Monday, May 16, 2011
WE ARE A NATION OF GEEKS
NOT ONLY THAT WE ARE ALSO SWOTS,NERDS,DWEEBS,BOFFINS AND DORKS. READ "GEEK NATION" BY ANGELA SAINI TO KNOW MORE ABOUT OUR SCIENTIFIC TEMPERAMENT.
GEEK NATION : HOW INDIAN SCIENCE IS TAKING OVER THE WORLD : ANGELA SAINI : HACHETTE : PAGES : 280 : PRICE : RS 499/-
The British author is 31years old, of Indian origin, an award winning science journalist and daughter of a chemical engineer. She is also an engineer by training. She is a self-professed geek. The svelte woman with a chic haircut calls herself a “pretty girlie geek.” She argues passionately that the nation of her ancestors is geared to become a scientific superpower. Her book is a journey through the colleges and laboratories of India to discover the scientific capability of the students and researchers and the changing scientific landscape.
She considers Indians and people of Indian origin as swots, nerds, dweebs, boffins and dorks. Words many of us had not heard before. Neither did Narayana Murthy of Infosys. Nor the legendary U R Rao of ISRO. She refers to Jawaharlal Nehru as the other important geek after Vikram Sarabhai. They pushed us into frontiers that were held earlier by the likes of Aryabhatta and Bhaskara. Though not equipped with the best of hardware for their research, the Indian scientists are using their mental software (read creativity) to compensate for the lack of quality equipment and they are developing cheap technologies for day to day applications. This is bringing about a scientific revolution. Indian science is according to Angela definitely riding a crest.
There are many who do not agree with her line of thinking. Her critics say that she is being carried away by the large presence of Indian engineers, doctors, technologists and forensic experts and IT professionals to jump to such conclusions. Undeniably, her book is an interesting travelogue. She visits ISRO, BARC and the IT corridor in Bangalore. Her interactions with Dr Manish Gupta who heads research at IBM India are very interesting. IBM is working on a new technology called the Spoken Web which put simply is a voice-based web which lets people use spoken words to surf spoken information on their mobile phones. With a large mobile subscription base coupled with large illiteracy this invention could create a large number of internet users through the mobile phone. She praises our TB research at Chennai and the work on mind-reading machines. She is excited with superstition and scientific temper in the same mindset of Indians.
After her visits to these centres of excellence, Saini’s optimism takes a hit. She is disappointed as she does not find them the hothouses of intellectual curiosity and innovation. The flip-flop of high praise and disenchantment goes on almost continuously. She calls Lavasa the hi-tech new township in the Western Ghats and as a Geek’s paradise lost to the poor. She is very impressed with our competence and achievements in international chess tournaments and physics Olympiads. She even visits the Vaishnavite stronghold in Karnataka where Ramanujacharya lived for many years to observe how scholars are interpreting ancient Sanskrit esoteric texts in the Academy of Sanskrit Research to show to the world that our rishis knew a lot of what we term as modern science. There is no doubt that India is emerging as a scientific superpower. But Angela Saini, a part of a group called Girl Geek Dinners, a kitty party kind of group where science is the common interest, needs more clarity in what she is looking for in the New India. It is a fascinating, weird and wacky world allright for this science journo who thinks she has the best job in the world. She is making her own little bit contribution to science writing in a domain of masculine imagery where women are very under-represented. She must know that people being in the thrall of science does not make their nation very scientific .