Amar Gopal Bose, Indian-American entrepreneur and academic behind the revolutionary sound systems of Bose Corporation, died on July 12 at the age of 83 in Wayland, Massachusetts.
Dr. Bose was born on November 2, 1929, in Philadelphia, to an American schoolteacher and Noni Gopal Bose, a freedom fighter and Calcutta University physicist who fled to the U.S. in 1920 after being imprisoned for opposing British rule in India.
When his business of importing coconut-fibre doormats from India failed after the U.S. suspended non-military shipping during World War II, Noni Bose came to rely on the early business success of his son’s venture, which offered radio repair services in the basement of their suburban home.
By the end of the war, father Bose had become a firm believer in young Amar’s immense aptitude for practical electronics. In 1947, he was said to have borrowed $10,000 to help his son enter the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), even if he was admitted “by the skin of my teeth,” as Dr. Bose later recalled.
At MIT, where he initially intended to stay for two years, Dr. Bose emerged nine years - and a commitment to the motto “how can I make this better?” – later, with a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The only thing he knew after graduation, Dr. Bose said in 2005, was that he “never wanted to be a teacher.”
When MIT offered him a teaching position, however, Dr. Bose took it up immediately. By 2001, when he left the Institute as faculty, Dr. Bose had inspired many through his “personally creative” and “introspective” persona. “He could understand and explain his own thinking processes and offer them as guides to others,” Dr. Paul Penfield Jr., Bose's former colleague and a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at MIT, said in a statement. A well-kept secret among his students was that, usually, his tests were not timed. Most examinations began at seven in the evening and a teaching assistant would stay till the last student left. MIT’s student lore has it that once a Bose test went on until 5 a.m. – and that often, Dr. Bose provided ice cream to students during exams.
His early interest in radios matured into full-fledged intellectual involvement in sound technology and audio experience, prompting Dr. Bose to think ‘behind the curtains’ about acoustics. While a student, he had indulged in his love for classical music and bought a costly speaker, only to find it fell short of his expectations when he played a recording of a violin. In contrast, Dr. Bose would discover, concert-hall music sounded good because nearly 80 per cent of it was indirect, bouncing off walls and the ceiling before it reached human ears.
He concluded that it was not just the production of sound but also its perception that made for good listening. As a result, he would incorporate the principles of this field, called psycho-acoustics, into the mantra of Bose Corporation. One of the first products to come out from the company's stable based on psycho-acoustics research, the 1968 Bose 901, is still a mainstay of its product line-up. Throughout Dr. Bose's term as Chairman and Technical Director of the company, Bose Corporation chose to stay private and away from investors who would be concerned mostly with bottom lines. Consequently, the company could pursue long-term research – without immediate deliverables - that saw it become the brand of choice for many carmakers and architectural installations in the 1980s and after. Dr. Bose did not believe in the notion of ‘retirement age’, letting the company he founded enjoy his mentorship, and managerial and technical expertise until his passing. Bose Corporation’s emphasis on sustained original research came at a cost, which was reflected in its price tags for consumers. But the company’s products today enjoy an impeccable reputation that, true to its founder’s spirit, reflects its penchant for innovation and creativity. Dr. Bose is survived by two children, Vanu and Maya, from his first marriage with Prema Bose, his wife, Ursula Boltzhauser, and a grandchild.
(With inputs from Anuj Srivas)