A Physicist and a Gentleman

Dr Deepak Kumar (1988)My friend and colleague, Deepak Kumar, passed away all of a sudden late Monday (25th January) night. I had seen him that day, sharing a cup of tea with another member of the faculty in the afternoon sun on the lawns of the School of Physical Sciences at JNU. The spot where he sat was directly visible from my office window- Deepak often sat there and had his lunch. I hadn’t spoken to him that particular day, but that was not unusual – there were many days like that. But it was not just another day, not like any other.

Deepak was one of the first to join the School as Professor when it was formed, and he brought a decade or more of experience at the University of Roorkee. As it happened that greatly helped the School in its early, formative years, and set the mark for how it developed subsequently, defined what it’s core values were, and the sense of purpose and commitment that it has had since.

Colleague for almost 30 years, Deepak has been a friend for a little over that, and if I were to have to characterize him, the title of this post says it as well as anything. Deepak was a scholar in the true sense of the word, and one for whom the world of physics was all absorbing. Although his professional interests were in condensed matter physics, he was both knowledgeable about, and was interested in a huge range of topics. One could go to him for just about any doubt, count on him to give the right bit of advice, and if the matter happened to be something that he knew well, his intellectual generosity was limitless.

This is not exaggeration. Not for nothing was Deepak the most collaborative colleague that we have at the SPS:  of the 20 or so faculty that we have in physics, Deepak has actually written papers with no less than seven of us. And with something like twice that many students, either as their formal or informal supervisor, as a mentor in the best tradition.  Indeed, he mentored the first Ph. D. that was awarded from the SPS, and both directly and indirectly showed many of us the way in which one could bring out the very best in our students.

There is so much to say about Deepak- his academic contributions in condensed matter and statistical physics, the several awards, the recognition. But this above all: This was too soon and too sudden. There were many many good years of physics one could have had from him, and many years of physics that he would have enjoyed.  Even the last day, on Monday, he gave a lecture, there was another scheduled this week. And last semester he taught a course for the MSc Physics seniors. He was working to the end, and he went with his academic boots on…

I know his ethos will continue to guide us, and I can only hope that we will not forget his calming spirit that often brought hot tempers down, his somewhat other-worldly smile, and his gentle sense of humour that helped us all see that there were many ways of reaching conclusions. We all will miss him deeply, the community that he helped build at JNU, and the larger community of physicists in the country that knew and admired him.

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19 thoughts on “A Physicist and a Gentleman

  1. I learnt how to do physics from Deepak Kumar. Observing the way he approached a new physics problem, was truly a learning experience for me! I learnt from observing his style that physics was not about writing papers, it was about understanding nature. Apart from that, he was a dear teacher and friend. In a conference in Bangalore in October 2014, I had extended discussions with him. He had later asked me for my talk pdf, and we had planned to have some discussion. I had been procastinating discussing some physics issues with him for a long time, and now that opportunity is no more! His sudden demise is a cruel loss to all of us!

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  2. In this sudden passing away of Prof. Deepak Kumar (DK), the vacuum is simply unfillable. As one of the very first seven or so early students during the formative years of SPS, I have witnessed what a tremendous source he was- a source of knowledge, directions and inspirations. It was not uncommon to see many of our fellow students critically stuck somewhere on a research problem and later (s)he and the faculty supervisor jointly knocking on DK’s office door. I, myself, have been a big beneficiary of DK’s academic benevolence in a unique way. True, his intellectual generosity was limitless. Some of my friends would fondly comment ” probably he can see those fermions in his naked eyes!”
    And now, time has snatched away this clear thinker of a scholar so suddenly!
    While we recognize the absolute truth that life is never permanent, what DK leaves behind is a tremendous vacuum at which a great bunch of admiring students/ colleagues/friends with the grateful memory would be looking and hoping that the impact his personality on our lives lasts for ever and that his soul rests in peace.
    Sahoo (1/27/2016)

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  3. I am that lucky one who was mentored by Prof. Deepak Kumar for the first Ph. D. that was awarded from the SPS. I can never forget his simplicity, knowledge, affection and care for his students. I know how much he helped and guided other students not only in the SPS but other universities and institutes as well. He is an inspiration for many of us and he will always be.

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  4. This is really a sad news. Didn’t know about this. I remember Deepak was the first person in SPS whom I contacted while applying for CSIR RA-ship years ago – he was named as the mentor. He was most encouraging though I did not directly work with him. The kind gentleman was always supportive.

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  5. A very touching article Ramaswamy Sir. Prof. Deepak Kumar was truly a fantastic Physicist, teacher and a gentleman. I don’t think there is a single person with any ties to SPS who did not learn a great deal from him. A great loss to the Physics community.

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  6. This is really heart-breaking news. I was fortunate to do my masters thesis under his guidance and take his course on condensed matter physics, which enabled me to make it as my area of research. He was very kind and patient with me. I met him few years back and he was very enthusiastic about research. Even though I was not in frequent contact with him, I felt his presence was always there. He was an ideal teacher and I wish I can emulate at least a small fraction of his qualities as a teacher if and when I am at that stage.

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  7. Deepak Kumar Ji was a thorough gentleman among Physicist and i feel honoured to have met and discussed things of common interest with him with benefit for me.I use to visit him whenever i came to NSC, now called IUAC housed on land leased by JNU itself. It was a pity that he was taken away by destiny sosuddenly while active in both Reseach and teaching.I most humbly join others onthis site in paying my condolences tohis friends and family and hope that his associates and students will continue to promote his values and ethical standards so well practiced by him. My salutations to him as a friend from Kurukshetra!

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  8. I did not have much academic interactions with Prof. Deepak Kumar (probably because I didn’t do much academics during my Ph.D.), but on Holi we used to visit his place and gorge on all the sweets and savouries he offered us. Since most of the SPS boys were in Brahmaputra Hostel, his home was our first target. He used to always welcome us with open arms, hug us and generally make us feel at home. I can’t forget those warm and cosy moments we had with him.

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  9. I knew Prof. Deepak Kumar from his BHU Visits and from conferences and meetings. Apart from being a great Physicist, he was a great human being. He will be missed by all of us. May God give him peace.

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  10. Prof. Deepak Kumar was a true Physicist and a very gentleman. I was fortunate to learn basics of Renormalization group from him during SERC school. Whenever we met he discussed my future plans and encouraged me to think something more about the research problem.
    This is a huge loss to the Physics community.

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  11. Prof. Deepak Kumar was a excellent teacher, a true physicist and a great person. He taught me three courses and always advised me to do my best. This is a big loss for the physics community. RIP Prof. Kumar sir.

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  12. This is indeed a great loss. I had always found him with a smile and very willing to help.
    I had found his lucid lectures very helpful in preparing mine. In the last meeting we had, he promised to visit Chennai. Alas that is not to happen- we are the losers.

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  13. My sincere condolences to all at SPS, for whom the passing of this gentle and ever-smiling physicist is the loss of a family member. Deepak thought clearly and originally about the fundamentals. We shall miss him. In sorrow — Sriram

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  14. He was a kind and gentle human being in addition to being an outstanding scientist. I remember with warmth and affection a number of conversations we had over the years, in each of which his passion for science, as well as the nature of its practice in India, shone through. This is a great loss to the statistical physics and condensed matter physics community in India. He will be missed greatly by all of us.

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  15. The tragic news of Deepak’s sudden passing away came as a real shock to me and Radha. We go back a long way, having been together as students at Delhi University in the early 1960s (Deepak was two years our junior). We have lost a dear friend and the physics community has lost a true gem.

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