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The person & the persona

The history of mankind is replete with many towering personalities and their invaluable contribution to our civilization. The numerous idioms and phrases like ‘where there is a will there is a way’ and ‘carving their own destinies’ are often used to describe their achievements. A look at the life and times of Dr. A. Gopalakrishna, proves the fact that he personifies such sayings.

Sir to many, Bhava to a fortunate few Dr. A.Gopalakrishna – was the right example of the statement that great men are never fully known to any one person. Only some facets of their personality are known. It is amazing to hear from different people their recollections, which shows a personality that is so different from what is known to each one. Quite like a diamond whose brilliance is reflected in different colours from different angles.

Born on 20th of October 1922, to Shri A.N. Sanjiviah and Smt. Sannamma, at Arkalgud in Karnataka, Dr. Gopalakrishna had his early education at the Malleshwaram High School.

He studied for his intermediate and B.Sc degree at the Central College, Bangalore and stood first in the university in the final year B.Sc examination.

He joined the Government College, Mysore for the MBBS course, but personal reasons forced him to quit the medical course after two years of studies.

Not one to be deterred by such obstacles, he continued to pursue his studies and also worked in the evenings to be able to pay the fee. The job of a lecturer of Zoology in his Alma mater, the Intermediate College, Bangalore, helped him to pursue his higher studies. The hard work paid off and he completed his D.Sc from Mysore University in the year 1958.

But before that he had also won the Research Fellow Scholarship at the Rockfellar Institute, New York in 1955.

But as fate would have it, though he had got a scholarship to pursue studies in the US, he did not have sufficient funds to pay for his passage to New York.

Such hindrances could not obstruct his path. The virtuoso sitar player that he was, he performed at a concert in Delhi to fund his passage. On his journey too, he took up the task of teaching English to a European on the ship, to earn some more money for his expenses other then fees.


Though he had himself carved his destiny from the rigid stones of fate, yet Dr. Gopalakrishna helped many young students to build their careers.

He joined the Institute of Science, Nagpur as a lecturer in Zoology in the year 1946. His dedication towards his profession and his polite and helpful nature ensured a fast and steady professional rise from lecturer to Professor to Research Professor.

His affable disposition made him immensely popular amongst his pupils and he was a guide to as many as 32 research scholars working for their Ph. D.

Before he retired from the services in the year 1981, he was holding the office of the Director of the Institute of Science.
His students reciprocated his generosity and as a show of their gratitude instituted a gold medal in his name even after 25 years of his retirement. This being an amazing gesture, considering that today teachers are forgotten just a day after they retire.

Scientific recognition:

A leading scientist opined, as recently as last year that the theories put forward by Dr. A Gopalakrishna decades ago are coming true now.

His work in the arena of science is vast. He has authored innumerable papers which are invaluable and widely quoted by the scientific community worldwide.

He was a member of numerable scientific bodies in India and abroad, the more prominent ones being:


  • International Population Council.
  • Indian Academy of Sciences
  • National Academy of Sciences
  • Zoological Society of India

After his retirement he held the post of emeritus scientist under CSIR until the year 1987.

In 1987 he was invited as a visiting professor at Tufts University, Boston, USA.

But his achievements abroad were not confined to just this much.

As a scientist he worked thousands of hours to produce a library of lakhs of slides of invaluable research value to human kind. He authored innumerable papers, invaluable and widely quoted by the scientific community worldwide.

His commendable work in the sphere of research on Bats earned him the sobriquet of ‘Batman’ and also made him the main speaker at the International Conference on Bat Research at Albuquerque in USA in the year 1978 and again at Aberdeen in UK in the year 1995.

He also attended the international Science Conference in Sydney in Australia in 1988 and the Austral-Asian Science Conference at Lismore, Australia in 1995.

Multi-facet personality:

Dr. A Gopalakrishna also had many other diverse facets to his personality.

If he was the intense scientist, doing path-breaking research in his lab, he was also a profound player of sitar who introduced this melodious instrument to Americans.

In his own words, he played the sitar to make himself a ‘whole man’, a scientist completed by an artist.

He began his musical education at the age of seven in Bangalore and for fifteen years studied the voice and the theory and practice of Karnatic music.

He also studied and mastered the Hindustani classical music and was probably the only artist to have mastered both these systems of classical music in India.

During his two year stay in America from 1955 to 1957, he performed in Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Chicago and Seattle.

It was his persuasion that led Pandit Ravi Shankar to give his first performance in the U.S.A.

He did not stop at music alone. He indulged in sports too and was also a national level soccer player.

A towering persona:

Besides being an erudite scientist and a scholar, what endeared Dr Gopalakrishna to his innumerable friends and students was his gentle, affectionate and humble personality.

He was a philosopher who was a veritable treasure of knowledge, which he was forever willing to share with others.

He did not stop at taking just a cursory interest in a person. His involvement would go much beyond that to his family, his thoughts and his entire existence.

 Never getting judgmental, he would always nudge his friends slightly to correct their faults and weaknesses, and would always be by their side despite their flaws and mistakes.

With his dry and sometimes self deprecatory humour, he would always make people laugh at his own expense. His humbleness was touching, the pearls of wisdom that he so generously parted with, were a treasure meant to be preserved.

Knowledge of scriptures:

His authoritative mastery over subjects like astrology and vastu shastra, pales before his knowledge of the scriptures.

He had a deep understanding of the Vedas and the Upanishads. And his grasp and understanding of the Bible was equally deep.

He quoted freely from the Upanishads, Puranas and the Bhagvad Geeta. He drew liberally from the Vedic Hymns, Bible and Shankracharya’s work and other philosophies, giving them all a universal look, thereby giving a glimpse of true vedic philosophy and enlightened words like “Aham Bramhmasmi.”

He translated the Shri Lalita Trishatee, and many other scriptures for his pupil who did not understand Sanskrit, out of sheer desire to help who ever seeks it, without giving any thought to the effort that it involved considering his old age and frail health. Terming the work as his ‘labour of love’, the twinkle and sharpness of his eyes did not dim even once as he happily indulged himself in this spiritual task.

Dr. A Gopalakrishna was an amazing example of a person who had learned to utilize the true potential of the human brain. He worked tirelessly right till his end. His sole aim in life was to make everyone happy so that each one could lead a better, happier life, leading one day to that ultimate bliss, that all humanity strives for and which he believed every person could achieve.

His life support – Smt. Venkamma, his wife has been consistently there, walking alongside, matching step with step, in his endeavours . Her knowledge of scriptures and mythological stories is phenomenal. She raised there children Ishwar ( based in Australia) Dr. Shiva (based in USA) Dr. Shankar (based in Nagpur), Dr. Uma ( based in USA) and Dr. Vishvanath – Vichy ( based in Bangalore) with utmost care and love. Besides her own children, she also supported so many of his students who always considered and felt her home as their own.

For the fortunate ones who had the opportunity to be associated with him, he will remain forever an inseparable part, by way of small deeds that his followers can do as per his teaching –trying to help humans, living things, the environment, the whole universe in whatever small way possible. That will perhaps be the most appropriate “Guru - dakshina” for this noble teacher who has left behind such a rich legacy for his pupils.

("May all be happy. May all be free from disabilities.
May all see auspicious things. May none suffer sorrows. ")