Inder & Uma Batra

Inder and Uma

On September 25, 2007 the UIC community gathered with the Batra family to remember our dear friends Inder and Uma Batra, hosted in conjunction with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The text below comes from the publication made in honor of them and distributed at the memorial. The Physics Department would like to thank everyone for their outpouring of support during this sad time. Professor Batra believed strongly in the crucial role of science in society. He donated his personal funds to start the Inder P. Batra Physics Undergraduate Award to be awarded each semester to a student who scores top grades in Physics 141. This award, now renamed the Inder P. and Uma Batra Memorial Physics Undergraduate Award, will continue to make a great difference in many students’ lives. You may make your contribution in their memory through the Department of Physics donation page on the LAS website. 


Inder Paul Batra was born on June 25, 1942 in Mighiana, Punjab, in pre-partition India. He was the second of five children born to Seth Sawan Mal and Srimati Santi Devi. His two brothers, Surinder and Arjun, and his two sisters, Sudesh and Nirmal, remember Inder as a creative story teller who was always making everyone smile. The family faced some hardships early on due to the family’s displacement after Partition and the untimely death of his father. But hardships only serve to strengthen family bonds, and so even as fate started to chart a different course for each sibling, their love for each other grew. In 1965, Inder became the first in his family to travel to the West. After finishing his M.S. in Physics at Delhi University, he went to the University of British Columbia for his doctoral degree, which he completed at Simon Frasier University. He landed a position as a physicist at IBM Research Labs and joined the company in 1969. The following year, he would return to India in order to make the best decision of his life: finding and marrying his soulmate.

Uma Batra was born as Uma Leekha on September 16, 1949 in Nangal, Punjab, India. She was one of five children (and the youngest of three daughters) born to Shri Manohar Lal and Ram P. Leekha. Uma earned her Bachelors degree from Lady Irwin College, Delhi, and would later earn a second Bachelors degree from San Jose State University. This was very characteristic of Uma; her siblings remember how much she, more than anyone else, loved being in a classroom. They also remember the many times when they were all sitting together chatting and Uma would say something to make everyone laugh. That was her special ability, as a child and as an adult: to make a large impact by saying just a few simple words.

On October 2, 1970, Inder and Uma’s lives were forever joined together. They were married at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi, India, and one week later they were on a plane to the U.S. For most of the next 37 years, San Jose, California would be their home. Although Inder spent most of his working life (almost 30 years) at IBM, he found his true calling when he joined the faculty as head of the Physics department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Over these two careers, Inder wrote over 200 technical papers and associated closely with many brilliant minds, including multiple Nobel laureates. But life at UIC was a dream come true, because in addition to making a scientific contribution, he could make an impact on young, aspiring physicists. No student will ever forget the professor who decided that the best way to expose the inherent conflict between the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics was to write a one-act play in which Albert Einstein is put on trial for running a red light. In its review of the opening night performance, the UIC daily newspaper commented on Inder’s creative approach to education: “Hopefully, with inspiration from Professor Batra, other teachers will follow this road to academic success.” Perhaps the reason Inder was so spectacular in the classroom is that teaching allowed for an expression of his two greatest passions: to educate and to entertain. But these two passions did not just manifest themselves in front of his students. His friends and associates all learned from the deep conversations Inder loved to have. And no one can remember a single party at which Inder was not making everyone around him laugh out loud with his playful ched-khani (teasing).

Uma’s life in the U.S. was just as lively. She became a registered dietician and practiced for almost 30 years. During most of these years, she gave freely of her time and her expertise as a volunteer. She even rubbed off on Inder: the two of them became very dedicated to the pursuit of fitness and healthy living. Uma even introduced Inder to yoga, one of the passions she cultivated later in life. Working with patients for so many years also contributed to the gentleness she brought to all of her relationships. Inder may have been the one to break the ice with a joke when first meeting someone new, but it was Uma’s charm and warmth that cemented the long-lasting relationships the two of them created with so many people.

Inder and Uma had committed their lives to one another, but as everyone knows, they lived for their children. Their first daughter , Puja, was born on May 30, 1975. Almost four years later, on February 27, 1979, their lives would be enriched once more with the birt h of their second daughter, Mala. Of course, words cannot do justice to the depth of their relationship with Puja and Mala. But if you ever saw the look in their eyes when anyone mentioned Puja or Mala’s name, you know that their lives revolved entirely around t he happiness and well-being of their daughters. This love found its expression in the way these two were raised. Inder and Uma w ere committed to raising daughters who were warm and loving, and who had their parents’ sense of character and charity. They als o recognized the need for Puja and Mala to grow to be strong, independent, successful women who could guide their own destinies. They succeeded on all accounts. Puja graduated from Harvard Law School in 1999 and Mala graduated from Harvard Business School in 2007.&n bsp; These were two of Inder and Uma’s proudest moments. The only day that was closer to their hearts was July 4, 2004, when Puj a married Rohan Nageswaran.

Inder and Uma worked hard their whole lives, but there was still plenty of time for play. Inder and Uma loved tennis, skiing, and playing as much bridge as possible. They also had an incredibly large group of friends, but more incredible still is how close all of these friendships were. Their friends remember them as the most welcoming, warm, generous, and kind people they ever met. Many friends who moved from India recall how Inder and Uma were the first couple to welcome them to the U.S. When you think of Inder and Uma, probably the word that comes most quickly to mind is “partners.” And these two were partners—in everything. This partnership was further cemented after Inder and Uma moved to Chicago and started to spend every free moment together—walking together in parks, going to the theater, enjoying outdoor concerts, and traveling. They were such great partners not only because they enjoyed doing things together, which they certainly did, but even more so because they just did not know how to be apart. Whenever the two of them had plans to make, Inder was the one making an extraordinarily detailed list of things that needed to get done. When they were at a new restaurant, it was Uma’s job to figure out what her husband would enjoy most on the menu. These two would miss each other terribly if they had to go it alone even for a week. They simply were never meant to be apart. And perhaps this is the one comfort that we can take as we face this tragedy.

Despite our strong belief systems, no one knows for certain what happens after our time on earth has passed. But there is one thing that everyone here knows for certain. Inder and Uma are together, and they are as happy, as in love, and as inseparable now as they were when we all had the good fortune of having them in our lives. We pray today not so much for their souls, which are surely at peace and eternally together, but for ourselves…may our lives be as fulfilling as were the lives of those to whom we bid farewell, and may we have the strength to carry on with the same level of love, laughter, and passion for life as Inder and Uma always wished upon us.