Campus Reconnect: R.P.C. Nair, former DGP (Prisons), reminisces about how University College instilled in him a passion for physics

Physics has been more than a subject for me. And I’m indebted to University College for making me fall in love with the subject.

I was quite studious at school. In fact, I was the only first class holder from my school, Hindu Mahilamandiram, Poojappura, in the SSLC examination. My ambition was to study science and get a job. After the one-year pre-University course from the Arts College [we were the first pre-University batch], I joined the University College for the three-year degree course in 1957. Initially I took Mathematics, but within a few days I found the subject too abstract and switched over to physics.

Along with physics we had to study mathematics, English, Malayalam and two general education subjects, for which I chose psychology and economics. In those days, there were no examinations in the first year. So, invariably, most students happily bunked classes and indulged in various activities. I was out of the class on most days, spending time in libraries because I was always a voracious reader, watching English movies at Sreekumar theatre and so on. But when I reached the final year, I was terribly worried because I had to cover a massive backlog of the syllabus. I couldn’t tell my parents about the soup I was in. Those days I used to have nightmares about exams. Interestingly, I’ve those dreams even now!

However, I immersed myself in studies and the subject. That hard labour got me hooked to physics and to this today I love the subject. The best part is that my efforts didn’t go in vain as I got the first rank and won a gold medal.

I did my post graduation in physics in the same College. By then the subject had opened a new world before me. I strongly believe that no subject can unravel the secrets of the world like physics. And all that happened because of my teachers.

Among them were Gopala Menon, who taught optics and was very close to the students, Mary Punnen, lecturers such as Arul Das, Namboothiri, C. C. Philip and Karunakaran Nair and Mathai. We had fine Principals in Bhaskaran Nair and E.P. Narayana Pillai.

I was also lucky to attend G. Kumara Pillai’s English classes. It was exhilarating to listen to him teach Shakespeare while the 80-odd students of the class sat in absolute silence. He knew each student by his/her name. I also loved Malayalam classes by Daniel and Thirunelloor Karunakaran. Karunakaran sir encouraged us to read and told us not to confine ourselves to textbooks.

With its heritage buildings and best of students, the college had a beautiful ambience. Our lab was actually below the ground level. The campus was brimming with lot of activities, political activities were also plenty. But I kept away from all that.

Instead, I spent a lot of time at the college library and at the United States Information Service (USIS) library just opposite the college (where Hotel South Park stands now). After completing my studies, I worked at Regional Engineering College [now National Institute of Technology], Kozhikode. It was there that I was inspired to appear for the Civil Services. I didn’t prepare much and was quite surprised when I made it to the list.

In 1965, I got into the Indian Police Service (IPS) and retired as Director General of Police (Prisons) in 2001. My ambition was to do research in physics. IPS just happened. But, no doubt, learning science, has helped me as a police official. Somehow I found a connect between solving equations and investigating a crime. My penchant for science really helped me in my stint at various offices. I don’t regret being in the police force, because I never had to give up my passion for science, especially physics. Even now I am more than happy to read books on physics.

Ode to my teacher

Arul Das sir was an inspiration for the 14 of us in the post-graduation class. We would all sit in rapt attention, as he wrote down equations in a lucid manner on the board. The way he went through Einstein’s relativity theory used to give us goosebumps. The exciting aspect was that he would make us students take the class on various subjects. I chose periodic classification of elements and was quite thrilled to get a book from him for giving the best talk. I still cherish that book.

(As told to ATHIRA M.)

(A column to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the University of Kerala. Eminent teachers and people from different walks of life talk about their student days in various colleges under the University.)

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