For someone who was barely able to pass high school, Prof H.C. Verma’s Concepts of Physics’ is today the world’s most read textbook for high school physics.
“Strengthening skills is far more important than getting into the IIT system,” says the legendary teacher. “Passing the JEE exam is not a very great achievement, but what you learn in the process is the achievement. Many students struggle and fail after getting into IIT, and many students outside IIT excel in their careers. The focus should be on understanding the concepts deeply and being able to apply them rather than just answering questions in an exam paper,” the 66-year-old adds.
“While teaching at Patna Science College, I realised that at school level, science must be delivered in the context of the lifestyle of the students. Thus, I decided to write this book where I have presented physics with an Indian flavour,” says IIT Kanpur alumnus, who is currently trying to develop content for teaching physics through online courses together with establishing a centre where resources for students and teachers of all levels can be accessed.
Born in Darbhanga, Bihar, in an economically backward family, Prof Verma didn’t know the difference between poor and rich then. He says he enjoyed his childhood. “My father used to run a school up to Class V in Samastipur. The best part of it was that he was the only teacher controlling five classes, in fact seven classes, including Kachchi Bachha and Pakki Bachcha. This was his style of teaching, making full use of the students from higher classes to teach those from lower classes. He made the school the best in town. My mother could only read Hindi but inculcated in us the culture of hard work, to not be afraid of failure and to have sensitivity towards society and nature.”
“Who would have ever imagined that a student who did not do well in school examinations would one day teach India physics? I was always regarded as a potentially good student but not interested in studies. I came back on track only after high school, thanks to my teachers at Patna Science College from where I did my BSc Hons in Physics. I then went to IIT Kanpur for MSc Physics where I topped the class. I finished PhD from the same place and joined Patna Science College as lecturer in physics at a salary of `796 in 1979.”
Concepts of Physics, widely considered the Bible of Physics, is inspired by the authors Resnick and Halliday, but Prof Verma has added his own understanding of the Indian masses. He says, “My aim was to make the text enjoyable, simple and authentic. I made sure there was compatibility and consistency among the chapters, connecting them to real life and named some driving principles. I also tried developing and intensifying the concepts through thought-provoking questions.”
Prof Verma, who is part of the Indian Association of Physics Teachers and a national coordinator of its chapter, Anveshika, is a frequent visitor to Hyderabad. Anveshika centres are an Indian Association of Physics Teachers initiative where student and teachers across India can learn experiment-based physics and try out their own ideas. He says, “There are 22 Anveshikas in the country that are run by physics teachers or those interested in developing physics experiments for teaching and then training teachers on these, One such Anveshika is at Hyderabad and I have visited the city several times to conduct teachers’ camps/workshops.”
Prof. Verma has lost count of the experiments he has conducted. “To give a number, it could be around 600-700 that I have developed. Most of them take less than a minute to perform but initiate a discussion that goes on for many, many minutes.”