June 6th marks the birth centenary of noted educationist, physicist, freedom fighter and rationalist H. Narasimhaia. He was a self-proclaimed rationalist and a renowned sceptic. As a Member of the Karnataka Legislative Council he constituted and chaired the "Committee to Investigate Miracles and Other Verifiable Superstitions" that led to public challenges of the miraculous claims of Hindu godmen, including Sathya Sai Baba and Sai Krishna.
Narasimhaiah was born in Hossur, a village near Gauribidanur in Karnataka. His father was a village school teacher, and mother, a labourer. Having no formal school in his village, he attended the Government School in Gauribidanur, the nearest town. He completed his elementary education in the primary school, which had no further studies beyond eighth standard.
He stopped school for a year then his school headmaster M.S. Narayana Raio, who had just been transferred to the National High School, Basavanagudi in Bangalore, invited and helped him get admission in his new school. Without money, he went on foot to Bangalore which is 85 km away, taking two days to arrive, and joined the school in 1935.
He met Mahatma Gandhi when the latter visited the National High School in 1936. His teacher selected him to be the interpreter of Gandhi's Hindi speech into Kannada. From this moment on, his life was entirely influenced by Gandhi's views and lifestyle, including wearing khadi throughout his life.
He went on to Central College of Bangalore studying for his B.Sc. During his final year in 1942, Gandhi launched the Quit India movement to end British rule. He gave up his degree to join the movement, the event which he described as "the most momentous decision in my life."
The consequence of his decision was his imprisonment for nearly nine months, in different jails, in Yerwada Central Jail, in Mysore jail and in the Central Jail in Bangalore.
Comparing his Central College hostel and the Central Jail, he remarked that he found "no difference" between the two as both provided him "free boarding and lodging."
After a year he completed his bachelor's degree, B.Sc. with physics honours. He earned his MSc in Physics with first class from the Central College in 1946. The same year he started his academic career as a lecturer at the National College, Bangalore.
After teaching for over ten years, in 1957, he went to Columbus, Ohio, for further degree. He received his PhD degree in nuclear physics from the Ohio State University in 1960. His thesis was The Radioactive Decay of Hafnium and Thulium Isotopes. From 1961 to 1972 he was Principal of the National College, Basavanagudi, in Bangalore.
He became the fourth Vice-Chancellor of the Bangalore University from 1972, and was reappointed in 1975.
He remained in office until 1977, during this time he introduced psychology, social work, drama, music and dance as new subjects. He went on to serve the Karnataka Legislative Council. At the time of his death, he was the President of the National Education Society of Karnataka.