Rahul Basu, particle physicist; gourmet, cook and blogger; devourer of books, music, film and good wine; traveller, lover of Delhi and bon vivant, but above all a close friend to many from all around the world, passed away on March 5th, 2011. He was 55.
Rahul was born in Kolkata and did his undergraduate and post-graduate studies at St. Stephens College, Delhi and Delhi University before completing a Ph.D. from SUNY, Stonybrook in August 1984 with George Sterman. His thesis was on higher twist effects in quantum chromodynamics (QCD). A high-energy physicist both by training and inclination, he collaborated with scientists in India and around the world, including in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands. He worked on a variety of topics in particle physics and field theory. His work on various aspects of QCD, and more recently, Large Hadron Collider (LHC) physics, is well recognized. He was known for his clarity and dedication as a teacher and thus often called upon to lecture in schools for the training of young particle physicists.
Among his friends at Stonybrook were a large number of Indian physicists, among them one, Neelima Gupte, who later became his wife. Rahul joined the faculty of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai in 1991. Over a period of time, he became a Professor at the Institute, assuming a number of important administrative and committee responsibilities en route. He was active in the organization of a large number of high-profile conferences and schools in particle physics. Another significant achievement was his part in the development of the IMSc computer systems to a point where these were seen as a model to be emulated by many other Indian institutes.
He travelled extensively, both on work and for pleasure, in Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Italy, France, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Greece, USA and Switzerland. He also traveled widely in India, visiting places as diverse as India’s relatively inaccessible north-east, the troubled Kashmir valley and Kerala. His blog “As I Please” had a loyal following, while his writings on eating out in Chennai provided an often acid counterpoint to bland newspaper reviews. He wrote on many topics, including scientific ethics, censorship, politics, Delhi, the pleasures of travel, cooking, books and music – his last blog posting discussed the Pachelbel Canon. He admired good writing as well as the great Indian statesmen of the past century, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru, both for his writings as well as for the clarity of his vision of a modern India.
Acerbic, opinionated, irreverent and argumentative – these were easy first impressions. But a deep concern for others, a genuine sense of fairness, and his belief that scientific institutions must be ever conscious of their responsibilities as well as of their larger purpose lay at the core of his strongly held and vigorously defended views. Beneath the surface lay deep personal warmth, genuine affection and concern for others, accounting for his vast circle of close friends from around the world and in the institute where he worked for more than two decades. These friendships were never superficial or temporary, attesting to his truly remarkable ability to keep his friends, even when he disagreed with them.
We will miss him.
Text: Gautam Menon with inputs from others
Photos: Vani Vemparala
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