Berkeley universities

Native American inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist Narinder Kapany left an indelible mark

New Delhi, Jan 13 (IANS): He is considered the “father of fiber optics”, one of the seven “unsung heroes of the 20th century” for his Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough that spawned the internet and is responsible for devices ranging from endoscopes to lines high capacity telephones. Yet quiet American Indian Narinder Singh Kapany, born in the sleepy town of Moga in undivided Punjab, devotes just two and a half pages of his 277-page memoir to this momentous achievement.

Instead, he focuses on his journey as an inventor-entrepreneur encompassing fiber optic communications, lasers, biomedical instrumentation, solar power and pollution monitoring, registering 120 patents along the way, as well as academics – but especially as a philanthropist.

For the past 50 years, the Sikh Foundation based in Palo Alto, California, which Kapany founded in 1967, has pioneered the exhibition of Sikh arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He has worked tirelessly to promote and preserve Sikh art, heritage, education, culture and religion by underwriting, mounting and/or providing the art for many world-class Sikh art retrospectives , museum exhibitions and lecture series from London to Toronto and the United States, including New York, Washington DC (at the Smithsonian for five years, in Texas and California, or at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco , Kapany donated the country’s first permanent Sikh gallery.

All of this is in addition to the four professorships the Foundation has endorsed at the Universities of California Santa Cruz, Sana Barbara, and Riverside and California State University East Bay, as well as its support for Punjabi language programs at Columbia, Stanford, and the University of California. Berkeley.

“Together we must work for absolute equality for all, promoting love and charity. This is not the only way forward, it is the only one”, Kapany, who died on December 4, 2020 in the age of 94, nine months after completing his memoir. , supports in “The man who bent the light” (Roli Books).

The spark was ignited at Dehradun High School, where a teacher told Kapany that light can only travel in a straight line. Determined to prove his teacher wrong, he graduated from Agra University before going to Imperial College to work on a PhD in optics from the University of London.

In 1953, working alongside physicist Harold Hopkins at Imperial College, Kapany, after much trial and effort, was the first to successfully transmit high quality images through fiber bundles, coining the term optical fiber in a 1960 article for Scientific American. .

He describes the breakthrough rather modestly:

“At my request, Professor Hopkins appeared in the laboratory… I (had) affixed a black mask with the cut-out word ‘FIBER’ over a lens I had fitted in front of the commercial end of the end (optical glass) heap and passed it to an improvised projection screen on the back wall.

“Well, Kapany, what have you got to show me?

“I pulled the single chair out of the lab, placed it with the best line of sight to the screen, and urged it to sit down.

“Ready,” I asked.

“Yes, yes,” he said, feigning impatience.

“I closed the door, turned off all the lights, and in one last effort, turned on the light source. And there it was. On the screen. Like an optometrist’s chart but with a single line big letters, as clear as possible: F…I…B…R…E.”

Kapany proved that in the end, what matters is perseverance.

“Tenacity is an important attribute in a field where, by most measures, only a fraction succeeds,” Kapany writes.

It was an attribute that followed him throughout his life.

In 1961 Kapany and his wife moved to Woodside on the San Francisco Peninsula and today one of the wealthiest communities in the United States, where he founded Optics Technology Inc. taking it public successfully in 1967 He was the first Indian Sikh to take a public company in Silicon Valley. The San Francisco Examiner in February 1969 described him as “…the most dashing business executive in the region.” Subsequently, he founded Kaptron Inc. in 1973, which was later acquired by AMP Inc.

In the meantime, he was offered the post of scientific adviser to the then Minister of Defense, VK Krishna, with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru himself passing the recommendation to the UPSC, which made these appointments. high level. However, the offer took a year to come, during which time Kapany had moved on.

He was later offered the position of Assistant Secretary of Commerce in Richard Nixon’s administration, but this was unsuccessful as he was known to be uncomfortable with the then US President.

Kapany even had a long meeting with Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he was appointed US Ambassador to India to become his number two.

“It was not to be, however, and largely, I believe, for the very concerns he expressed in our conversation that day: that it was simply too early in the development of the Modern India for a partnership like ours,” writes Kapany. .

It’s a measure of the man who was posthumously awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour, that he has no regrets.

“To the years past, I bid farewell. To those who are yet to come, I welcome them, I embrace them,” Kapany wrote in the final chapter, titled “In Conclusion,” which he signed in March. 2020.