US traffic fine was a calculated risk for Gujarat maths guru in 1960s | Ahmedabad News


AHMEDABAD: Traffic fines have made Amdavadis see red, but Prof P C Vaidya — a renowned physicist and mathematician from Ahmedabad — used the penalty to pass the driving test with flying colours in the US in the 1960s.
The professor is acclaimed for “Vaidya metric” in study of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Prof Vaidya, also a former vice-chancellor of Gujarat University, says in his memoirs “Chalk and Duster” that he kept the prescribed fine in his pocket in Washington state of the US. His well-stocked pocket gave him confidence to drive on American roads. Vaidya was visiting professor of mathematics at Washington State University, Pullman, in the early 1960s. At that time, a dollar cost Rs 4.76.
“Cars were very common in the US due to great distances between place of residence, work and markets,” Vaidya wrote. “I was getting maximum possible salary of a professor and thus I purchased a second-hand car at $400. I took the driving exam based on experience of Ahmedabad.” He passed the multiplechoice questions test in the first attempt but he failed the driving test. He could not clear the next three driving tests either.
“I had decided to sell the car,” Vaidya wrote. “During that time, I participated in an international symposium on astronomy and mathematics.” He began to wonder if the concepts of mathematics could be used to solve a practical problem. “I took the test as a challenge,” he wrote. At the time, fines for traffic violations were steep — India-level steep, at $30. He recounted that presence of a seasoned driver in the car during the test affected his confidence. “I kept $30 in my pocket and started driving the car to visit the market, go to another town, or drive on highway,” he wrote. “I finally passed the driving test on the fifth attempt.”
Prof Arun Vaidya, Prof Vaidya’s nephew and former head of mathematics department at GU, said his uncle had purchased a car after returning from his stints abroad. The car was retained when he was the GU V-C. “A Gandhian, he preferred the bicycle for a long time,” Arun Vaidya said.



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