C’est délicieux, n’est-ce pas ? Bose and his love for French

Satyendra Nath Bose’s career in theoretical physics is defined by the trip he took to meet Albert Einstein. He sailed for Europe in 1924. He could have gone to Berlin directly but he went to Paris first and stayed there for a while. He knew French quite well, as many of his friends and students recount. In Paris, he attended Paul Langevin’s lectures at the College de France, but otherwise did not work too hard at physics and worked at Maurice de Broglie’s Lab. Here is Partha Ghose’s memoir:

“He loved French literature. Dr. Adhikari, a former Director of the Indian Statistical Institute recounted to me how once he ran into my mastermoshai (a Bengali word for a teacher) sitting alone at a road-side cafe in Paris, a beret on his silky white mane, a carafe of red wine and a pile of books on the table, reading a French novel. On recognizing Dr. Adhikari, he immediately started to explain how he longed for the latest French novels and how every time he was in France he would buy them and devour them.

I recall one occasion when I called on him at his residence shortly after lunch. He was reclining in his bed, bare bodied with a maroon lungi tied to his waist. He was chewing pan (betel leaf) and reading a book. He was in great mood. He wanted to read out a few pages to me. He made me sit near him and started to read. It was all about the reactions of a cat which was sitting below a banquet table and watching all the delicious food that was being served and consumed. He stopped after a while, smiled, and said to me while putting down the book, delightfully written, isn’t it! I concurred and quietly picked up the book to see what its title was and who the author was. I was amazed – it was in French, and yet he had read it out to me in unfaltering English for nearly five minutes! He was in an expansive mood, and even claimed that his French pronunciation was quite good.”

Partha Ghose, “S. N. Bose: The Man [Talk presented at a seminar on Albert Einstein, Dhaka, 30 May, 2005; Proc. Bangladesh Academy of Sciences]”
Ref: Wali, K. (2009). Satyendra Nath Bose — His Life and Times. WORLD SCIENTIFIC.

Photo Courtesy: S N Bose Archives. [https://newweb.bose.res.in/Prof.S.N.Bose-Archive/]

« Il aimait la littérature française. Le Dr Adhikari, ancien directeur de l’Institut indien des statistiques, m’a raconté comment il est tombé une fois sur mon mastermoshai (un mot bengali pour un enseignant) assis seul dans un café au bord de la route à Paris, un béret sur sa crinière blanche soyeuse, une carafe de rouge du vin et une pile de livres sur la table, lisant un roman français. Reconnaissant le Dr Adhikari, il a immédiatement commencé à expliquer à quel point il aspirait aux derniers romans français et comment chaque fois qu’il était en France, il les achetait et les dévorait.

Je me souviens d’une occasion où je l’ai appelé chez lui peu après le déjeuner. Il était allongé dans son lit, le corps nu avec un lungi marron attaché à sa taille. Il mâchait du pan (feuille de bétel) et lisait un livre. Il était de bonne humeur. Il voulait me lire quelques pages. Il m’a fait asseoir à côté de lui et a commencé à lire. Ce sont les réactions d’un chat assis sous une table de banquet et regardant toute la délicieuse nourriture qui était servie et consommée. Il s’est arrêté au bout d’un moment, a souri, et m’a dit en posant le livre, délicieusement écrit, n’est-ce pas ! J’approuvai et pris tranquillement le livre pour voir quel était son titre et qui en était l’auteur. J’étais stupéfait – c’était en français, et pourtant il me l’avait lu dans un anglais impeccable pendant près de cinq minutes ! Il était d’humeur expansive et a même affirmé que sa prononciation française était assez bonne.

Partha Ghose, “S. N. Bose: The Man [Talk presented at a seminar on Albert Einstein, Dhaka, 30 May, 2005; Proc. Bangladesh Academy of Sciences]”
Ref: Wali, K. (2009). Satyendra Nath Bose — His Life and Times. WORLD SCIENTIFIC.

Photo Courtesy: S N Bose Archives. [https://newweb.bose.res.in/Prof.S.N.Bose-Archive/]

Aviation in India and France: Blériot and Tata, the first steps

Samuel Berthet

J.R.D. Tata with a Tata Airline airplane in 1963

My first important memories from the point of view of a growing child, blessed with a fairly observant and inquisitive mind, were about cars and aeroplanes. My father decided that we needed a home of our own in which to spend holidays, and he picked on a new and developing beach resort on the Channel coast of France, south of Boulogne, called Hardelot, where he not only bought a villa but later on built a number of villas and shops as real estate developer. In fact, of the two main streets of Hardelot was officially named Avenue des Indes. 

It happened that the legendary Louis Bleriot, who acquired world fame in 1909 by being the first to fly a plane across the Channel, also chose Hardelot for his family’s summer resort. Bleriot built not only a fine villa close to ours but also a hangar near the beach. On the beach his personal plane used to land much to the excitement of everyone there – grown ups and children, none more starry eyed than myself. From then on I was hopelessly hooked on aeroplanes and made up my mind that, come what may, one day I would be a pilot. I had to wait many years for that dream to come true[i].” 

R.M Lala, Behind the Last Blue Mountain, A life of JRD Tata, pp. 17-18, Penguin, 1992 
Louis Blériot’s airplane being prepared for his cross channel flight

Louis Blériot flying over from France to England over the Channel is a landmark in aviation history, arguably the first “long distance” flight in history. Five years later, the path of the pioneer of aviation will meet the one of a 10 years young French boy named J.R.D. Tata who will become the first Indian to have a flying license. J. R. D. Tata was born, mostly schooled and grown up in France. He learnt piloting in France, before shifting base to India, renouncing his French citizenship in 1929, and getting a license from the Aero Club of India and Burma associated Royal Aero Club of Great Britain. His license reads in French as well as in English: Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, British Empire:

Nous soussignés pouvoir sportif reconnu par la FIA pour l’Empire Britannique que Mr Jeangir Ratan Tata born at Paris on 29-7-1904 ayant rempli toutes les conditions imposées par la FAI a été reconnu a été breveté pilote-aviateur. 

We, the undersigned sporting authority recognized by the FIA for the British Empire, that Mr Jeangir Ratan Tata born at Paris on 29-7-1904 having fulfilled all the conditions imposed by the FAI has been recognized as a pilot-aviator license.

As a matter of fact, the federation was launched in Paris in October 1905 where its first conference was held.  

Excerpt from International Aviation Magazine

Two new chapters in the history of Indo-French aeronautics were written even before for J. R. Tata to get its license in 1926 thanks to Dieudonné Coste and Jean Rignot.[ii] The first one was the first to fly the South Atlantic before successfully attempting the deadly cross Paris-New York. In November that year, the two famous pilots break the record of long distance flight through a 5 396 km long flight between Paris and Djask in Iran, over a 32 hours journey (28th-29th October), then from there to Karachi,  and Patna, reaching Calcutta on 5th November where they are celebrated like hero. They flew back with their Breguet 19 equipped with a Hispano 500 engine through a slightly different itinerary via Delhi, Karachi, Bassora, Alep, Athens and Rome reaching Le Bourget near Paris on 11th with 21 mails. It seems that they flew again in the same month to Hanoi via Karachi and Calcutta. In January 1930, Pierre Weiss and Lucien Girier fly between Istres and Pondichery, landing more precisely in Souttoucany on a Breguet 19 TR Bidon propelled by once again by a Hispano-Suiza engine. Their flight is widely publicized in the French newspaper leading to a much attended conference titled “Raid de Pondichéry”.  

In the meanwhile, the passion for aviation sown in J.R.D Tata and his siblings grew only bigger. It paved the way for a unique aeronautic saga: “the early pilots have long been forgotten”, he said. “Who remembers today the name of Adolphe Pegoud, Bleriot’s chief pilot? To me Pegoud was one of the bravest and most foolhardy men that ever lived, for he was not only the first in the world to loop the loop but did so inverted, because as those early planes did not have enough power to climb into a loop in the normal way, Pegoud had to do so by diving beyond the vertical. Poor Pegoud must have been hanging on his flimsy belt the whole way around, with no parachute to save him in case the plane broke up, as he must have expected it to do[iii].” “When J.R.D Tata flew in France, he enjoyed the experience of landing in little fields and whenever possible visited various friends to give them joy rides.” 

J.R.D had arranged with his brother Darab to land at his college near Rouen. ‘I’d asked him to put a white strip to guide my landing. Darab’s brilliant sport teacher put the strip right in the middle of the football field, between the goal posts. So naturally I had to search for a more suitable one which I found nearby. I managed to give Darab the promised joy ride[iv].” 

Tata’s history with aviation is a collective one, a real saga. J.R.D said: “My elder sister, Sylla Petit was the first Indian lady to get her flying license in India. Later, also having learned at the Bombay Flying Club, my younger sister Rodabeh was the second Indian lady to get her flying license in India. But unquestionably the best flyer and most naturally gifted airman among us all, was my youngest brother, Jamshed or Jimmy (…). A born flyer, Jimmy was released solo only after four hours[v].“ 

J.R.D Tata’s pilot liscence

Combining the skill of a pilot with the qualities of an entrepreneur, J.R.D. Tata inaugurated the first Tata Aviation service on 15 October 1932, taking off from Karachi to Bombay on a Puss Moth. This was the first air service in India, and just a new chapter in a long saga in the history of aeronautics in India, one that started in France and would be linked to France in the coming years too.  


[i] R.M Lala, Behind the Last Blue Mountain, A life of JRD Tata, pp. 17-18, Penguin, 1992 

[ii] Samuel Berthet : La culture française en Inde de 1870 à 1962 : présences et actions : dynamiques indiennes et politique française, thèse de l’Université de Nantes, 2002, p. 336. 

[iii] R.M Lala, Behind the Last Blue Mountain, p. 82 

[iv] Idem., . 85. 

[v] Idem., p. 89.