‘It’s Your Prize Sir, Not Mine’: When Pakistan’s Nobel Winning Physicist Abdus Salam Honoured His Indian Teacher

Nobel winning physicist Dr Abdus Salam with his former teacher Professon Anilendra Ganguly (Twitter/@Ehzan)

A recent article published in The Better India remembered of an incident when Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate in Physics Dr Abdus Salam dedicated his prize to his teacher in India, who taught him mathematics before the partition.

Dr Salam bagged Nobel Prize in 1979 for his work in particle physics that paved way for the discovery of the Higgs Boson, popularly known as the ‘God Particle’. He was the first Muslim to win the prestigious award in any Science stream.

Despite giving an opportunity of feeling proud and getting inspired for generations to his nation, he was always deprived of the due respect, because he belonged to the Ahmadiyya community, an Islamic sect long persecuted by the establishment in Pakistan.

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A 2018 documentary on Netflix titled ‘Salam, The First ****** Nobel Laureate’ tells about his life and achievements.

An incident, which strengthens the belief in the age-old tradition of guru-shishya (teacher-disciple), prominent in many societies including Indian, is worth remembering here finding his Indian connection.

After winning the Nobel Prize in 1979, he had requested the Indian government to find Professon Anilendra Ganguly, who had taught him mathematics in the pre-partition era at the Sanatan Dharma College in Lahore. Salam had credited Ganguly for instilling the interest towards mathematics in him, which, he believed, led him to become a scientist.

Salam had to wait for two years to meet his teacher and finally came to India on 19 January 1981 to pay his respects to Professon Ganguly who had shifted to Kolkata after the independence.

Upon meeting him at his residence in South Kolkata, Salam dedicated his Nobel Prize medal to Professor Ganguly, who had grown very old at that time and was unable to even sit up.

“The teacher was feeble and unable to sit up and greet him when Dr Salam visited him in his house. Dr Salam took his Nobel medal and said that ‘Mr Anilendra Ganguly this medal is a result of your teaching and love of mathematics that you instilled in me,’ and he put the medal around his teachers’ neck,” writes Zia H Shah MD, a New York-based physician and Chief Editor of the Muslim Times, in this article.

According to Salam’s son as he told in the Netflix documentary, Salam had told Professor Ganguly, “This is your prize Sir. It’s not mine.”

The gesture for his teacher by the Pakistani scientist was truly defying to the barriers of nations and religions that had grown after the partition.

Dr Salam, who never received his due love and respect in his own country, was on the other hand remained loyal to his nation, his faith, and science till he died on 21 November 1996.

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