In the death of Prof. SC Mehrotra, while the country has lost a reputed historian it is also a personal loss to many people like me who studied in the History department of Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla during the seventies and eighties.
Prof. Mehrotra was picked up by first Vice Chancellor of HPU Dr RK Singh along with several distinguished professors’ and scholars like famous mathematician Dr PL Bhatnagar , another great historian Dr Ravinder Kumar and English professor Dr Gokakh , among others , when HPU was being established in the early seventies .
Prof. Mehrotra, who had returned back to India after teaching history in the Oxford for more than a decade, played a major role in establishing the history department.
His students and the university community would always remember him as an excellent teacher of modern Indian history, a dedicated researcher and a very affectionate person. Despite being an acclaimed historian he was always ready to help the student community and researchers. I remember an incident when he was head of the department and Deans of Studies. My M Phil dissertation was delayed as my research guide had joined the Central University Hyderabad and I needed extension for submitting the same.
Prof. Mehrotra strongly recommended my case of extension and also assured me to talk to the Vice Chancellor if needed. Though he was a thorough gentleman but he also fought several legal battles in the Himachal Pradesh High court to bring relevant changes in the rules for academic improvement in the HPU. He had never studied law but used to plead all his petitions in the High Court at his own without any lawyer and helped to bring several changes in the university statutes.
Though he never taught me as he used to teach modern Indian History and my specialization was Ancient Indian History but i attended his many lectures . I had an opportunity to have close association with him while i was a research fellow in HP state museum Shimla . He used to visit the museum quite often and we together watched long series of a BBC film – ‘The Ascent of Man”, for several days there.
He also remained concerned for the public cause and had filed public interest litigation in the court to improve quality of drinking water of Shimla, when supply of drinking water of Shimla was found contaminated in a laboratory test. Since i had also filed a similar PIL , Prof. Mehrotra appreciated my concern and patted me .
After his retirement, he and his wife Eva Mehrotra, also a history professor had settled in Shimla and it was always a delight to see them walking daily to the Mall, from their house in Chuara Maidan to buy things of daily needs . After death of his wife he was seen walking alone.
It was his habit to ask about well being of his former students’ even meeting them after decades. His former students and people who knew him would always miss this gentlemanly and very affectionate professor.
( My this piece was published in The Tribune ( middle ) on July 27th , 2019)