Monday was a sad day indeed. Prof U R Rao passed away in the morning and Prof Yash Pal in the night. To me it was the passing of a great era of India’s space programme. But the great thing about both these men was that they inspired many who will continue their work.
I had a very long and memorable association with Prof Yash Pal, whom I first met in 1972 when I was working on an ISRO project at NASA. We hit it off well and developed a very good rapport.
Prof Yash Pal was a great leader and motivator who instilled confidence in others. With his white flowing mane and pipe, he cut an attractive figure. And he was a communicator par excellence. He spoke so well and his writing was so lucid that while reading anything he wrote you felt as if the man himself right there
talking to you. He had a very warm style.
Yash Pal was the first director of the newly formed Space Applications Centre at Ahmedabad and wanted me to be a part of it. But Prof Satish Dhawan, the chairman of ISRO, and Prof U R Rao wanted me in the satellite project.
I chose to go to ISRO HQ but I worked very closely with Prof Yashpal on many applications as an ISRO HQ person.
In addition to working on space applications, Prof Yashpal was assigned to carry out India’s space diplomacy on US forums.
India was a very active member in the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and he played a very important role in it. He would ask me to come along on many of those missions. He did very well in terms of protecting India’s interests on those international forums.
As a leader of the Indian delegation he had a special knack of getting things done. Half the time he used to talk in Hindi. He used to say, “Arre yaar, draft le aana.’’ He used to finish the task almost on the last day, but did a very good job. In the end when the draft was ready he always used to say, this will be our punch line. Or sometimes, he used to ask others to prepare the draft and add the punch line.
Later, he went as Under Secretary General at the UN and was elected to chair the international conference. He went away from ISRO. He wanted me also to go with him but for a variety of reasons I could not. After returning to India, he decided to go further on broader aspects of science and technology and communications. He was very good at it.
He was an excellent communicator of science and technology.
After he went to Delhi as Secretary in the Department of Science and Technology, he introduced many new things, including weather forecasting systems.
He created new institutions and used television as a medium to communicate with people and explain science in simple terms.
(Prof Y S Rajan is a former Distinguished Professor, ISRO)