The Adventure by Jayant Narlikar
How to understand this story ….. J. V. Narlikar is a Mathematician of world-wide fame. In this story, he has tried to give a glimpse of Quantum Theory, the most intriguing and fascinating branch of modern Physics. To make the subject interesting, and easy to comprehend, he has created a delusional and eccentric character by the name Prof. Gaitonde, also known as Gangadharpat. This man is deeply interested in Maratha history, and goes to very crazy extent to dig up the forgotten part of the Panipat battle. He switches from the old age to modern times intermittently making the reader wonder how and why he manages to do it. There is another man named Rajendra, who apparently is a Physicist, and has a similar bent of mind. But, he is steady and doesn’t float from one era to another like Professor Gaitonde.
He helps the crazy professor to make sense of the Panipat battle’s twists and turns, using the ideas of Quantum Theory. Such an application of Physics to History might appear bizarre, but for young school student’s unconditioned mind, this is a good way of entering the wonderful domain of Quantum Theory.
The Story ..
Leaving Pune behind, Jijamata Express steamed into Lonavala just 40 minutes into its journey. This train runs fater than the Deccan Queen. After a brief stop in Karjat, it picked up even greater speed as it crossed Kalyan.
Professor Gaitunde was, however, lost in deep thought about what he intended to do in Bombay (Mumbai). He intended to visit a few libraries there to enlighten him about the years gone by. He wanted to discover how the place had evolved to be in the present state. He also thought of meeting Mr. Rajendra Deshpande back in Pune, who could throw more light on the place’s transformation over the past centuries.
The train crossed the long tunnel and stopped briefly ar Sarhad. An Anglo-Indian railway employee came into check permits.
A conversation between Gangadharpant (Prof. Gaitonde), and another passenger, Khan Sahab, had ensued.
Khan told his fellow passenger that the British Raj began there. Khan was heading for Peshawar. He planned to catch the Frontier Mail from the Victoria Terminus. The route to Peshawar was Bombay to Delhi to Lahore to the final destination – Peshawar.
Khan spoke at length about his business as Gangadharpant (Prof. Gaitonde) listened attentively. The train sped past through the suburban stations where coaches with GBMR written on them stoo still. GBMR stood for Greater Bombay Metropolitan Railway. The Union Jack was painted on the coaches, proclaiming that the place was a colony of the British.
After crossing Dadar, the train slowly steamed into the Victoria Terminus. The station was neat and clean. Some British, Parsee and Anglo-Indian railway staff were on duty.
On stepping out of the station, Gangadharpat (Prof. Gaitonde) was overawed by the sight of the giant office building, the Head Quarters of the East India Company.
The History Professor knew he would see many new things in Bombay, but this towering building defied his logical sense. The East India Company had folded up way back in 1857, but here it stood before him in all its glory! Professor Deshpande was clearly flummoxed. He decided to delve into the mystery.
As he walked along the Hornby Road, he came across buildings that had British names like Barclays, Lloyds, and some boot and Woolworth stores. The place looked so much akin to a high street in London. Handloom stores were conspicuous by their absence.
Mr. Gaitonde entered the imposing Forbes Building standing on the Home Street and spoke to the English lady receptionist to put him to Mr. Vinay Gaitonde. After looking for this person all over her records, she replied that there was no such person working there.
It was a let-down for Mr. Gaitonde. He was disappointed and over-whelmed in disbelief. He felt it could be a delusion to expect that his son was alive. When he himself was not sure if he was alive, how could he expect to see Vinay Gaitonde alive. It could be possible that Vinay was never born.
Prof. Gaitonde was not perturbed. He ate something in a restaurant and headed towards the Asiatic Society located in the Town Hall. He was bent upon unraveling the mysteries of history.
He reached Town Hall and entered the Asiatic Society library. He asked for five volumes of history books including the one had written. When he got the books, he started from Volume 1. It took the reader till the reign of Ashoka, the second volume ended with Samufragupta, the third with Monammed Ghori, and the fourth ended with the rule of Aurangjeb. He was well versed with history till this time. So, he concluded, the fifth volume held the secret he was trying to uncover. In his hurry, he read the book from the beginning and from the end alternatively, till he reached the phase when the history had taken a dramatic turn.
The page he stumbled upon detailed the battle of Panipat that the Marathas won hands down. The vanquished Abadali was chased away right till Afghanistan by Sadashivrao Bhau, and his young nephew, Viswasrao.
The battle’s progress was not mentioned in minute detail in the book. Instead, it dwelt with the ramifications of the battle for the power equation in India. While he went through the pages, he was excited to see his own flourish of writing, but was reading his own writing for the first time!
The Marathas won their battle convincingly, and stamped their military supremacy over northern India. This made the British to defer their expansionist plans.
In the Peshwa royalty, Bhausaheb’s clout increased. Vishwasrao succeeded his father in 1780 A.D. Dadasaheb was pushed to the fringes, and he later, retired from state politics.
Vishwasrao posed a formidable challenge to East India Company. Vishwashrao joined ranks with his brother Madhabrao and went on military campaigns that brought most parts of India under their control. The British influence under the banner of the East India Company was restricted to small pockets around Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Similar decline of influence awaited the Portugese and the French.
The Marathas thought it expedient to keep the Moghul regime in Dlhi intact, although in just for namesake. In the nineteenth century, Europe was in the cusp of a sweeping transformation through industrialization. Marathas were quite aware of this, and set up their own centers to foster science and technology.
East India Company sensed an opportunity here. They decided to build bridges with the Marathas by facilitating import of man power and expertise from Europe, and even offered the Marathas financial aid. The Marathas accepted this hand of friendship, but it was only to augment the newly-opened centers of science and technology.
The twentieth century saw the waning of Maratha power and clout. India was experiencing the first winds of democratic change. The Maratha empire crumbled gradually, and democratic institutions began to take roots.
Curiously, the Sultanate in Delhi weathered this storm, and managed to survive. But, it was not because of its power, rather the lack of it. It was just a titular monarchy. The central parliament made ‘recommendations’, and the monarch had to just give his stamp of approval.
The inquisitive History Professor, Gangadharpant, felt a sense of pride as he went through the pages. He felt happy that the white men had not managed to enslave the Indians. They had come seeking trading rights. They were restricted to their bastion in Bombay, where they could remain till 2001. The treaty signed in 1908 gave them this right.
Gangdharpat found it difficult to co-relate the India he knew in those days with the India he was witnessing today. He felt, the mystery of the resounding military victory of the Marathas was not amply clear from the accounts he was reading then. He decided to unearth the ral reason that ensured the Maratha victory. He went through the books and journals kept before him on the table in the library. Finally, he stumbled upon a source, Bhausahebanchi Bakhar.
Generally, the Professor rarely took the works of Bakhar seriously, he found this quite readable. He discovered a three-line description of the incident when Vishwasrao was very close to being killed.
By 8pm, the library was empty, sans the Professor. The librarian politely told him it was time to leave. He was lost in his thoughts completely. While leaving, he inadvertently kept the Bakhar in his left pocket.
He checked into a guest house nearby. After a very ight meal, he strolled towards the Azad Maidan. He found a meeting being arranged there as some people stood near a pandal. His innate curiosity for such events drew him towards the pandal. Someone was speaking from the pandal. His attention was focused on the pandal. A table and an empty chair were kept on the table.
The Professor couldn’t resist the temptation of occupying the chair. After all, he deserved to sit there for his erudition. He went forward that occupied it. The speaker was flabbergasted. The audience were resentful of an intruder occupying the ceremonial chair. There was a hue and cry to evict the Professor from the pandal.
Prof. Gaitonde seems unconvinced. After all, it ws a public lecture, and there out to a person to preside over it. He went to the mike and began his argument to convince the audience about his role. He cited the story of Hamlet from Shakespeare.
The audience continued their vehement protestations. They said, they were interested only in the speaker, and had no need of any other formality.
Prof. Gaitonde, a veteran of so many meetings, persisted with his views. The restive audience rained abuses, tomatoes and everything else on the pandal to scare the intruder away. In the melee that ensued, the Professor was lost somewhere.
Rajendra was clearly puzzled to hear the narrator’s account that was both crazy and incredulous. Rajendra recovered from his shock, and asked the Professor what he was doing just before being hit by the truck.
Professor Gaitonde disclosed that the moment before the truck hit him, he was thinking of the momentous incidents that shaped the country’s history.
It soon emerged that the Professor was virtually roughed up by the irate audience in the Maidan the night before. The Bakhar that he had mistakenly kept in his left pocket while leaving the library was lost in the jostling of the crowd around him. The book was lost, but the crucial page that had the account of the crunch moment of the battle had surprisingly remained with him. He showed it eagerly to Rajendra to show how Viswashrao had been drawn into a perilous point in the battle field, where he was hit by a bullet.
On seeing this, Rajenda became thoughtful. Prof. Gaitonde was boiling with an urge to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Prof. Gaitonde’s account plunged Rajendra with more torment. After pausing for some time, Rajendra offered to solve the jigsaw puzzle with some apparently plausible explanation.
A serious monologue of Rajendra started as he narrated how the Marathas stood face to face with the army of the Abdali in the flat battle ground of Panipat. With both armies having similar man power and arms, the balance was to tilt in favour of the side that had the better leadership. Vishwasrao, the scion of the Peshwas was killed in the encounter. His uncle Bhausaheb rushed to his rescue, but never emerged again. The Maratha soldiers found it hard to continue as two of their chiefs lost their lives. From then on, it was a disgraceful retreat and utter ignominy for the much-vaunted Marathas.
The page that the Professor had managed to save mentioned an opposite account. It said that the bullet missed Vishwasrao, and his escaping death charged up his soldiers greatly.
Prof. Gaitonde was circumspect in his remark. He recalled the Battle of Waterloo that could have gone Napoleon’s way, had he managed to turn it around. The Professor commented that the ways of History are too intriguing to comprehend.
Rajendra was not in agreement with the Professor’s inference. He began to explain ‘realty’ with the help of logic and philosophy. He strayed to Atomic Physics to bolster his argument. He began to talk about Quantum Mechanics. Prof. Gaitonde interjected saying that he too knew what Quantum Mechanics was.
Rajendra delved into Quantum Mechanics further to drive home his argument.
The Professor began to talk about the improbabilities of Quantum Theory, despite his very limited knowledge of the subject. After Rajendra spoke about different energy levels of electrons and how they jump from one level to another, Prof. Gaitonde felt his intuition was leading him to a possible solution to his dilemma.
He told Rajendra it was possible that he had gone to another world and now had returned to the starting point.
Prof. Gaitonde felt he possibly travelled back and forth between two worlds that led to his experiencing such divergent ideas.
Despite Rajendra’s understanding of the Quantum Theory, there were areas where a solution eluded the best Physics brains. Quantum Theory still holds many secret in its belly that baffles the inquisitive minds.
Rajendra made an intelligent guess. He felt that Prof. Gaitonde, possibly was thinking about the catastrophic theory and its role in wars, when a truck hit him. He was thinking of the Battle of Panipat then. The collision unleashed a swarm of neurons that triggered the confusion.
The Professor appeared convinced and excited. He, however, continued to be incoherent in his thoughts. Quite comically, he assumed that he had given his thousandth lecture in the Maidan, but it was drowned out by the din caused by the crowd.
Questions and answers will be posted soon….