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My Friend Krishnanand Kamat

by Dr. V.B. Nadkarni

A life-long friend recollects many sweet memories of K.L.Kamat, and narrates some of the bitter experiences of Kamat in securing an employment in India.

Dr. Nadakarni retired as the Head of the Department of Zoology at the Karnatak University, Dharwad. Our special thanks to him for documenting some episodes. - Ed.

Written: July 21, 2004
First Online: August 15, 2004
Page Last Updated: October 18, 2017

Yesterday, on 20th of July 2004, I saw an old Marathi cinema "Gopalakrishna" of Prabhat Films – a cinema which I had seen in 1940's, about sixty five years ago.  Then I prayed to Lord Krishna to give me ability and inspiration to write about my friend  Krishnanand, named after him, who possessed a pleasant smile not only on his face but also in his eyes.

Kamat the Colleague

I first met Krishnanand L. Kamat on 14th October, 1959 when I joined the Zoology Department of Karnatak University, Dharwad as a Lecturer in Zoology. "Kamat" as I usually called him (and not by his first name Krishnanand) was already working as a demonstrator in Zoology in Karnatak Science College. The then Department of Zoology allotted to me a room adjacent to Mr. Kamat's room. Both, Kamat and myself being Konkani speaking persons and having some common likings we came nearer to each other as days passed (proving the proverb "birds of the same feather flock together.")

Kamat was very keen to carry out research in Zoology but there was no recognized Ph.D. guide in the Karnatak University in Zoology at the time. Further, the infant Post Graduate Department in Zoology was not well equipped with scientific instruments. One could carry out research based only on field studies. Therefore, I encouraged my friend Kamat to go to some good University in the United States of America to earn his doctorate degree. He was successful in getting admission as a graduate student to earn the Ph.D. Degree. An assistantship was also awarded to him by New York State University (Syracuse, N.Y.,) U.S.A., that would meet the day to day expenditure and enable him to pay the fees. In other words, Kamat was able to "Earn while you Learn" status. 

Picture Courtesy: V.K. Deshpande
Farewell to Kamat by Friends on his way to Syracuse
Farewell to Kamat by Friends on his way to Syracuse
L to R: R.S. Jadhav, V.K. Deshpande, V.B. Nadkarni, Devdhar, Kamat, M.A.Hooli

My friend Kamat left India for USA. Both of us did not believe in the superstition that some days are more auspicious than some other days. Both of us believed the wise saying "Apna Hath Jagannath" or "God helps those who help themselves". Kamat studied hard, while working as a teaching/research assistant, and obtained good grades. After completing the theory and practical courses, he worked on galls on plants.

In 1963, I was fortunate to have been selected as post-doctorate fellow  at  the University of Washington, Seattle. My friend  Kamat was on a tour of Northern states of the USA. At Sweet Home, Oregon, he stayed with Jeanne and Jake Roth, his American hosts who became life time friends of Kamat family. From Oregon, Kamat came to Seattle and stayed with me for two days. It was a union of two Indian friends in the USA and we spent our time happily.

K.L. Kamat/Kamat's Potpourri
Kamat with Baban and Shanta Nadkarni
Kamat with Baban and Shanta Nadkarni
Seattle, Washington, 1964

Apart from the research work, we talked a lot, recollecting our good old days spent together at Dharwad, India. Kamat used to come to my house in Dharwad and we enjoyed eating simple homemade food/eatables prepared by my mother. Sometimes Kamat took me to his home town, Honavar which is about two hundred kilometers (which was considered a very long distance at the time) from Dharwad. In Honavar, I realized that the Danish, proverb "The road to friends house is never long" was correct!

Kamat was brought up in an undivided family (see: Joint Family) and as a result, called his father, "Kaka" (paternal uncle) and his mother "Kaki" (paternal uncle's wife). So naturally I also called them "Kaka and Kaki". Gradually, I became a member of Kamat family. I had access to the kitchen where we enjoyed the eatables prepared by "Kaki". Kamat's mother was telling us the relative advantages/disadvantages of a town life versus city life. They lived in a big house with several rooms, the house being surrounded by a garden with coconut, mango, jackfruit and other trees and some flowering plants. Kaki was a traditional woman and was very fond of her eleven children, especially the girls.

Days passed and Kamat earned his doctorate degree, and returned to his India, with plans to teach Zoology/Entomology and also to carry out research on the diverse class of insects found in India (see related topic: Kamat's Insects). At first he joined the Agricultural College at Jobner near Jaipur in Rajasthan as a Scientists' Pool Officer under the scheme of providing jobs to Indians who returned to India after successfully completed their higher education in a foreign country. But laboratory facility and other conditions at Jobner College were not satisfactory. After completion of the term, his contract was not renewed due to politics, and he left to try for a job elsewhere in India, where he could do research and teach. However, he was unable to get a job suitable to his qualifications and aptitude.

After many unsuccessful trials, he decided to be self-employed. Being an accomplished photographer, he set up a "Scientific Photography Laboratory" at Bangalore. He provided good service to research workers of the Institute of Science, Bangalore (previously known as Tata Institute) and to other research workers of several colleges/university department. He did not have outright commercial or just profit making motives. He did not sell photographic material such as film rolls/printing papers etc. Actually, such a photographic trade would have made him a rich person. He came from a successful merchant family. He adhered to "Scientific Photography" taking photographs of graphs, chromatographic, spectroscopic bands, minute insects and histological/cytological slide preparations.

The above mentioned story is very gentle way to describe that Dr. K.L. Kamat had difficult situation in India on his return to India from the USA.

Though he was self-employed as a true scientific photographer, he wanted to make good use of his higher education he had achieved at Syracuse, N.Y., U.S.A. – which would serve his noble purpose and also provide a regular monthly income. He tried for jobs many a times, but almost everywhere there was a negative response, mainly due to some extra-curricular factors such as the so called "influence" (nepotism), Reservations (quota-system) and social higher-caste background basis (see: Caste System) and often, simply knowingly ignoring his merit.

An Unfortunate Event

In 1972, the University where I was teaching (Karnatak University Dharwad) advertised a vacant post -- Reader in Zoology -- Entomology. I persuaded Dr. K.L. Kamat to apply for the post, hoping that he would have a break in life towards a suitable job. Reluctantly he submitted his application for the post mainly because of my persuasion. I had a long discussion with the Head of the Zoology Dept., Karnatak University, Dharwad and a member of the selection committee. After all, Kamat had been a distinguished student of this department, was highly educated, and was an articulate communicator having written books.  However, I was not confident that Dr. Kamat would be selected. So I had sincerely told the Professor that he may not select Dr. Kamat, if some other candidate is found more suitable for the post by the selection committee.

But an unfortunate event was to occur.

The members of the committee were very fair and sympathetic towards Dr. Kamat. But the professor – Holder of two doctorates in Zoology, one from an Indian University and the other from a good American University -- told Kamat that even though he fulfilled the necessary conditions of the advertised post, Kamat did not have "sufficiently long teaching experience" and that Kamat was not "up-to-date with research methods". Dr. Kamat felt sad at this type of humiliating interview, especially the way the Professor and Head of Department in Karnatak University Zoology Dept. behaved with him. He returned to Bangalore without meeting me. I felt that I made a mistake in persuading him to offer himself as a candidate for the said post and at the "mocking" type of behavior on the part of my senior colleague.

Some days after this event, I read a letter to the editor of a leading English daily newspaper, published from Bangalore, written by Dr. K.L. Kamat. It was his reaction to the suicide committed by a highly qualified scientist  who had studied abroad, which was reported in that newspaper earlier. It sharply pointed out that, "It is better to die once for all, rather than dying everyday, bit by bit", mostly referring to all previous interview "farces" he had to face in our country, India. In this context, I remembered an excellent cartoon published in the leading weekly, the Shankar's Weekly Magazine, some years back. The cartoon showed a highly technically qualified engineer seeking a suitable job in India whereas the Government of India authorities concerned with this scheme told him that there was no properly suitable post for him in India at that time and asking him whether he would accept a stenographer's post or not, which was vacant in the Home Department of Government of India, in the best interest of serving his mother-land following the adage "janani janmabhoomischa swargat api gariyasee!" – that the mother and the mother-land excel over the heaven. So much about such sincere efforts to lure back specialists in various field to India. 

It is really unfortunate that Dr. Kamat, a person specialized in Zoology – Entomology, in his own rights, could not get a proper employment to serve his motherland India.

Kamat the Patriot

Dr. Kamat did not leave India. He had very attractive opportunities to serve as a forest entomologist in Canada. He remained at Bangalore "exploring" his true creative abilities of writing articles and books, mainly on travel, travelogue and life of people of different states and also popular science and environment in India. In Kannada, his first book being "Naanoo Americage Hogidde" which was very popular.

Kamat had a creative mind and a very keen sense of observation. He could see many interesting parts in a bud, a flower, an insect, which normally a casual observer would miss. He was an eminent photographer, specialized in outdoor photography and more so in microphotography that is very useful in scientific research.

As individuals Kamat and Nadkarni (myself) had some common habits and ways of thinking. He was a jolly peace-loving, rather a reserved person, firmly believing in the noble idea "jeeyo aur jeene do" or "live and let live". I learnt from him that as a high-school student, he was a volunteer "Sainik" in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, at Honavar. Later he had love for Hindu religion but gradually became a believer in the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa that all religions are equally good, and one is free to follow the religion, by birth or by his personal choice and conversion in religion is not necessary to be a good human being. Further, he also believed in the noble principles of Swami Vivekananda that serving a poor person or a "Daridranarayana" is serving the God Almighty. Tukaram the Marathi saint, has said in an abhang "One who says that the humble and rustic persons are one's own, is a saint and one has to be aware of the presence of God in such a situation."

Kamat the Householder

My article will be incomplete if I do not mention my experience of Kamat as a commoner, and a householder. I used to go to Bangalore quite often on academic or examination work of the University of Bangalore. Almost always I stayed at Kamat's house in Malleswaram, a three bedroom flat, full of books and photographical materials in every room. He was a wonderful host and prepared delicious fish dishes for me, whenever Dr. Jyostna Kamat was present in Bangalore, she was/is also an excellent, hospitable host. We used to enjoy recollecting our good old past days. Once there was a small difference of opinion between Dr. Kamat and (Mrs) Jyostna Kamat over the word "photographic lab". Dr. Kamat said that "now I will go to the shop". Immediately  Jyostna retorted that he will go the lab and not the shop. Dr. Kamat defended his term "shop", saying though it is called a photographic lab, it is some type of a shop only, as he does scientific photography for a price which includes some marginal profit. But Jyostna insisted that "lab is lab" where service is given, goods are not sold and not a laboratory was not a shop. I was enjoying the conversation (a quarrel) between the two Kamats. When both asked my views, I told as a neutral umpire (cunning observer) that both are right in their own ways!

Jyostna was transferred to different places in India by the All India Radio. So many times, Dr. Kamat had to bring up their only son Vikas at Bangalore. Krishnanand successfully played the role of  a mother and a father to Vikas in the absence of Dr. (Mrs) Jyostna. Dr. Kamat was also a jolly and fun-loving person, often quoting proverbs or adages. A common adage was "haalilla battalila, gutuk andu bitta" i.e. there is neither milk nor a glass, (the person) simply swallowed the milk. The other was related to unmarried man, seeing day-dreams – 'avalagi ashtaputra, magana hesaru Somanatha'. In anticipation of one's marriage, one would say that his wife will deliver eight sons and the first son's name will be Somanatha. Some times he mentioned about the monsoon rains in North Kanara coast and people collecting driftwood in the stormy sea 'Shetti maga sumne balakondu hotna'? The adage refers to a son of a merchant, trying to grab a log of floating wood in a stormy sea. He tried to grab it, earlier than others, in haste (and haste is waste) and was swept away by a big wave and died!

In this article I will not write about Kamat as an author of twenty–two books. This aspect is well known to many readers. Further I learnt that in his late years he stated a website on creative art, tradition and history and culture of India in collaboration with his son Vikas who lives at Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A. This program became very successful, particularly in the USA and has over three million viewers every month. This is a demonstration of Kamat's creative mind in producing useful visual programs.

Finally, I like to end my article with a sad memory. We, myself (Baban as Kamat called me) and my wife Shanta left Dharwad for Mumbai to stay with our son Moreshwar, in our old age on 30th Nov, 2001 and since then we are in Mumbai. My two married daughters stay nearby in the same area. In April, 2002, I made a telephone call to Mr. Umesh Kamat, a younger brother of Krishnanand, on some personal subject. To my surprise and sorrow, Umesh told me that my friend Krishnanand has suddenly left this world on 20th February, 2002. It was such a shocking event for Jyostna, a courageous lady, that she became shattered for some days before getting to her normal behavior. I felt very sad, mentally upset for some days, after hearing the tragic news.

All the same, I had some satisfaction that my friend Dr. Kamat was not bedridden even for a single day. Such death comes to only few blessed persons. I was sadder to realize that Kamat was younger to me by about six years. I remembered the words of our first prime minister of India, our loving Nehru chacha while he attended the funeral ceremony of his friend and colleague, Moulana Abdul Kalam Azad.  It was reported in newspapers that Nehru said that he was very tired of seeing his trusted colleagues and friends dying before his eyes, specially the younger ones. He wished that he would like to die and somebody else would cremate/bury his body rather than himself witnessing other colleagues die before his eyes.

Thus ends the story of my good colleague, a better friend, and above all, one of the best peace-loving and noble persons I have known.

I want to reemphasize here, one important point that Dr. Kamat was a patriot. He did not leave India in spite of not getting a job in India or prospect of a good job in Canada and lived in India till his last day.

See Also:

  • History and Mystery of Kamat -- A rare peep into Kamat's formative years by a friend who was his room-mate.
  • Finding Happiness -- Kamat in a letter to his friend, "Man's success in life should not be measured in the wealth he builds or the power he acquires"

 

Pictures from Kamat's Life
Remembering Kamat
Tributes

Pictures
Kamat Selecting a Transparency for WebsiteThe Skillful HandsKamat Breaks Open a Coconut for CookingThe Late Night RestaurateurKamat Buying VegetablesKamat Carries Money in a Book!Fatherly Figure Kamat with best friend Nakul Redkar
Kamat on his Dollar a Day Travel Tour of America Photograph of Kamat in his Lab. taken by a customerK.L.Kamat (extreme right) with his SiblingsKamat Brings Vegetables HomeThis one makes the cutThe Kamats at their residence in BangaloreKrishnananda KamatPhotograph of Kamats Doctorate of Philosophy
Portrait of Krishnanand KamatMourners reading Kamats old lettersKamat as College Student, Kanara College Kumta 1955Graduate Student, Karnataka College Dharwad, 1956K.L. Kamat Graduating in 1957.K.L. Kamat - from his Passport, 1961Learned to wear a necktie in USA, 1962.Kamat the Fullbright Scholar, New York, 1963
Light-hearted personK.L. Kamat at WorkIndian Head in  American HatKrishna in Jinnah CapScientist K. L. KamatKamat Always Travels with his CameraK.L. Kamat in Tirathgad ForestK.L. Kamat in his Lab.
Vikas Gets a Joy Ride on Krishna`s ShouldersKamat Making a Photo AlbumKamat with Colleagues, PlasseyAdmirers of Kamat Gathered for 75th BirthdayA Father and his ChildThe Kamat BrothersThe Kamat CoupleKamat Making Flat Indian Bread (<i>chapati</i>)
Kamat after his Doctorate in 1965Kamat with EldersKamat`s DiariesK.L.Kamats Father Laxman KamatThe Lighting CeremonyExhibition of some of Kamats PhotographsPicking Slides for Kamat.comSinging Kamats Glory Sung by Students of MES College
Kamat Photographing Waves at KarwarThe Kamat Couple in OotyK.L. Kamat  Photographing a TempleK. L. KamatWalking Tall -- Krishna being honored in hometown of HonavarPoetic Tribute to Kamat

Kamat's Potpourri K. L. Kamat Remembering Kamat

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