Farewell to a Rationalist Icon

  • Date / 25 March 2005

He was bidden farewell with full state honours. The Chief Minister of Karnataka State as well as a former Prime Minister of India came to pay their last respects. The Legislative Assembly of Karnataka State adjourned after a reference to his death, and students and teachers pressed for postponement of exams in their hour of grief. The media was full of stories about how this rationalist and Humanist legend lived and worked.

Dr. H. Narasimhaiah, who delivered the inaugural address at the IHEU’s Mumbai World Congress, was one of India’s best known rationalists. This founder of the Bangalore Science Forum and former President of the Indian Rationalist Association had a Doctorate in Nuclear Physics from Ohio State University but was also known as an educationist with clear insights. When he was appointed Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University, he constituted a committee to investigate Satya Sai Baba’s claims of miraculous powers. After much controversy, he resigned his position rather than compromise with the forces of reaction that opposed his step.

Dr. Narasimhaiah led a life of sacrifice and simple living, and a story about his early years still inspires many village children: because he had no money for the bus fare, he famously walked 85 kilometres from his remote village to Bangalore, where he became a pupil of the National College and was allocated a hostel room there. It is in this frugal and simple hostel room that this gentle giant stayed for the rest of the 84 years of his life, with a ‘question mark’ decorating the wall, signifying his devotion to the spirit of inquiry.

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