SUBRAHMANYAN CHANDRASEKHAR was born into a free-thinking,
Tamil-speaking Brahmin family in Lahore, India.
He was preceded into the world by two sisters and followed
by three brothers and four sisters. His mother Sitalakshmi
had only a few years of formal education, in keeping with
tradition, and a measure of her intellectual strength can be appreciated from her successful translation of Ibsen and
Tolstoy into Tamil. His father C. S. Ayyar was a dynamic
individual who rose to the top of the Indian Civil Service. It is not without interest that his paternal uncle Sir C. V. Raman was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1930 for the discovery of the
Raman effect, providing direct demonstration of quantum
effects in the scattering of light from molecules.
Education began at home with Sitalakshmi giving instruction
in Tamil and English, while C. S. Ayyar taught his children
English and arithmetic before departing for work in
the morning and upon returning in the evening. The reader
is referred to the excellent biography Chandra, A Biography
of S. Chandrasekhar (University of Chicago Press, 1991) by
Prof. Kameshwar C. Wali for an account of this remarkable
family and the course of the third child through his distinguished career in science. Chandra is the name by which S.
Chandrasekhar is universally known throughout the scientific world. Chandra’s life was guided by a dedication to science that carried him out of his native culture to the
alien culture of foreign shores. The crosscurrents that he
navigated successfully, if not always happily, provide a fascinating tale. He was the foremost theoretical astrophysicist
of his time, to paraphrase his own accounting of Sir Arthur
The family moved to Madras in 1918 as C. S. Ayyar rose
to deputy accountant general. Chandra and his brothers
had private tutors then, with Chandra going to a regular
school in 1921. His second year in school introduced algebra and geometry, which so attracted him that he...
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