The baffling and paradoxical life of Dr. Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani and Muslim to win a Nobel Prize for Physics, is a subject of a compelling documentary by New York-based Indian American filmmaker Anand Kamalakar.
Salam (1926-1996) is a dichotomous figure in the world of science. He once said: “I would never have started to work on the subject (physics) if I was not a Muslim.” Yet, in his lifetime, not only was he shunned by Pakistan, the place of his birth, because he belonged to the outlawed Ahmadiyya sect, but had the misfortune of standing up for science in a country that had no particular interest in it.
He received his Ph.D in quantum electrodynamics at 24 and went on to do pioneering work in physics. It was only because of Pakistan’s strategic interest in developing nuclear weapons, in whose early development Dr. Salam played a crucial role, that he had a brief period of official patronage.
The documentary ‘Salam’ — produced by Omar Vandal, a doctorate in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenes, and Zakir Thaver, a science/education media producer — was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival on January 29. Kamalakar answered email questions from IANS. Excerpts:
Q: What prompted you to chronicle the life of Dr. Abdus Salam?
A: The producers Zakir and Omar have always been troubled by the fact that Abdus Salam was not given his rightful place in Pakistan’s history because of his religious beliefs. They have been attempting to make a film to shine a light on his illustrious career since their youth. After almost 10 years of collecting archival material Ã¯Â¿Â½ they approached me through an acquaintance and I was taken by their commitment and the layered story of Salam.
Q: When did you discover that science, particularly physics, and Islam were not necessarily adversarial in Dr. Salam’s estimation but, in fact, complementary?
A: I discovered this while viewing the archival interviews. This aspect always fascinated me about his story. Salam went through a complicated evolution on this subject. We have tried to reveal the best we can on where he stood on this at various stages in his life. He was contradictory and controversial on this subject at many stages in his life.