Science and more
The Einstein exhibition is extremely interesting and is not just for students
"DEAR Mr. Einstein, I am a little girl of six. I saw your picture in the paper. I think you ought to have your haircut. So you can look better. Cordially yours, Ann G. Kocin."
This small communiqué, written on an orange-coloured paper in capital letters is one among the many fascinating documents on display at the exhibition titled, Albert Einstein: The Man Of The Century, currently on at the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum (VITM), Bangalore. The event is based on original material housed at The Albert Einstein Archives, The Jewish National & University Library, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and has already been presented at various museums and science centres throughout Australia and the US.
Einstein was a legend in his own lifetime. Winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921, was just one part of his enormous achievements and accomplishments. As aptly highlighted in the introduction to the exhibition, "Einstein, whose discoveries transformed both our understanding of the world and our world itself, has deservedly come to exemplify the highest degree of human creativity and intelligence. His name has become a common metaphor for human wisdom, and his deep sense of humanity reflected the noblest moral aspirations of humankind."
The concise, yet evocative exhibition, has two dozen neatly arranged panels, displaying an array of photographs, cartoons, sketches, letters, manuscripts, magazine clippings, anecdotes, and quotes of Einstein.
Providing a glimpse of chronological events in Einstein's life, different facets of his personality, the width and depth of his scientific achievements, and his views on a variety of social, cultural and political issues, it also incorporates information about the Einstein `myth', his leisure activities, the Jewish identity, and curiously, correspondence with children.
Besides shedding light on his family background, education, and evolution from a solitary dreamy child into a self-confident young man, it also makes references to his two marriages and hints about his seeking intimacy in a number of extramarital affairs. More importantly, it highlights how the great scientist was a radical non-conformist throughout his life, rejecting societal norms, and reserving special sarcasm for every form of pomp and circumstance. Several panels are dedicated to emphasise those factors that made him a powerful mythical figure and, a universal icon and to clarify how he seemed to play contrasting roles of saint and demon, genius and clown, wise old man and child, sorcerer and philosopher.
If his remarks on the moral role of scientists in a nuclear age that "honesty and courage of the individual to stand up for his conviction on every occasion is the only essential thing" rings true to this day, his prophecy on Arab-Jewish conflict is astounding.
Einstein had urged for a solution of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine based on mutual understanding and consent. Even while he supported the State of Israel, he remained highly critical of its political leadership and warned of the pitfalls of narrow nationalism inherent in statehood.
It is also common knowledge that Einstein was offered the Presidentship of Israel, which he declined, with sincere regret.
The exhibition also reveals Einstein's sense of humour and candour. In reply to a letter expressing a rather idiosyncratic view of his theory of gravitation, he is reported to have remarked: "falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it."
His bohemian appearance exaggerated by those soul searching eyes, crown of white hair, a baggy coat, woolen cap, and an incurable habit of not wearing socks was lapped up by people, with awe and admiration. He was much sought after for his views and photographs. On one occasion he is quoted to have said: "photographers pounced on me like starved wolves. Reporters asked really stupid questions to which I responded with cheap jokes which were greeted enthusiastically!"
Einstein was also a willing `victim' on a number of occasions to humorous incidents. In June 1931, he was accompanied by Charlie Chaplin to the premier of latter's film, City Lights. Looking at the people who stood and gaped at them, Chaplin remarked to Einstein: "People applaud me because everyone understands me, and they applaud you because no one understands you!"
The exhibition also displays a very interesting letter dated November 11, 1954 received by Einstein from the proprietor of Stanley Plumbing and Heating Company, New York: "Since my ambition has always been to be a scholar and yours seems to be a plumber, I suggest that as a team we would be tremendously successful. We can then be pursued of both knowledge and independence. I am ready to change the name of my firm to read Einstein and Stanley Plumbing Company."Einstein seemed to have a special place for India. Among others, his views on Gandhi and discussions with Tagore are legendary. "We owe a lot to Indians," he once said, "they taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made."
A stimulating experience and a visual treat not only for students of science but for general public as well, the exhibition concludes on August 25 at VITM, Kasturba Road.
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