Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Richard Feynman: Many loves in search of his lost one.

Many years back while in college I read a book review in Hindu (back when they did reviews good) I came across "Genius" By James Gleick, a biography of Richard Feynman. Those days, and now too, I was in love with physics thanks to John Gribbin's wonderful books (Especially 'In serch of Schrodinger's Cat'). The book's title "Genius" captured me. I had never heard of Richard Feynman or his QED theories or the squiggly Feynman diagrams. One friend of mine, from CBSE stream, mentioned about the famous "Feynman Lectures". Like any book review the one I read, to increase curiosity, while reviewing the book in general drew praticular attention to salacious parts of Feynman's libertinous life with sprinkling of his dalliances, includine one with his colleague's wife too.

Sometime later I came across Feynman's "Surely You Are Joking Mr Feynman". It was a collection of humorous anecdotes from Feynman's life, written by Feynman. It was a riotous read. I love the Western idea of self deprecatory humor, the humility not to take one self too seriously however high and mighty they may be. As is my trait of seeking more by the same author if I love them, I later found his sequel "What do you care what other's think? Further adventures of a curious character". Between reading these two, I had managed to read "Genius".

In the eponymously titled second chapter in "what do you care" Feynman talks of his first love, Arlene, later his first wife. Arlene contracts Hodgkin's Lymphoma while they were courting (simply, lymph gland based cancer). Feynman had independently confirmed this, while Arlene, though not completely ignorant was told it was a glandular fever. She turns to Feynman and asks "you tell me what it is". Feynman, pressured by all told a lie that it was glandular fever. Later Arlene learns the truth and confronts him. Feynman crumbles and tells it is indeed Hodgkins. Immediately Arlene melts "god what did they put you through to tell me otherwise". Feynman is left speechless "here I am telling her a fatal news and confirming that I lied yet she feels sorry that I was made to lie".

Later they decide to marry. Meantime for fear of contracting the disease they decide not to kiss each other. After marriage when the priest says "you may now kiss the bride", Feynman kissed her on the cheek. Not long after their marriage Arlene died and Feynman immersed himself in the Manhattan Project. The closing lines are poignant. He had not cried much when Arlene died. Crossing by a dress store he sees a dress and thinks "Arlene would like that".

What love, what sensitivity. Were his latter day dalliances a search to find another Arlene?

Who said scientists were boring, Einstein had his share of flings too, including writing letters of love.

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