A Return to India, 1967

The audience assembled for one of Linus Pauling's two Azad Memorial Lectures, New Delhi, February 1967.

During the process of production of a fertilized ovum, half of the set of genes of the father and half of the set of genes of the mother, selected by a process that involves randomness, are passed on to the child.  Every child is a reincarnation, not a complete reincarnation of any one individual but a reincarnation of many people who preceded him in life and have passed some of their molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid on to him.

-Linus Pauling, Azad Lectures, February 1967.

Linus Pauling was invited to visit India again in the late 1960s, in large part due to his relationship with G. N. Ramachandran, a physical chemist at the University of Madras. Ramachandran had begun corresponding with Pauling several years before when, as a newly minted post-doc, he was seeking employment in Pauling’s lab. At the time Pauling couldn’t give him a job, but he was interested in Ramachandran’s crystallography research. In the mid-1950s, Pauling was trying to determine the structure of collagen and incorrectly theorized that its molecular structure was a three-helix cable. Ramachandran eventually correctly identified the structure as a triple helix.  Some years later, Ramachandran extended to Pauling the invitation of a visiting professorship at his institution, and Pauling eventually accepted, leading to the Paulings’ 1967 return trip to the subcontinent.

Word of Pauling’s visit quickly spread through the Indian scientific community and many more invitations came pouring in. Linus received such a large volume that he had to turn many of them down; especially those extended by smaller institutions and certain locations that he had visited during his 1955 trip. Once most of the dust had settled, Ramachandran was placed in charge of piecing together the Paulings’ itinerary.

Linus and Ava Helen arrived in Madras in January 1967 for a six week stay that would include visits to cities all over India – Madras, Bangalore, Delhi, Kerala, and Hyderabad were all on the schedule – as well as a stop in Sri Lanka. Though excursions to scientific institutions and meetings with important leaders – including Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the country’s second President – dominated the Paulings’ stay, time was once again set aside for seeing the sights.  After the conclusion of the trip, Pauling noted an encounter with a pack of 35 wild elephants as one particular highlight of the journey.

As part of his Madras professorship, Pauling began his visit by delivering a series of three lectures on molecular structure theory; a three-part lecture on nuclear structure would follow the next month. He likewise presented other technical lectures at Kerala University, the Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science (in Sri Lanka), and the Indian Institute of Medical Science, and gave other more popular talks titled “Molecular Disease and Evolution” and “Molecular Structure in Relation to Medicine.”

Linus Pauling being introduced by Foreign Minister M. C. Chagla, Azad Lectures, February 1967.

Pauling also had the opportunity to speak about another subject about which he was passionate: peace. In preparation for these lectures, Pauling conducted extensive research on India’s socioeconomic situation, poring over government statistics and scribbling calculations in his notebooks.

Much of this research was compiled into Pauling’s two-part delivery of the Azad Memorial Lectures: “Science and Peace” and “The Future of the World.” The lectures were a high-point of the trip, and an internationally notable event – the U.S. Supreme Court even requested a copy of the speeches for its library.

In his Azad speeches, Pauling expounded upon Albert Schweitzer’s principal of the minimization of human suffering and tied all of his points into the current situation in India. Through his research, Pauling discerned that the average real income of an individual Indian had actually decreased since independence due to inflation, which ran to ten percent per year beginning in 1962.  From there he concluded that the rate of inflation was largely due to big increases in military expenditures, writing

In the year 1963 the military budget of India was more than doubled, so that it reached the amount 4.7 percent of the national income, which was 340,000 million Rupees; that is, the military budget reached the amount of 16,000 million Rupees in 1963.  This sum of money, the military budget, is just equal to the decrease in the purchasing power of the income of the people of India that has been caused for the average year since 1962 by inflation of the Rupee.  This comparison indicates that the purchasing power of the people’s income would not have decreased if these great expenditures for militarism had not taken place.

Pauling also noted that the nation was likewise manufacturing weapons-grade plutonium and had the ability to fabricate an atomic bomb within only twelve months.

Much of this increase in militarism was a response to increased hostilities with India’s western neighbor, Pakistan, to whom the United States had recently donated several million dollars worth of military equipment. Pauling was very up front in voicing his disapproval of American foreign policy, pointing out in particular the hypocrisy of President Lyndon Johnson’s claims to be in favor of peace while refusing to recognize the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, “despite his stated willingness to meet with any government to discuss a cease-fire and a negotiated peace in Vietnam.” Nor did Pauling buy into American rhetoric that war now prevented greater suffering in the future. Rather, in his view

Militarism is the cause of human suffering in two ways: directly, through the savagery of war itself, and indirectly, through the waste of the resources of the world, and the consequent increase in suffering caused by poverty and disease.

In his analysis of his host nation, Pauling also looked at birth and death rates: the population of India was soaring and Pauling couldn’t help but think that many of the nation’s problems could be solved or lessened if the growth rate was brought down to that of developed countries. India already had birth control programs in place in 1967, but Pauling surmised that an increase in this budget line item would be helpful, especially in promoting sterilization as an effective option.

At the end of the lectureship, External Affairs Minister M. C. Chagla, who had been presiding, delivered his own commentary on Pauling’s remarks. He disagreed that the quality of life in India was on a downward slope, countering that statistics could be manipulated for anything. He also defended the government’s increase in military expenses, saying that it was necessary with the rising threat of two hostile neighbors. He did, however, receive cheers for announcing that India would never manufacture nuclear weapons despite its ability to do so. (In actual fact, India tested its first nuclear weapon, “The Smiling Buddha,” in May 1974.)

While in Delhi delivering the Azad lectures, Pauling received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Delhi University. And not long after they were delivered, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations published the talks as a 73-page book.

For her part, Ava Helen took the opportunity of the 1967 trip to learn about the issues that Indian women were facing. Amidst her travels, Ava Helen gave at least one lecture to a women’s organization and also attended a seminar on “Small Family,” which covered topics such as methods of controlling family size, family planning education and the role of voluntary agencies in family planning. For three days in February she also visited women’s institutions around Madras with the Director of Women’s Welfare, touring government sponsored homes established for orphaned girls, young widows and destitute women. The institutions featured secretarial classes as well as instruction in needlework, doll-making and weaving. When she returned home to California, Ava Helen spoke of these experiences to the Santa Barbara County chapter of Women for Peace.

Ava Helen also kept in contact with Dr. Asima Chatterjee, a prominent Indian chemist and the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Science from an Indian university. For several years prior to the trip, Linus had been corresponding with Chatterjee about various research matters, but neither Pauling had met Chatterjee in person until the 1967 visit. Their friendship blossomed during the Pauling’s tour and before departing the Paulings left a sum of money with Dr. Chatterjee that they later requested she spend on a wedding gift from them for her daughter.

In later years, the Paulings and Chatterjee regularly exchanged Christmas cards and notes about the goings-on of their respective families. Chatterjee likewise wrote of the ever-shifting political climate in India. In 1971 circumstances had taken a turn for the worse when civil war broke out in Pakistan and India was flooded with refugees. Ava Helen wrote that she was full of sorrow and anxiety for India. Chatterjee described the atmosphere as tense – at the time of her writing there existed a “deep lull” and sense of unease at not knowing know when the storm would break. The second major war between India and Pakistan would begin and end in December of that year.

The Paulings with three unidentified individuals, India, 1967.

The 1967 trip marked the Paulings’ last trip to the subcontinent.  While Linus is listed a speaker on a program for the One Asia assembly in Delhi in 1973, he did not actually attend this event – according to his notes he spent that day in California taking Ava Helen to see an optician. The conference was orchestrated by the Press Foundation of Asia, with the goal of discussing the failure of Asian countries to bring about significant change in the welfare of their people. Although the last time Pauling would set foot in India was in 1967, his apparent later willingness to participate in this event is evidence that he continued to keep up with its happenings.

In June 1975 an internal state of emergency was declared in India; a controversial new party had come into power and found a way to suspend civil liberties and democracy under the constitution. Thousands of critics of the government were arrested without charge. Pauling was one of eighty prominent Americans to sign a joint appeal expressing alarm at repression in India and calling for the restoration of human rights. Pauling found this event especially distressing because democracy was established in India after a long battle for freedom – a battle led by some of the century’s greatest exponents of human rights. His cooperation with the petition effort is the final major piece of evidence of his long-running interest in Indian politics and society. The country’s so-called “Emergency Era” came to an end in 1977 when a new party gained control of the world’s largest democracy.

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