Monday, June 29, 2015

An Offer to Work in India

How difficult is it for science & technology to thrive in India?

Everytime I see a news article or TV reporter gushing about the achievements of a scientist or entrepreneur of Indian origin, I am reminded of Prof. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan. In 2009, soon after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Prof. Ramakrishnan declared, "Nobody has approached me about an offer to work in India. However, I can categorically state that if they did so, I would refuse immediately.”!

What explains this vehemance, this deep disenchantment?

Perhaps a part of the answer lies in the way we build and run our public-funded scientific institutions. Some of them are run like personal fiefdoms with no succession plan in sight ("after me the deluge!"), and in many others dedicated individuals find themselves embroiled in a constant battle with ted-tape.  

A couple of years ago, the official press release on the prestigious Marconi Prize  awarded to Prof. Paulraj, actually stated that he was driven out of India because "bureaucratic battles began to take their toll"... This was one scientist who returned to India, in 1986 from Stanford-U, and set up two institutions - CAIR and CDAC - before being hounded out. So he just went back to USA and went on to create the MIMO standard which is at the heart of 4G mobile technology we all use today.

Our short-sightedness was also highlighted recently in a widely circulated blogpost by Dheeraj Sanghi. Having been a member of numerous selection committee's, he describes how "Participating in...committee meetings can be very depressing as they expose this myth about India being the largest producer of scientific manpower."

Add to this the daily tussle we witness between the IITs/IIMs and the hon'ble Cabinet Minister for Human Resources Development, and the disheartening picture is all too complete.


* (12 May 2015) - Dheeraj Sanghi - The Quality of Faculty --

* (Firstpost, 2014): R. Jagannnathan -
- We need to ask ourselves: why does our system kill future heroes, while the US helps raise even ordinary Indians to iconic levels
- The short point: our system is designed to keep people out, not get them in. The true value of an IIT or IIM is not the intellectual capital they produce, but their filtering expertise

* (Hindu, 2009) - Nobel Laureate bemused by deluge of goodwill --

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Kashmiri Summer

One of the most enduring pictures in my mind is that of children splashing about gleefully under the fountains of the Mughal gardens of Srinagar.

How many generations have grown up like this, soaked in memories of sparkling waters and clear blue skies?

Emerald green paddies, towering poplars and chinars lining the banks of Jhelum. Women busy in the fields and orchards. Nearly a thousand years ago when Kalhana sat down to chronicle the "Rajatarangni" (The River of Kings) stretching back another thousand years, he would have seen the same mountains and valleys, the same motely mix of good leaders and pathetic ones.

In Kalhana's time the Vaishnavite-Shaivite conflict or the Buddhist-Hindu friction may have been no different from the Pandit-Sunni faultlines we see today. The aspirations of the Tibetan Shaivite warriors riding down from the Zoji-la pass, via Kargil, into the valley would have been no different from those of the Pakistani soldiers cowering on Tiger Hill, waiting for the next 155mm shell to crash in.

Surprisingly, I saw a lots less of the army than I expected. Apart from isolated pickets overlooking the road to Gulmarg it is the long convoys of troop-trucks returning from northern Kashmir that told you about trouble brewing in other places. Bullet-proof APCs, canvas covers pock-marked with bullet-holes, soldiers perched atop truck with their fingers on LMG triggers and heads covered in motorbike helmets.

The little girls splashing about in Shalimar Bagh may not have heard of a disabled queen named Didda who once ruled Kashmir with an iron hand. Perhaps a few summers down the line they will look at the world through the peepholes of a hijab, or may be they will toss it aside and seek a world without diktats.


* Sen, Shailendra (): Ancient history and civilization -- GoogleBooks --

* Kalhana's Rajatarangini (MA Stein's translation) --

* Wiki - Rajatarangini -