37. A call from Varanasi

Today (4th Feb, 2021), I had a strange but pleasant experience.

At around 5pm, I got a call on my office number from a person named Anil Tiwari from Varanasi. He told me that he had some questions related to science and he wanted to get some clarifications. Initially, I was a bit reluctant to engage in the conversation, as he was incoherent and probably a bit nervous. Then, he gradually gained some confidence, and mentioned that he was not convinced that the speed of light is a constant irrespective of the frame of reference in which it was measured, and he had difficulty in understanding the concept of light and its connection to electricity and magnetism. This led to our conversation on Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory and Michelson-Morley’s experiment to (dis)prove ether. I also urged him to look up history of light and Michelson’s lifelong obsession of measuring velocity of light. As our conversation went further, he mentioned that he wishes to understand the concept of light in its complete depth, and asked me for further references. I mentioned that he should read Feynman’s book on QED, and told him that Feynman’s explanation of interaction of light with matter was possibly one of the deepest understanding of nature we have.

All this conversation was in Hindi, and perhaps, my lengthiest attempt to talk science in that language. Then, Anil thanked me for the time I spent (around 10 to 15 min), and we were about to hang-up. Casually, I asked him how he could find my number, and he told me that he googled about light and matter, and he stumbled upon my webpage from which he could get the number. Then, I asked him if he was a student and where was he studying?  He hesitantly replied that he had completed his BSc many years ago, and now he was a farmer working in the fields, and was still interested in science. In order to spend time in the evening, it seems he watches science videos on YouTube and came across many interesting topics, of which velocity of light caught his attention recently, and he had many questions regarding this. I was elated to know about this, and strongly encouraged him to look up and study some good books including Feynman’s lectures and many other resources freely available on the internet.

Then we ended the call, and I could feel that both of us had an enjoyable conversation in science. Undoubtedly, this was a small but a pleasant experience for me, and reinforces my faith in science, in India, and importantly in humanity….      

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