Carl Sagan once famously said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

These words reverberated in the young mind of Shantanu Basu, a boy whose curiosity of the night sky paved the way for an adventurous profession and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Now a professor of physics and astronomy, Shantanu is living his childhood dream.

“I’d say it was very early in my life, I was probably like seven years old when I got my first astronomy book as a gift,” says Shantanu. “It showed me how to go out in the night and measure angles with your fist in the sky and look up constellations and measure distances.”

Shantanu has visited 22 countries, met countless people and taught for 16 years at Western. It’s the kind of lifestyle he always dreamed of.

But Shantanu’s upbringing was unlike other kids'. He had a mathematician for a father and a renowned singer for a mother — a mix that cultivated his intelligence and creativity.

“When I was nine years old, I sat down with my father and he taught me new ways to think mathematically — to do quick mathematical calculations in my head," he says. "That stayed with me. I can still often remember numbers from long ago, like old phone numbers.”

Shantanu’s father was a very ethical man. Often described as a person who stuck to his guns and never hid from doing what was right.  

“My dad was a brilliant mathematician and also a very principled man," says Shantanu. "He was certainly one of those people who had the view that if you think something is right you should stand up for it. If you have something you believe in you have to be upfront about it. I think that was one of the best things he could have taught me.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Shantanu’s mother was a talented singer who was able to fill the creative void and teach him compassion and love.

“She taught me both what unconditional love is, but also a certain strength and passion that you have to have in life,” says Shantanu. “She taught me that you can be very humble, but when you’re doing your thing — when she was up there, my God, she was complete utter confidence. So there was a lot of strength there.”

Shantanu traveled a lot in his formative years, living first in the United States, then in India, the UK, Australia and lastly Canada. His experiences with people from all across the world shaped his outlook on life. 

“I think North America shaped me but being in India was a big, big influence. They’re very different, North American culture is always moving forward, focusing on succeeding and also being more on your own.

"In Asian culture you’ve got the warmth, emotion and the openness at least within your circle which is much larger than here. But on the other hand, North American culture allows one to achieve a lot because the system is more practical and goal orientated,” continues Shantanu.

His well-traveled life helped him appreciate the world’s cultures and the varying lessons they offer. Shantanu now seeks to help students experience travel by organizing trips abroad. He hopes they can learn the lessons he’s learned in the past.

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Moses Monterroza is a news editor for Volume 110 of the Gazette. Previously, he was an arts and life editor for Volume 109, and staff writer for Volume 108. You can reach him at moses@westerngazette.ca.

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