October 13, 1910–August 21, 1995
BY EUGENE N. PARKER
SUBRAHMANYAN CHANDRASEKHAR was born into a free-thinking, Tamil-speaking Brahmin family in Lahore, India. He was preceded into the world by two sisters and followed by three brothers and four sisters. His mother Sitalakshmi had only a few years of formal education, in keeping with tradition, and a measure of her intellectual strength can be appreciated from her successful translation of Ibsen and Tolstoy into Tamil. His father C. S. Ayyar was a dynamic individual who rose to the top of the Indian Civil Service. It is not without interest that his paternal uncle Sir C. V. Raman was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1930 for the discovery of the Raman effect, providing direct demonstration of quantum effects in the scattering of light from molecules.
Education began at home with Sitalakshmi giving instruction in Tamil and English, while C. S. Ayyar taught his children English and arithmetic before departing for work in the morning and upon returning in the evening. The reader is referred to the excellent biography Chandra, A Biography of S. Chandrasekhar (University of Chicago Press, 1991) by Prof. Kameshwar C. Wali for an account of this remarkable family and the course of the third child through his distinguished career in science. Chandra is the name by which S. Chandrasekhar is universally known throughout the scientific