A woman of many firsts
Bangalore: Whenever she looks into the mirror these days, Rajeswari Chatterjee says, she sees her grandmother. "Don't you think so?" asks the octogenarian pointing to a picture on a crowded bookshelf in her apartment. But there is more than a physical resemblance that the two women bear.
Her grandmother Kamalamma Dasappa, the third woman to graduate from Mysore State, played no small part in the many firsts in Ms. Rajeswari Chatterjee's life: the first woman faculty at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) and the only woman faculty there for 10 years; the first woman to chair a department, and very likely, the first Indian woman to graduate in electronics engineering.
"I grew up at a time when girls were being married off at the age of 10 and 12," she says. But Kamalamma had other plans for her granddaughter. She wanted her to study. She recalls that she was the only girl in her class in the University of Mysore where she studied Mathematics and Physics for her B.Sc. and M.Sc., and came out first class first. World War II was raging when 22-year-old Ms. Rajeswari Chatterjee joined IISc. as a research student in the Department of Electrical Technology. The director of the institute then was C.V. Raman. She left for the United States on a scholarship extended by the interim government in 1947 to students of science. A Ph.D. from University of Michigan and several publications on her special field of microwave engineering and antennas, she returned to independent India and was appointed by the IISc. as a lecturer in 1953, becoming the first woman faculty there. She retired from the institute as the chairperson of her department in 1982.
Prof. Rajeswari Chatterjee, who is 86 now, stands out in her album of black and white group portraits of the overwhelmingly male faculty at the institute. "But I somehow never felt out of place. I did my job and expected everyone to do theirs," she says. "There were little things that irked me. I used to wonder, for instance, why it was always considered the role of a woman to do fancy things such as welcome dignitaries with garlands. I was just too strong headed to be persuaded," she says.