Last January (2006) I attended a function at Calcutta University (officially the University of Calcutta), the alma mater of Satyendra Nath Bose. The gathering was one of many ongoing celebrations to commemorate 150 years of the existence of the University — or what they more accurately (and cleverly) call the Post Centenary Golden Jubilee. It was in 1857 that University of Calcutta, the University of Madras, and the University of Mumbai, were founded.
On that day, among the speeches by dignitaries, including the Governor of West Bengal and the Chief Minister of West Bengal, the University formally released a reprint of a book that was originally published by the Calcutta University in 1920. The book is titled: The Principle of Relativity. Original Papers by A. Einstein and H. Minkowski, translated into English by M.N. Saha and S.N. Bose with a historical introduction by P.C. Mahalanobis.
It is generally accepted, although not commonly known, that this publication was the first English translation from the original German of these famous papers — anywhere in the world. When I first learned this fact it struck me as remarkable that two young Lecturers of Physics and Applied Mathematics — Saha was 26 years old and Bose 25 — both entirely self-taught in physics, located in the far outskirts of the British Empire, a colonized people living under colonial rule, with very little access to the latest scientific publications coming out of Europe, were cognizant enough of the happenings in the world of science to embark on such a task in 1919-20.
It seemed even more remarkable when I learned that while Saha knew passable German, Bose had to learn German to do the work. The 176-page publication includes the following Table of Contents :
- Historical Introduction
(By Mr. P.C. Mahalanobis)
- On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies
[Einstein's first paper on the restricted (Special) Theory of Relativity, originally published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905. Translated from the original German by Dr. Meghnad Saha]
- Albrecht Einstein
[A short biographical note by Dr. Meghnad Saha]
- Principle of Relativity
[H. Minkowski's original paper on the restricted Principle of Relativity first published in 1909. Translated from the original German by Dr. Meghnad Saha]
- Appendix to the above by H. Minkowski
[Translated by Dr. Meghnad Saha]
- The Foundation of the Generalized Theory of Relativity
[A. Einstein's second paper on the Generalised Principle first published in 1916. Translated from the original German by Mr. Satyendra Nath Bose]
Even more remarkable was that when Saha and Bose did their translations, the Theory of Relativity was not yet a wholly accepted theory. The world did not completely accept it until the famous solar eclipse of May 29, 1919. That was when the English astrophysicist Arthur Eddington travelled to the island of Príncipe off the west coast of Africa to take pictures of the sun during the eclipse.
Einstein's radical theory predicted that light from stars would curve during the eclipse due to the gravitational pull of the sun. Eddington published his observations verifying Einstein's predictions in 1920. But as soon as word got out of Eddington's findings, it was, as Einstein biographer Abraham Pais proclaimed in his classic book, Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein (Oxford University Press 1992), the day Einstein was canonized — becoming the first celebrity scientist of the 20th century.
Eddington is to have said that verifying Einstein's theory was the "greatest moment in his life." Eddington was a proud man. An often repeated anecdote is recounted by Michio Kaku in his book Einstein's Cosmos (2004) :
According to legend, as Eddington left the assembly, another scientist [sometimes the story involves a reporter - Falguni] stopped him and asked, "There's a rumour that only three people in the entire world understood Einstein's theory. You must be one of them." Eddington stood in silence, so the scientist said, "Don't be modest, Eddington." Eddington shrugged, and said, "Not at all. I was wondering who the third might be." (p. 115)
When I first read this, I smiled to myself and thought, only half jokingly, that the mysterious third person(s) might have been Bose and Saha!