THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When Nick Caldecott says he is taken aback by the kind of reception accorded to him by the town where his ancestor lay buried, there is seemingly no exaggeration. The British actor, who is part of one of the longest-running TV soap operas in Britain, had little
knowledge about his ancestor, who had brought science in a tangible form to a provincial town in India in 1834.
Nick is the sixth-generation descendent of John Caldecott, who set up the Observatory (‘Thiruvithamcour Jyothishalayam’) in erstwhile Travancore.
As he stood smiling in front of the microphone below a portrait of John Caldecott at the Senate Chamber of the Kerala University here on Monday, Nick recalled: ‘’There is a similar portrait of him at our house at Southampton where, while munching on her potato chips, my grandmother had told me, ‘’here is a person you should know about.’’ However, it was my uncle who did some research on the man. He came here and went to the Observatory and met many people to collect information about him.’’
Though a stage personality, Nick seemed at a loss of words to put his emotions across. Upon a query, he replied that he had no link with Physics, or Astronomy for that matter.
John Caldecott was known as the astronomer of the then Travancore prince, Swathi Thirunal.
Presiding over the commemorative function, University Vice-Chancellor A Jayakrishnan said that he was filled with grief when political parties called for a nationwide strike on February 28, which happened to be the World Science Day. ‘’The history of science is never taught in colleges or schools, but public enjoy the fruits of science. Academia is not generally respected in this country,’’ he said.
Achuthsankar S Nair, head of the department of Bio-informatics, University of Kerala, who was instrumental in bringing Nick to his ancestor’s resting place, recalled how two marble tablets which could be found in the Observatory are evidence to beat the argument that there was no rajah by the name of Swathi Thirunal (a debate which had erupted in the late 1980s).
He rued how the city, which was once in the forefront in welcoming modern technology, has now taken on a slumber and forgotten its history of science.
He said that if the politicians are willing, the building of the Meteorological Department next to Observatory which has been lying idle for the past many years could be handed over to the University and a museum set up there to remember the history of science in the city.
Syndicate member P Rajendran, who was present at the function, promised that he would take up the matter.