VIZIANAGARAM: Advanced age and related health issues have failed to dampen the indomitable spirit of this 93-year-old professor, who commutes over 60 kms a day to handhold students into the marvellous world of Physics. For Professor Chilukuri Santhamma, Physics is her passion, and teaching, her purpose in life.
Supporting herself on crutches after undergoing knee-replacement surgeries, she conducts classes with a fellowship at Centurian University here, which she has been doing since the past six years. She has been teaching Physics and inspiring young minds for seven decades.
Her age doesn’t bother her. “My mother Vanajakshamma lived till 104,” she says. “Health is in our minds and wealth in our hearts. We should always keep our mind and heart healthy. I can’t compare myself to Albert Einstein, but I believe I am here for a purpose – to teach until my last breath,” adds the nonagenarian.
Prof Santhamma’s discipline, dedication and hard work has left her peers and students in awe. “I never like to miss Prof Santhamma’s class. I always wait eagerly for her class. She is never late to class. She is a role-model for us in discipline, dedication and commitment. She is a walking and talking encyclopedia when it comes to the subject,” Hasina, a first-year B.Sc Optometry student vouches for her professor.
Teaching is not her only passion. Being a philanthropist, she donated her house to Vivekananda Medical Trust and is now living in a rented accommodation.
Born in Machilipatnam on March 8, 1929, Santhamma lost her father when she was five months old. She was brought up by her paternal uncle. In 1945, she received a gold medal for physics from Maharaja Vikram Deo Varma. She was then an intermediate student at AVN College, Visakhapatnam, then in Madras State.
I can teach at least 6 classes a day, says Santhamma
She followed her passion to study Physics and pursued B.Sc Honors in the subject. She completed D.Sc (equivalent to Ph.D) in Microwave Spectroscopy from Andhra University and later joined the College of Science, Andhra University, as a Physics Lecturer, in 1956.
From Lecturer to Professor, Investigator and Reader, Prof Santhamma has done it all. She has also worked as an investigative in-charge in various central government departments such as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), University Grants Commission (UGC) and Department of Science and Technology (DST).
Prof Santhamma retired at the age of 60 in 1989. Retirement, however, was just an official jargon for her. She shifted her focus on research and joined Andhra University again as an honorary lecturer, and worked for six years.
Her routine starts at 4 am, when she starts putting together notes for the day’s class. “I can teach at least six classes a day. Time and energy are the two important factors in teaching. I always keep that in my mind. I travel at least 60 km daily from Vizag to Vizianagaram,” the professor says.The enthusiasm for her profession has taken her to many countries, including the US, Britain, Canada and Spain, to attend conferences.
Her analysis of Atomic Spectroscopy and Molecular Spectroscopy won her several awards and a gold medal in the Veteran Scientists’ class in 2016. “Former vice-chancellor of Andhra University and the current vice-chancellor of Centurion University in Vizianagaram, Prof GSN Raju was my student,” she says with pride.
The professor also has an interest for Puranas, Vedas and Upanishads. She has authored a book, “Bhagavad Gita – The Divine Directive”, the English version of Bhagavad Gita slokas.
“My husband, Chilukuri Subrahmanya Sastry, passed away a few years ago. He was a Telugu professor and introduced me to the Upanishads. I have been studying them to release a book soon on topics that could be useful for the younger generation,” she adds.