Stephen Hawking’s Indian Odyssey: Remembering the Celebrated Theorist’s Visit

What had brought the celebrated theorist and best-selling author of A Brief History of Time to the Indian subcontinent?

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at,” Stephen Hawking had once said.

The British cosmologist and mathematician proved this true by outliving the nerve-crippling, muscle-wasting Lou Gehrig’s disease by more than half a century—long enough to not allow the debilitating disability to define him.

During the early hours of Wednesday, the world lost one of the brightest stars in the firmament of science, leaving behind an irreplaceable vacuum in the field of cosmology and in the lives of those touched by his inspirational words.

In remembrance of the great man, let’s go back to the time when Stephen Hawking visited India in 2001.

What had brought the celebrated theorist and best-selling author of A Brief History of Time to the Indian subcontinent?

Stephen Hawking on set of BBC Two drama ‘Hawking’. Source: Flickr.

Hawking was amongst the 300 eminent physicists from across the globe who attended ‘Strings 2001’ in Mumbai.

The event was an international six-day conference on String theory jointly organised by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste and the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, along with several other institutions in India.

It was during this conference that Hawking was bestowed with the Sarojini Damodaran fellowship awarded by TIFR, making him one of the first three recipients of the prestigious fellowship.

At that point, what had been baffling everyone was the purpose of Hawking’s presence in a conference dedicated to a newer and more exotic concept like String theory, when the man’s area of expertise had been black holes!

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Hawking had spent a considerable portion of his life trying to bring together two seemingly incompatible areas of subatomic quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity under a single sphere, but when it came to aspects pertaining to gravity, he was at a loss.

With the entry of String theory, a lot could be finally deciphered where gravity was a prerequisite in the framework, and the presence of someone as erudite as Hawking at the conference could only open up greater avenues of esoteric debates.

Following the conference, Hawking’s next stop was New Delhi where he held a seminar on Albert Einstein in New Delhi in Siri Fort auditorium on January 17. KR Narayanan, the then President of India, who was a self-professed fan of the theorist, was among the members of the audience.

He had also made time to visit famous sites like Jantar Mantar and Qutub Minar.

Accompanied by his guide Prem Das, Hawking goes on a New Delhi tour in 2001. Source: Facebook.

Mesmerised by the architecture and its pertaining symbolism, Hawking had been quoted as describing the Indian penchant for science and mathematics as a national characteristic.

With that visit ended Stephen Hawking’s odyssey with India but what would remain forever ingrained in the memories of those who had the opportunity to meet the man would be the charming smile that never quite left Hawking’s visage.

Rest in Peace, Stephen Hawking.

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