That is the imposing building of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. In the campus, just opposite to C.N.R Rao’s home, there is a flower pecker bird busy in building its nest on a Singapore cherry tree. Flower peckers are immensely fond of the cherries of Singapore cherry tree. The bird’s  love towards the tree is so much that that it builds it’s nest with the bark of the Singapore cherry tree.  Though the number of Singapore cherry trees are dwindling owing to many reasons in the premises of Indian Institute of Science, flower pecker bird never gets disappointed.  It gathers small branches of Singapore cherry trees wherever they are and builds its nest.

This is a scene that’s witnessed by Rao regularly through the window of his residence every day. He enjoys seeing the nest building activity of flower pecker bird every day. The reason is Rao from his heart of heart feels that there is a similarity between the flower pecker bird and himself.

There is a truth in Rao’s thought that there is a similarity between him and flower pecker bird. Like flower pecker bird, he too believes in having a firm faith in his beliefs. His belief and life revolves around science. He also believes that science is an integral part of his life. And in this process, Rao turned down many lucrative offers that came in search of him.

Rao-a seer of science.

If Science is a forest, Laboratory is the Seer’s cottage. Chemicals and Test tubes are the flora and fauna. Rao is the residing seer. And Rao has been living in this cottage since Six decades. Rao’s world and Rao’s everything is this cottage.In this long tenure of Rao as a Seer of science, Innumerable number of accolades and Awards were showered on him for his single minded dedication to science. But nothing distracted his devotion to his love for science. These awards glisten like droplets on a lotus leaf for a moment and disappear. But the light emanating from his knowledge will be shining forever.

Bharat Ratna is no exception.

Even his recent Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award did not make a difference in his attitude.When it was announced, just not to displease his friends, relatives and well wishers he allowed them to garland him and accepted Bouquets. But, after the dust is settled, Rao is his same usual self. Business as usual for him. No merry making and revelry for days on. 

You have to see Rao in order to believe his Simplicity.

He’s in the most coveted position of the head of a group of eminent scientists that advise the Prime Minister of India. But, no one can believe this man’s greatness, who is in such an enviable and exalted position once someone sees him personally. Same warmth and same kindness as your friendly neighbor. No airs. No pretensions.

Chintamani Nagesa Rama Chandra Rao.

The soul that has been just bestowed on the highest civilian award of India known to the country as Dr. Rao hails from a typical middle class family in Bangalore. His full name is Chintamani Nagesa Rama Chandra Rao. His date of birth was 30 June, 1934.His Entire childhood was spent in Bangalore. Father ,Nagesa Rao was an employee in the education department. Mother Nagamma’s education never went beyond elementary school. But a woman with extraordinary knowledge that she inherited from the Hindu mythologies and a host of spiritual texts. Rao’s first teacher was his own mother. The stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Kirtans of Purandhara Dasa  were Raos first lessons.His father had a liking towards English language.. Whenever he is not busy he used to teach Rao English lessons.

Subhas Chandra Bose, his Role model.

It was during the days of Rao’s  high school days, Indian independence struggle was in the peak form. Subhas Chandra Bose’s heroic struggle impressed Rao. He used to  tell Subhas Chandra Bose’s stories to his friends.

Early spark.

Rao’s brilliance started showing  as early as his high school days. He passed his lower secondary school exam at the tender age of 10 years with distinction. Pleased by her Grand son’s performance, Rao’s  granny presented him with a Rupee coin. This was the Rupee  of 70 years ago. Its present value would be not less than one thousand rupees.

Rao kept it as a souvenir. Later, he bought books with that Rupee.

Rao also grew with independence struggle like other youngsters of his time. Without anybody’s insistence, Rao wore Gandhi cap. Wore Khadi. By the time he passed his high school exam Independence was achieved. Everywhere and everyone  around him celebrated the independence. But the state of Mysore was reluctant to join the independent India. Rao joined the struggle to force the Mysore state in to Indian union. He voiced his opinions on the stage. Joined the Hartals. But never neglected his studies. He has created a record in the Mysore University, by achieving his Science degree at the age of 17 years.

On the advice of a lecturer, Rao applied for a seat in the M.Sc of Benares Hindu University. Because in Benares Hindu University there is a provision for doing research while studying for Master’s degree. This feature has attracted Rao. As expected Benares Hindu University asked Rao to join in M.Sc.

Varanasi laid foundation for Rao’s spiritual thinking.

Rao, being a science student, he never lacked the ability to look at the things in a rational and logical way. But , he has gone a step ahead by adding spiritual thinking to his rational and logical thinking. Courtesy, the spiritual atmosphere in Varanasi.

It’s here Rao had the opportunity of mixing both his thoughts that stood in good stead in his future achievements.


But, after returning from Benares Hindu University with his M.Sc to Bangalore, Rao was disappointed because there were no adequate facilities for his research in his desired branch in the Indian Institute of Science .This prompted him for applying to IIT Karagpur for his Ph.D.

Search continues.

Despite the fact that he was working hard in Kharagpur, the vacuum In Rao’s heart, that he was unable to do research in par with international standards remained and started reminding him again and again. At this crucial juncture, a professor asked him, ‘why don’t you go to America?’ It made him think. Because Rao never thought of going to America earlier.With this new hope Rao started again his search for a suitable American University that caters to his long standing dreams. He hasn't delayed. Started applying for different American Universities. For his surprise, Rao’s application for research in his favourite branch was responded by all the universities positively by. But, he accepted only for Purdue University.

Why Purdue university ?

Rao has chosen Purdue university because he wanted to meet the most venerable Linus Pauling, an American Chemist, Biochemist , peace activist and Nobel laureate in Chemistry was there. And Linus Pauling was considered as the most respectable among the most important scientists of 20th century.And Rao landed in America. Rao, though he has taken some time to get used to the new atmosphere of America, soon started focusing on his subject.

Single minded dedication.

Rao’s efforts paid him rich dividends. His dedication made him complete his research in his favourite subject Chemistry in just two and half years, which would have taken about six years for others. His guidance from Professor Linus Pauling made Rao to divert his attention to more number of fields in Chemistry.

The never ending quest.

Rao is one person who never gets satisfied with his achievements. It is his inherent quest for knowledge that has driven him to go further. He continued his studies in California university. Completed his post doctoral studies. Then the dilemma started, whether he has to settle in America or go back to India.

Call of Mother Land.

At that time America was already in the foremost place in the field of chemistry. India was in its toddler’s stage. He has realized, India needs him more. Rao did not think further. He has decided to come back to India and do his bit in the promotion of chemistry.

Rao’s Indian research journey.

He has joined as a lecturer in the Indian Institute of Science on a pay of Rs. 500 per month, soon after he landed in India. His friends and relatives were against his job in the Indian Institute of Science. They were of the opinion that for Rao’s qualifications it was too small a job. But he did not pay attention to them.

By then Indian Institute of Science has already won the acclaim  as one of the premier institutes in India. But lacks a lab that enables intensive research in the fields of physical and chemical sciences. In addition, paucity of funds  and internal politics added more woes to the conditions. Though there was a lab for research in physical sciences, Rao was not allowed to use it.This caused Rao unrest in him and that led him spend many sleepless nights.

At this critical stage, Rao recalled his mother’s childhood advise , ‘Don’t blame the darkness. Go and light a candle and drive away darkness’. Rao, filled with new energy decided to start his own research lab for his chemical research with whatever meager funds that were available to him.

He has done research on Titanium dioxide . He encouraged six PhDs with him to do research. And Rao has compiled all his trials and tribulations in a book. The book was published by a prestigious Printhouse of London.

Meeting with C.V. Raman.

In those struggling days, Rao met Sir C.V. Raman, the Nobel laureate. Rao had seen Raman during his high school days. Raman’s simplicity, humility and erudition created a deep impression on him. This helped Rao in building his own individuality.

Raman sent a congratulatory letter to Rao praising his book, ‘Chemical applications of infra red spectroscopy.’ On another occasion Raman, after hearing Rao’s lecture, complemented. ‘You have a very promising future ahead of you. You are a Spark.’

Invitation from  IIT Kanpur.

Rao was still plagued by unrest because of lack of adequate research facilities in Indian Institute of Science . In that gloomy period, an invitation from IIT Kanpur came as a ray of hope. The management of Kanpur IIT promised all the facilities for his intensive research in his favourite branch Chemistry.

The new venue to satiate the research thirst of Rao.

IIT Kanpur has become the central stage for Rao’s research activities.  He became a professor at an early age of 30. He started a school with the name ‘Winter school’. To create a liking in the youngsters towards chemistry, he started a News letter. 

Its during this period, Rao wrote books like ‘Chemistry today and ‘Understanding in chemistry’ for children and teachers in chemistry teaching. He has translated ‘Nano world’ in to Swedish language. Rao spent some more years in many foreign countries to hone up his skills in Chemistry.

Satish Dhawan’s boon from Blue.

Satish Dhawan, director, Indian Institute of Science came up with a proposal to Rao. Satish Dhawan said in his proposal, ‘You just say what you want to come back to Bangalore.’

Rao in his own simplistic manner said, ‘I don’t need hefty pay packets. I don’t need exalted positions. I want a  well equipped Research Lab that enables me to carry on my research in Solid state chemistry in par with international standards.’

Satish Dhawan happily agreed to provide all Rao wanted. Special grants were arranged. Though it tokk some time, all the amenities wanted by Rao were provided. And in no time Rao ascended to the position of Director.

Resurgent Indian Institute of Science.

Funds poured in. Buildings rose up. Research labs stood aloft. The crème- de-la- crème of the scientists in the country were picked and brought in.

Rao many times spoke his heart out about Nation’s backwardness. He attributes the backwardness of the country to ‘Indifference’ In the people. He’s of the firm opinion that indifference should be necked out, if India wants to stay ahead of the other countries.

A full time to scientific research.

Rao, after attaining the age of 60 resigned from the post of Director in order to spare his full time to scientific research. The management’s request to continue in the Indian Institute of Science was humbly refused. And Rao proposed another able scientist’s name to the post of director.

The birth of Jawahalal Nehru Research center.

Combining his  scientific knowledge and vast experience, Rao built Jawahalal Nehru Research center in the suburbs of Bengalore. From architecture of the structures to scientific equipment, Rao personally supervised the entire construction.Jawahalal Nehru Research center. Has been moulded in to a Research center par excellence.

Milestones of Rao’s Research.

In the branch of Solid state  structural chemistry, Rao’s research raised curtains to many new inventions. His discoveries paved path to many new trends in the fields of  Medicine, education and industrial spheres. Ho has done great research in Nano technology. Presently he set his eyes on Photo synthesis chemical science.

Ever fresh. Ever enthusiastic. Ever on the search.

No amount of work load or achievements could make Rao tired. Even after a prolonged life of 60 years in the development of science, he looks ever fresh, ever willing to take up new challenges.There is no single day that is idle for him.

Nevill Mott, Rao’s inspiration.

Once, Rao met Sir Nevill Francis Mott, the English Physicist and the Nobel Laureate at the Cambridge University. He was astonished to see him proof reading some research papers at the ripe age of 92 years. I ‘learned how to win over age from the Nobel Laureate.’ Says Rao. When he said this Rao’s age was 80 plus years.

Ever young and Ever a student.

Rao, forgets his age whenever, he sees a young man. Rao forgets his vast knowledge whenever he sees a new book. He is ever young and ever a student.

A Guru in its true sense.

“ If there is anyone , who can teach chemistry, It’s only Rao sir.” That’s the name and fame earned by Rao. As a teacher, he believes,’In order to inject interest towards chemistry in to the minds of the students, Rao says "one should teach them what we are yet to achieve. Not what we already achieved.’Age has not robbed Rao’s interest to teach children.

His doors are always opened for those who want to learn. Many a time, Rao makes food arrangements to those who come to his home to learn.

John Thomas, a research student says, ‘ A talk with Rao sir for 10 minutes makes one feel that he has earned a decade worth of inspiration.’

A bundle of Asafoetida.

The strong aroma of the spice Asafoetida cannot be stopped even if it is tied in a bundle. It makes its presence known making the heads turn.

This applies to Rao as well. His intensive researches of international standards in chemistry reached up to Delhi. The then PM, Indira Gandhi wanted to offer him a high post and invited him. But, Rao politely said,’ I’d like to stay as a scientist.’ Then the astonished Indira Gandhi, said,’I din’t see anyone refusing high and exalted posts.’ And  Rao continued as a scientist in Rajiv’s regime also During Rajiv’s regime, the scientific development in India reached new peaks under the able leadership of Rao. It was during this period, innovative scientific programes like Vision 2020, Technology development fund, Indigenous super computer, Center for development of advanced computers ( C-DAC) came in to existence.

Dan David Prize which was considered as the Israel Nobel Prize was conferred on Rao for his outstanding scientific achievements . The prize amount of 1Million dollars  was donated to Jawaharlal Nehru scientific research center.

Bharat Ratna, though it is the highest civilian award conferred on Rao this year, for him it’s another award. He never felt neither elated  nor over joyous. Even after Bharat Ratna its business as usual for Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao, popularly known as C.N.R Rao.

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Comments (3)

  1. vijay

An article giving good information on Prof Rao.

  1. rambabu

Welcome. Thanks for the comment.

  1. SUJIT

nice article and also good info!!!

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