When a scientist met a humorist: The story of Pu La & Narlikar’s friendshiphttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/when-a-scientist-met-a-humorist-the-story-of-pu-la-narlikars-friendship-6105619/

When a scientist met a humorist: The story of Pu La & Narlikar’s friendship

Several events have been held in the last one year to remember the writer, fondly known as Pu La, as part of his birth centenary year celebrations.

When a scientist met a humorist: The story of Pu La & Narlikar’s friendship
Jayant Narlikar with P L Deshpande.

“Pu La was fascinated by science but always felt that it was too difficult to understand,” eminent astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar (81) told The Indian Express as he shared some of his experiences with legendary Marathi writer and humorist P L Deshpande.

Several events have been held in the last one year to remember the writer, fondly known as Pu La, as part of his birth centenary year celebrations. An upcoming event is the special ‘Global Pulotsav’ that will kick off from November 8 and go on till November 11 at the Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir.

Narlikar said he had met Deshpande while he was a student at the Cambridge University. Narlikar, along with a friend, ran into Deshpande and his wife Sunitabai while strolling along Princes Street in Edinburgh. Initially just thrilled to meet some Maharashtrians in a foreign land, the chance meeting soon turned into a fulfilling friendship that spanned several decades.

“It was literally hard to believe that we had met Pu La, even then,” said Narlikar of the meeting that took place in the late 1950s.

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He recalled a particular episode that took place years later, when Narlikar was the director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Pu La was heading the Tata Theatre as the director in 1972 and around that time, Narlikar was set to get engaged.

“My would be father-in-law had purchased tickets for Pu La’s extremely popular play Varyavarchi Varat. I had requested family members not to mention that I would be attending the play as I was really shy about being in public. So, I was shocked and a little upset when Pu La announced during the interval that Jayant Narlikar was in the audience, but added that he will not say where I was seated as people will then watch me instead of watching the show,” said Narlikar.

“Though I felt awkward then, looking back, it was a funny situation,” he added.

As their friendship continued over the years, Narlikar came to appreciate Pu La’s keen interest in science. “I used to travel from Mumbai to Pune once a week as IUCAA was in the process of being set up. I had taken the Indrayani Express train and there was another chance meeting with Pu La, Sunita bai and noted editor Govind Talwalkar… they showed a lot of interest in the IUCAA project. Of course, we never discussed the technical side of astronomy, but Pu La easily understood the layman part of the science. He always appreciated science,” said Narlikar.

Subsequently, the Muktangan Vidnyan Shodhika or the science centre of IUCAA was built with a donation from Sunitabai Deshpande and others. A Pulastya science festival is also held on the campus.

‘Global Pulotsav’ From Nov 8

According to Virendra Chitrav, festival director of Global Pulotsav, a series of programmes has been planned as part of the culmination of the birth centenary year celebrations of P L Deshpande from November 8 to 11 at the Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir. “Pu La and Sunita bai were founders and active members of Aashay Film Club that has been in existence for over 35 years. We decided to celebrate the multi-faceted personality that Pu La was, and the Pulotsav has been held for the last 15 years,” said Chitrav.

On the occasion, five awards will be presented, including the P L Smiriti Sanman to Hariprasad Chaurasia, and a lifetime achievement award to noted Marathi actor Ashok Saraf. At another programme, Pu La – Ek Sanchit, rare clips about the iconic writer and director will be shown. The Bharatiya Digital Party, a Marathi You Tube channel popularly known as BhaDiPA, will perform on the occasion.