My stay in South Africa has some memorable moments.
I came in contact with Logan Govender because of Mirza Yawar Baig who is our common friend. [Incidentally Yawar Baig just published ‘The Business of Family Business’ in South Africa last month]
Logan is a one-in-a-million person, ever cheerful, well read, extensively travelled, exceptionally well connected and in spite of his achievements, very humble. Logan and his wife, Rajes, took us to Drakensberg. This was just after England had beaten India comprehensively in T 20 games.
We were having breakfast at Drakensberg resort. ‘Look, I think he is Dr. Ali Bacher’ Logan said pointing to a gentleman in blue and grey striped T Shirt, ‘Do you know who he is?’
‘Yes. Of Course’ I said. Any cricket enthusiast in India would know. He was the Chairman of South African Cricket Association and travelled to India along with the SA team in 1994, after Apartheid.
I looked for an opportunity to speak to him. It was not proper to disturb him at the breakfast table. My opportunity came when he was checking out of the Resort.
I introduced myself and mentioned that many Indians like me were fans of some SA cricketers like Jonty Rhodes. Dr Bacher was willing to engage in conversation. It was a pleasant experience talking to him. My experience is that celebrities often avoid conversation with their fans, [why should they?] but here was a different experience. I got carried away and forgot to take a photograph with him!
A few days later Logan invited me to attend the meeting of Astronomical Society of Southern Africa. Mr. Hilton Ratcliff was going to speak at the meeting. They had arranged five high powered telescopes in the Botanical Garden. The officials of the Society were going to help us watch various celestial objects.
Hilton Ratcliff spoke with exceptional clarity about his subject and also on commonly asked questions [For example: Is there an intelligent life somewhere in the Universe?]. He is a physicist and a mathematician and has recently published a book ‘The Virtue of Heresy – Confessions of a Dissident Astronomer’.
His views are expressed with clarity and he is not exactly mild in his expressions. On the internet someone asked ‘Where does The Hawking Radiation go?’ Here is his answer ‘The simple answer to your question is “nowhere”. It remains in Hawking’s head. Hawking radiation is a purely conceptual construct, and has no empirical foundation whatsoever. Kind regards, Hilton Ratcliffe’.
Hilton joined us later for snacks and coffee and those were again some unforgettable moments. We discussed [my contribution in conversation was ‘Yes I see’, ‘Ok, I see your point’ etc.] the similarity of concepts in physics and philosophy. Hilton said that he was deeply influenced by Hindu philosophy. It was obvious that he was conversant with teachings of Vedas. I inferred from his discussions that he learnt to read Devnagari script to read Vedas. And Hilton told us in lighter vein that it was easier than practising meditation!
At the age of 12 he met a Swami [I am not disclosing his name] who blessed the young Hilton and gave him a book on which Swami wrote something. Several days later Hilton opened the book and discovered that the Swami had written Hilton’s 13th birthday date, in advance!
It was great to meet an outstanding and outspoken physicist [See his Article] and somebody who keeps an open and inquisitive mind to science and mysticism. I hope South Africa holds more such surprises.
I looked through the telescope and spotted the Saturn. I hoped that the converse was not true!