New Delhi: As the world mourns the demise of renowned British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, his Indian student – astrophysicist Somak Raychaudhury – calls it a personal loss.
Raychaudhury, director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, was a student of Hawking at University of Cambridge.
When you think about human spirit, you think about Stephen Hawking, said Raychaudhury.
Hawking, known for his work on black holes, passed away today at the age of 76 following complications due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – a progressive neurodegenerative disease.
Stephen Hawking reached out into the depths of the universe with his mind and decoded the mysterious cosmos for the common people.
Hawking was a household name for his resilient spirit to explore the expanse of the universe despite being confined to the wheel chair.
"He was my teacher, and I knew him from a time when he could speak. Personally it's a huge loss. Hawking is special because he is larger than life," Raychaudhury told PTI.
"The man in the street knows Hawking's name not because of his research on black holes – the common person may not understand what Hawking did on black holes," said Raychaudhury, who obtained a PhD in astrophysics from Cambridge.
"They know him because he was a brain in a bottle, he could hardly move, and yet in spite of being given two years to live at the age of 20, he lived till 76 and tackled head on every obstacle in life," he said
"That is the human spirit – you think about human spirit and you think about Stephen Hawking," he added.
Hawking was diagnosed with ALS in 1963 at the age of 21. Also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, it is usually fatal within a few years.
Given just a few years to live, Hawking defied the odds of survival and went on to change the way the world looked at the universe.
He studied at Cambridge and became one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein.
The disease left Hawking wheelchair-bound and paralysed. He was able to move only a few fingers on one hand and was completely dependent on others or on technology for virtually everything – bathing, dressing, eating, even speech.
Known for his unique way of speaking while living his life in a wheelchair, Hawking became an emblem of human determination and curiosity.
"In spite of his affliction, he carried on popularising science through his books and lectures," said Raychaudhury.
"Any one who was confined to the wheelchair and was also given two years to live at the age of twenty would not take on the world in all these spheres," he said.
From denying the existence of god, to asserting his belief in the existence of alien life, Hawking did not shy away from expressing his opinions on various things.
He continued to be in news for his controversial statements on the impending doom of mankind and his distrust of the ever-developing artificial intelligence systems.
His book 'A Brief History of Time' was what brought his science to the common people and rocketed Hawking to stardom.
Published for the first time in 1988, the title made the Guinness Book of Records after it stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks.
It sold 10 million copies and was translated into 40 different languages.
"I attended the set of lectures that became the record breaking book "A Brief History of Time." It was given in a set of public lectures during my first year in Cambridge," said Raychaudhury.
"Even at the time, listening to those lectures every week one knew that this was something happening. He was explaining basics of cosmology in a way people hadn't done before," he said.
"It certainly the biggest science of the common people written in the last century. That turned so many people on to physics, cosmology and astrophysics," he said.
(With PTI inputs)