Portrait of a teacher: Dr. Swadhin Pattanayak

What makes a Stony Brook graduate return to India in the 70’s and work tirelessly for decades to spread mathematics in this country? The question intrigued me since I first met Dr. Pattanayak in the summer of 2011.

Dr. Pattanayak at once struck me as an extremely familiar figure. He imbues the traits of characters from a Satyajit Ray or Ritwik Ghatak movie. His ethos is firmly rooted in the fragmented renaissance that parts of India experienced in 19th and 20th centuries. His political ideas are acutely aware of Neheruvian socialism. His engagement with vernacular literature is reminiscent of the ‘Bhadrolok’ class, his enthusiasm about the struggles of sub-altern is as intense as the Naxals of the previous century.

In fact, his internal self, seemed completely singular in the ocean of students at IoMA. The students were mostly dissociated from the rooted struggle of working people that shaped our nation or the cultural connotations of a progressive left. Yet his enthusiasm about uplifting their life and their world-view seemed unabated.

This is the defining characteristic of the work of Dr. Pattanayak. In my view, he not only tried to improve the material well being and learning of his students. Instead, much like Tagore, he was interested to build rooted citizens of the world. He was very much aware of the difficulty in achieving this objective. He personally delivered a course on Cultural History of India in IoMA. That goes on show how deeply he cared about the cultural and political formation of a student’s mind. I remember that once I requested volumes of Tagore for our library at IoMA. Dr. Pattanayak ordered the complete works of Tagore within the following week. He seemed extremely happy with the request. In the evenings of IoMA, our discussions spanned over politics, literature, mathematics and more. The more I spoke with him, I felt at home. I felt like I am in Calcutta Coffee House or in the streets of Bengal where the downtrodden would fearlessly challenge the masters.

Several years later, when I completed my Ph.D. in the United States, I acutely remembered the courage of my teacher. I remembered his mission for life, his deep concern about rooted development of citizens of the future. I returned to my homeland with renewed energy. My teacher, Professor Pattanayak, completed the circle.

1 Comment

  1. Ashoka Choudhury says:

    Your note on Prof.Pattanayak encapsulates his qualities both as a teacher and a human being par excellence.


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