P.K. Mehta In Memoriam (1930 - 2019)

Posted by Rahul Brown on Aug 15, 2019
704 reads  
[P.K. Mehta has been a friend of the Servicespace ecosystem from its very beginning, even playing a key role in arranging for Nipun's first public talk. Yet the debt of gratitude we owe him is much greater due to his professional contributions. If you've ever been on a bridge or tall building during an earthquake, chances are you are alive because of Kumar uncle-- a fact I myself learned at his funeral. His groundbreaking innovations in his field remain the worldwide gold standard high performance, low emissions concrete, with his textbook translated into many languages and still in use decades after its publication. Much like his material contributions provided a sort of basic substrate that permeates all our lives, his blessings and quiet generosity provided another sort of basic substrate that allowed tremendous good work to happen in the world, and continue for decades to come. He passed away last week after a protracted illness, and below is the eulogy I delivered yesterday at his funeral.]

Dear Friends - we've gathered today to remember and honor a rare and luminous soul. Kumar uncle had the head of a brilliant scholar, a heart full of compassion for the poor and needy, and the hands of a gifted organizer who founded and seeded many enduring institutions and NGOs. I was fortunate to meet him over a decade ago when I interviewed him as part of a film for ICA’s 50th anniversary. Our 1 hr interview turned into a 4 hour conversation, and blossomed into a friendship where I saw him as a mentor and exalted elder but where he saw a spark of himself in me. What struck me most was his humility—how he described himself as mostly an observer of an organization that he co-founded.

Spirituality infused everything about him. His home had the vibe of an ashram- simple, functional, and serving as a base for inner practice. For a man who held 9 patents and collected royalties on his groundbreaking inventions, he never ramped up his personal consumption. In a culture where success is defined by a ‘winner takes all’ attitude, his example reminded us of the way of saints and Mahatmas—where ‘winners give all’. Unencumbered by selfishness and dogmatism, his generosity supported people across denominations, with clear recognition of how these were all flavors of universal goodness. Though the academics may claim him as their own due to his weighty contributions, to me he was undoubtedly first and foremost God’s man. If you knew Kumar uncle, you had the sense that he had angels working for him. That the universe itself would bend to accommodate his prayer. If Kumar uncle knew you, it meant he saw the best in you, and you were better for it as you rose to emulate the shining example he lived every day. In this sense, he lives on in all us—and in the many organizations he seeded which outlive him.

The Sufi saints celebrate the passing of those who carefully guarded their sense doors as a transition from bounded love to unbounded love. Kumar uncle is one such man who is now part of that unbounded love, and I feel grateful for having known him and to live in a world that he’s brightened.

Posted by Rahul Brown | Tags: | permalink


Share A Comment

 Your Name: Email:


Smiles From 6 Members Login to Add a Smile


Comments (3)

  • Tom Mahon wrote ...

    Kumar Mehta, D. Eng., Materials Science and Engineering, (1931-2019) (A recollection by Tom Mahon) The world has lost a mahatma, a great soul, at a time when they are needed more than ever. Povindar Kumar Mehta died last week at the age of 88. He was Emeritus Professor at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC-Berkeley. His professional accomplishment are at[View Link] In 1986, he wrote the book, "Concrete: Structure, Properties, and Materials," that subsequently became a standard college text on the subject used around the world. He used the proceeds of the book to start an organization at UC-Berkeley called AhimsaBerkeley, dedicated to bringing together some of the senior faculty at the University (in the Humanities, Life Sciences, Physics, Ethics, Theology departme [...] See full comment.
    Kumar Mehta, D. Eng., Materials Science and Engineering, (1931-2019) (A recollection by Tom Mahon)

    The world has lost a mahatma, a great soul, at a time when they are needed more than ever.

    Povindar Kumar Mehta died last week at the age of 88. He was Emeritus Professor at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC-Berkeley. His professional accomplishment are at[View Link]

    In 1986, he wrote the book, "Concrete: Structure, Properties, and Materials," that subsequently became a standard college text on the subject used around the world.

    He used the proceeds of the book to start an organization at UC-Berkeley called AhimsaBerkeley, dedicated to bringing together some of the senior faculty at the University (in the Humanities, Life Sciences, Physics, Ethics, Theology departments) to talk with each other. A remarkable idea at the time.

    When Kumar invited me to join the Board in the early 2000s, I figured it was to provide comic relief. I certainly never considered myself entitled to be in such a distinguished group. And I still don’t. But he was serious.

    The irony of his situation was not lost on anyone: he was one of the world’s foremost authorities on concrete, and he was also one of the most deeply spiritual people I ever knew.

    He was frail and soft-spoken by the time I met him, but his aura was visible to anyone who looked. I mean that literally, he emanated his serenity such that you absorbed it to your benefit. His was light years beyond stereotypic Berkeley-ish ‘good vibes.’

    And I saw the proof of that one night when he offered to be my bodyguard at an event at the Crosses of Lafayette, a hillside monument in the Bay Area to the fallen in the Iraq war.

    I was invited to speak on Memorial Day in 2007, honoring the 4,000th US soldiers killed in Iraq. (Earlier that week, VP Cheney was informed of that statistic and he replied, “So what!”)

    Tea Party members showed up on their bikes to shout invectives at the people there honoring the dead, and then began shouting obscenities into the faces of small children. They demanded the Crosses be torn down as a desecration to the memory of the American dead who, by their reckoning, must have enjoyed dying in battle. (The Tea Party could never explain why they felt that honoring the dead was disrespectful and unpatriotic.)

    As I began to speak, Kumar took a place in front of me as a half-dozen of the angry demonstrators began to close in one me and shout obscenities at me. Then, one of the mob put his hand on Kumar's shoulder as if to push him aside. I was behind Kumar and could barely hear what he said to the bully. But with that, the guy removed his arm, then walked away from the area, back to his bike and left the event.

    Hollywood would call what Kumar did a "Jedi mind-trick," it was so far beyond anything we think possible. But he did the impossible: with barely an audible breath, he made his opponent stand down using only soul-force. A microcosm of what Gandhi, Mandela, Dr King, Lech Walesa, Karol Wojtyla and others have done against their respective, well-armed adversaries.

    Tea Party thinking has not diminished since 2007, but rather seems to have grown. And we seem to be entering unknown territory that threatens all humane values, including even the future of life on this planet.

    Let those with eyes, see. There is a darkness closing in and it has unlimited might, wealth and weaponry at its disposal. And the election will not be the end of, but - whatever the outcome – will probably exacerbate it.

    Kumar offered a model of how to deal with the darkness. He whispered a sentence or two, and the thug got on his Harley and left. I saw that non-violent resistance really works. What that means for each of us now is something each of us has to begin considering. Hide full comment.

  • Nisha Srinivasan wrote ...

    Shanti

  • nik warren wrote ...

    Notes on Kumar’s philosophy Kumar, in his life and actions, was deeply committed to recognizing the Gandhian principles of nonviolence (ahimsa) and the force of truth (satyagraha — literally “holding firmly to truth”). And he saw these principles as mutually reflecting a deeper truth; namely that we are all interconnected and interdependent, and that in being so, are unified at the deepest levels. The sustainability of life rests on the maintenance of this unity, and this in turn requires insuring our actions serve the Common Good. Nonviolence embodies this attitude, encouraging values of tolerance, respect, compassion, and the ideal of universal love, as Kumar would use that phrase. In 1994 he wrote “I am beginning to feel that the practice of ahimsa, as the living of uni [...] See full comment.
    Notes on Kumar’s philosophy

    Kumar, in his life and actions, was deeply committed to recognizing the Gandhian principles of nonviolence (ahimsa) and the force of truth (satyagraha — literally “holding firmly to truth”). And he saw these principles as mutually reflecting a deeper truth; namely that we are all interconnected and interdependent, and that in being so, are unified at the deepest levels.

    The sustainability of life rests on the maintenance of this unity, and this in turn requires insuring our actions serve the Common Good. Nonviolence embodies this attitude, encouraging values of tolerance, respect, compassion, and the ideal of universal love, as Kumar would use that phrase.

    In 1994 he wrote “I am beginning to feel that the practice of ahimsa, as the living of universal love, in everyday life is the only effective solution for most of the social and ecological problems of today.”

    He also stated. “The un-sustainability of our society, and its threat to life on Earth, is a global issue that requires a global solution. Discovering universal truths, and integrating them into everyday life, is the only way out. Globalization should no longer be used for global exploitation but as an opportunity for selfless service to build peaceful and prosperous communities.”

    His sense of the Common Good covered the material, social, and philosophical. At the material level, in focusing on the Common Good, he reinvented the chemistry and technology of making concrete to increase its sustainability and to reduce its environmental impact. He responded to the social dimension of Common Good by offering his patents to India, and by direct social action such as restoring water tanks in Indian villages. And he drew on the spiritual and philosophical grounds of ahimsa to explore how a society may cultivate the Common Good.

    In 1993, The Centennial of the First Parliament of Religions (which had been held in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago Illinois), Kumar, (along with Henry Baer and Nik Warren) founded a non-profit, AHIMSA, which was dedicated to sponsoring interdisciplinary conferences which explored global issues from a platform drawing on the spirit and practicum of ahimsa. Kumar dedicated the profits from the sales of his now famous textbook (“Concrete” by Paulo J. M. Monteiro and Povindar Kumar Mehta) to support this organization.

    Kumar offered all of us who knew him a model of a life dedicated to global awareness and to a humility in service to the Common Good. We remain, not in debt to him, but in enrichment to pass on from him what we have learned from him — a man who gave all away in a practice of universal love.

    Hide full comment.