The Paulings in India, 1955

Linus Pauling first made tentative plans to travel to India in 1951, but when he fell ill the proposed trip was called off. Pauling’s next attempt to visit the subcontinent was marked by a long struggle with the United States government to obtain a passport. The Indian Science Congress had invited him to partake in its annual conference in 1954 and Pauling accepted the invitation. However, as we’ve discussed before, his own government did not grant Pauling permission to travel until weeks after the event occurred.

Months after the initial disappointment of not being able to attend the conference Pauling, having finally regained his right to travel overseas, wrote to the association asking for the invitation to be renewed. In response the group happily extended an offer for him to visit the following year, 1955, for the next Indian Science Congress in Baroda, even providing a stipend to help pay for his travel expenses.

Their circumstances finally settled, Linus and Ava Helen made their way eastward for a world tour, with a stop in India sandwiched between a stay in Israel and a trip to Japan.  While stationed in India from January through mid-February, the Paulings spent much of their time visiting scientific institutions and meeting with prominent academics and politicians. They made it to cities all over the country: beginning in Ahmedabad, they traveled to Baroda, then Bombay, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Poona, New Delhi, Lucknow, Benares (Varanasi), Allahabad and Calcutta.

Amidst all of the meetings though, the couple still scheduled plenty of time to take in the sights and experience Indian culture; attending folk dances, visiting tombs and temples, and watching the sun rise over the Taj Mahal. The Paulings likewise marveled at Buddhist murals in the Ajanta caves and explored the Elephanta and Eldora caves as well.

Major cities (marked in red) visited by the Paulings during their 1955 trip to India.

After arriving in Ahmedabad on January 2, one of Pauling’s first orders of business was, at last, attending the Indian Science Congress in Baroda, which began on January 3. Pauling, who spoke on hemoglobin and sickle-cell anemia, was the only American invited to address the full Congress. In his interactions with the Indian scientists, Pauling made a point of dispelling certain prevailing misconceptions about Americans, such as the notion that all U. S. scientists were working on developing bombs. Pauling pointed out that the number of scientists devoted to such projects was a far cry from the majority, and that many were working instead on important advancements in areas such as medicine.

In the wake of his successful participation in the Ahmedabad conference, Pauling’s itinerary quickly became crammed full of visits to laboratories, institutes, and universities – the University of Bombay, Delhi University, and Osmania University among them.  At times he was delivering two lectures a day. He mostly delivered the same lecture, a variation on his Nobel address “Modern Structural Chemistry,”  but also made spoke on current research in metals, ferromagnetism and proteins.

Pauling likewise visited the Indian Cancer Research Center to talk about antibodies and met with V. R. Khanolkar, widely recognized as a pathbreaking figure in the fields of pathology and medical research in India. Stops were also made at both the National Chemical Laboratory in Poona and the National Physical Laboratory. At a press conference in Allahabad, where the Indian National Academy of Sciences was located, Pauling proposed a resourceful method to approach nuclear disarmament that would utilize the energy stored in weapons. He also urged that India spend more money on scientific research.

On one notable occasion, the Paulings were able to get away from the scientific barnstorm in favor of a jeep ride to a rural village where the locals were building a school. Ava Helen was given the honor of laying the cornerstone for the first educational facility ever erected in the village. The villagers had also just finished constructing their first town meeting place. Linus was impressed by the rapid improvements in the country’s technology as well as the enthusiasm with which its people seemed to be adopting changes. The Indian government as well as private organizations – in particular the Ford Foundation, a U.S. organization – were funding improvement projects all throughout rural India, and the villagers that the Paulings encountered were notably appreciative of these contributions.

Another major highlight of the trip was the opportunity to dine with Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, who had been a leader in the Indian independence movement and a protégé of Mahatma Gandhi. In a series of notes that he compiled recounting his time abroad, Pauling had great things to say about Nehru, writing

He gave me the impression of having great mental powers, excellent judgment, and complete sincerity. In my opinion Nehru is one of the greatest men in the world, and I think the future historians may well give him a major share of the credit for avoiding a third world war.

Prior to meeting him, the Paulings had listened to Nehru give a few speeches and had come away favorably impressed by his description of India’s approach to peace as “a positive, constructive approach, not a passive, negative, natural approach.” This perspective, they felt, had contributed to stable relations with Britain after Indian independence, and also with France after India took control of Pondicherry, formerly a French colony. Nehru was also a fan of the Paulings and, in the last letter that he wrote to his Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – composed days before his death in 1964 – asked that they be invited to visit again and give lectures .

As the Cold War dragged on, Pauling had become not just an important scientific figure but a political one as well, earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. He had earned the Gandhi Peace Award one year prior.

In 1964 nuclear disarmament was a pressing issue. After Nehru’s death that year, Pauling wrote an article titled “The Contribution of India to the Achievement of World Peace.”  In it, Pauling applauded India for its resistance of pressures to build and store weapons. Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, maintained this theme in announcing that, unlike many other countries of the era, India would not participate in stockpiling nuclear weapons. Inspired by the nation’s attitude, Pauling suggested that India should take the lead in an effort to bring the Chinese People’s Republic into the United Nations, noting that in his 1955 visit he had heard Nehru speak with conviction about the compelling need to admit communist China to the U.N.

The entire experience of India seems to have made a favorable and lasting impression on the Paulings.  In a letter to a fellow scientist written upon his return home, Pauling specifically pointed out that “We were greatly impressed by India – not only by the scientific men, some of whom are really fine, but also by the political leaders.”  It should come as no surprise then, that the Paulings made a return visit in 1967.  This visit will be the subject of our next post in our continuing series devoted to the Paulings’ international travels.


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