the public; towards which, he set up the ‘Bangalore Science Forum’ in the 60’s � arguably his greatest contribution to Bangalore’s intellectual space. The Forum has consistently organised public lectures by eminent scientists and thinkers, film shows, debates and events; hosting annually the ‘Science Festival’. It won, under HN, the 2003 National award by Govt. of India for popularising Science.
During his distinctive stint as the Vice Chancellor of the Bangalore University from 1971-77, he is credited with introducing psychology, social work, drama, music and dance as subjects. He went on to head and retire from the National Education Society; serve the State Legislative Assembly; and in 1984, received the Padma Bhushan from the Indian Government.
Ever the rationalist, HN scoffed at the common people’s obsession with astrology, miracles and practises unscientific. While serving as President of the Indian Rationalist Association,
he set up an inquiry committee to investigate the ‘miracles’ of Godmen, audaciously challenging Sai Baba; headed a committee with NIMHANS to investigate into the practise of witchcraft or ‘banamathi’ in Karnataka— among other activities— to discourage crude rituals and blind beliefs.
The only Indian member of the ‘Scientific Investigation Of Claims Of Paranormal’, HN’s constant endeavour was to promote a healthy spirit to ‘inquire and investigate before believing’. HN was not one to lie low when his intellect was offended, as when Bangalore University attempted to introduce astrology as a subject last year; he bristled and made his displeasure known.