Dr. Amar Bose (Photo: www.bose.com)
My first and only meeting with Dr. Amar Gopal Bose in the early 1990s in New Delhi nearly led me to write his biography. It was after a press conference that Dr. Bose gave in the Indian capital that I separately chatted him up a bit.
It was my sense then that he was somewhat amused by all the media attention he was getting there. He seemed genuinely surprised that his work in acoustic engineering was known to many at the news conference. Of course, most of that knowledge was about the famous line of Bose stereo speakers.
When I mentioned that perhaps he should consider a biography about his life and perhaps he should consider me as his biographer, he flashed an incredulous smile. He said something to the effect that “the thought had never crossed his mind”. He gave me his business card with his company’s address in Framingham, Massachusetts and asked me to send a formal proposal. I promptly did but never heard back. So that was that.
My recollection of that news conference is that reporters were surprised to hear Dr. Bose’s fully American accent without a trace of his partly Bengali origin. Of course, many did not know at the time that he was born in Philadelphia to Noni Gopal Bose who was married to an American school teacher. He was, for all practical purposes, American. Born on November 2, 1929, he came of age at a time when America was in the grip of the Great Depression.
I remember asking him how that experience influenced his formative years. I am not quoting him verbatim but he said he was too young to have been directly affected by it, although he had memories of the era.
Among my superficial impressions of Dr. Bose then was that he was dapper in an understated way.A tall man, his bearing was friendly and had a smile that was wide open. I also remember him often moistening his lips with his tongue as if he felt parched. Do excuse me but I do tend to be observant about these inane details. Another feature I remember was that for some reason he reminded me of Dev Anand. Very likely it was his partly toothless smile that made me think of Anand. At the very least, there is the feel-alike touch between the two, if not look-alike.
Check out the two images below, one of their hands and the other of their faces.
Left, Dr. Bose’s hand, Right, Anand’s.
Left, Dr. Bose, and Anand
There is no particular relevance to these comparisons while writing about Dr. Bose other than the fact that I have a weakness to look at things and people from many different angles.
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with which he had more than six decades of association, “Dr. Bose received his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate from MIT, all in electrical engineering. He was asked to join the faculty in 1956, and he accepted with the intention of teaching for no more than two years. He continued as a member of the MIT faculty until 2001.
During his long tenure at MIT, Dr. Bose made his mark both in research and in teaching. In 1956, he started a research program in physical acoustics and psychoacoustics: This led to his development of many patents in acoustics, electronics, nonlinear systems and communication theory.”
He was among the most popular MIT teachers whose classes were much sought after. “Amar Bose was a legend at MIT,” said MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson, who served as a faculty colleague of Dr. Bose in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “He was an incredible teacher, an inspiring mentor, a deep and insightful researcher. He has influenced multiple generations of students, both directly through the classroom and laboratory, and through the many students he influenced who have themselves pursued careers as faculty, propagating Professor Bose’s approach to mentorship and teaching.”
Bose Corporation, the company that he founded nearly 50 years ago and which revolutionized sound technology, was a closely held entity. He did not take it public because he knew the pressures of corporate bottom lines would deviate him from his largely R and D mindset.
It was a tribute to his unusual way of doing business that in 2011, Dr. Bose gave MIT the majority of the stock of Bose Corporation in the form of nonvoting shares. “Under the terms of the gift, dividends from those shares will be used by MIT to sustain and advance MIT’s education and research mission. MIT cannot sell its Bose shares, and does not participate in the management or governance of the company,” the MIT said.