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A Letter from Banares, India

I used to attend the mathematics colloquium on those occasions when the subject was not too abstract, and on one occasion a certain Dr.S.D.Sinvhal was going to present his results on some aspects of Fourier Analysis. He was a visiting professor in mathematics from India (1952-3). He spoke very good English, and his presentation was such that even I could follow it. Afterwards I engaged him in an informal conversation, during which I mentioned that Chandrasekhar had been my mentor at Yerkes. He became unexpectedly interested, and said that he wanted to take the astronomy courses offered during the remaining year while he would be at K.U. So he audited (or enrolled in, I can't remember which) Practical Astronomy, Orbit Computation, and Astrophysics, and worked very hard on all of them. I imagine he also had teaching responsibilities in mathematics.

One day he approached me, saying that he wanted to make his own telescope mirror; so I set up an appropriate work place for him, and ordered a commercial kit that contained all the ingredients for making an eight-inch diameter pyrex mirror; viz., the pyrex blank, a glass tool disc, various grades of carborundum, polishing rouge, and the materials for making a polishing lap. He was a most careful worker and followed my instructions precisely. In a month he was done, and very happy about his accomplishment.

At the end of the year he returned to India (with his mirror!); soon thereafter he wrote a letter to me dated September 7, 1954 that also enclosed a letter to Dr. Storer. We were in for a real surprise, because the letters were written on stationery originating from the Uttar Pradesh Government Observatory, Banares, India, Director Dr.A.N.Singh, D.Sc., and signed Dr.S.D.Sinvhal, Ph.D., Asst. Astronomer. So he had become an astronomer!

We exchanged letters off and on for a few years, and the last one that I have is dated June 23, 1964; he was en route to the August meeting of the Saltsjöbaden International Astronomical Union Symposium on Multicolor Photometry and Spectral Classification. He was also heading to Jena for discussions with Carl Zeiss concerning the procuring of a 40-inch reflector. He listed the instruments they had at Naini Tal: 15 and 20 inch reflectors (for UBV photometry), a 22-inch general reflector with corrector, a Baker-Nunn Satellite Tracking Camera for a project on satellite tracking in cooperation with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA (Dr.C.Lundquist was then the Assistant Director under Whipple), and an airglow photometer. He stated in his letter, "I am fortunate in having an enthusiastic young batch of colleagues who are sparing nothing to take the observatory forward. As the director, I 'naturally' get to be the least involved and the least important person--and I mean every word of it."

Recently (1998) I tried to find out more about him through the internet, but didn't receive a reply, most likely due to the somewhat strained relations between the U.S. and India, the latter having just detonated a few nuclear devices.


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