Wednesday, August 20, 2014



     The Silicon Mind: Manikarnika Lagu: Become Pages 367: Price Rs 250/-

The book belongs to the genre of science fiction and it is Manikarnika Lagu’s first novel. She has a doctorate in physics and as a teacher and researcher has contributed many research papers in scientific journals. This background eminently suits her to write a science fiction novel based on a subject as complicated and sophisticated as the neural chip project.

The story centres around the protagonist- young, handsome and successful medical practitioner Dr Aman Kapoor who is involved in a horrific car crash and falls into a state of comatose. Another important character in the story is Prof. Narayan Murthy aka Ray who is a brilliant neuroscientist and the founder of ‘Chetna Coma Clinic’, India’s state-of-the-art specialized care hospital located at Bengaluru. Ray has been collaborating with Prof John Smith also a neuroscientist based in USA in the pioneering neural chip project. They have jointly developed a neural chip, an Artificial Intelligence device, considered to be top of the line and way ahead of competition. It has the capability of enhancing human memory and substantially increasing computational skills. Though this discovery has been an outstanding success in theory, there really has been no volunteer yet prepared to take the risk of having a neural chip implanted in his/her brain even after a year of its discovery. This is a source of great disappointment, frustration and desperation to both Ray and John. As pioneers of a breakthrough scientific development, both the neuroscientists are deeply disturbed at the cold reception the neural chip has received. It has dashed all their hopes of receiving international recognition, money and fame. It had become imperative to urgently get hold of an unconscious patient in a state of coma to implant their neural chip into the human brain to find out its performance. This objective had to be achieved by means fair or foul, as time was running out.   

Immediately after the car accident, Aman is admitted to ‘Get Well’ hospital in Bengaluru. Ray’s technical assistant Murthy is able to have Aman transferred to ‘Chetna Coma Clinic’ in spite of resistance from Dr Tapan Dutta, Director of ‘Get Well’, who has excellent coma care facilities in his hospital. Murthy is helped in this illegal activity by one Velu Swamy- a crook, blackmailer and a money-extracting peddler who provides patients to doctors for their experiments. Aman now comes under the direct care of Ray. The arrival of a comatose patient in their clinic, gives Ray and his team hope and a golden opportunity to implant their discovery in Aman’s brain which would given them a testing ground and invaluable feedback on how it performs in the company of the natural brain.

The chip implant takes place under the supervision of Ray and John and a few specialists from the US. The complicated surgery is performed by a talking robot Haku. Haku has feelings and emotions too!  
A 2mm hole is drilled at a predetermined spot and an extremely sophisticated silicon chip coated with collagen is installed in Aman’s brain. The operation turns out to be successful though Ray keeps his fingers crossed hoping that complications should not arise at a later date.

Unfortunately for Ray after some lapse of time, Aman starts facing some burning problems in his hand and depletion of physical energy. He approaches Ray to seek answers to these unwelcome manifestations. Ray’s responses are unconvincing to Aman. He gradually loses faith in Ray and asks Manasi, a clinical psychologist, to study his CAT scans. Aman is able to obtain these images through Ishan, a journalist and Manasi’s friend. Ishan uses his contacts to break into Murthy’s office and is able to steal the floppy containing the required images. Manasi was sure that the scans would help in giving a clue to identify the probable causes of these weird occurrences. Manasi, a strong-willed woman puts her heart and soul into this project to ascertain the cause of these bizarre incidents. She is single-mindedly focused to enhance her reputation in her field. Aman meanwhile gets further perplexed as he seems to be exhibiting miraculous healing powers which he suspects will not last long. He accidentally discovers this when he attends to a young boy Sameer’s knee injury. The youngster is amazed that there is not even a scar where the wound near the knee which was dressed by Aman had occurred. Aman is deeply concerned that this would bring him fame and later a bad name if this newly acquired power faded away. He disappears for a while from the glare of the media. With the help of Ishan, Mandira makes rapid progress with her investigation albeit a few setbacks and is on the verge of almost hitting the bull’s eye. By a stroke of good luck, Sameer and his friend Sakshi meet Manasi. After finding out that Sakshi is Ray’s daughter, Manasi asks her to convince her father to remove the chip from Aman’s brain because that alone can save him. Manasi is convinced that the neural chip is the culprit. Sakshi who is a brilliant and smart girl agrees to help them for Aman’s sake as she respects him as a kind doctor. Sakshi has the ability to make her doting father Ray run around her in circles. But she insists on proof of the presence of the neural chip in Aman’s brain. Sakshi is convinced. She confronts her father. Ray realizes that the game is up and that his reputation will be in tatters. He realizes that prudence is the better part of valour. He and his team of John and Haku and other specialists perform the chip removal surgery.

Though a scientist by training, Manikarnika Lagu has shown great flair in writing. This sci-fi book has a lot of imagination and style in it. She provides just enough scientific and technical information on the neuron chip and its implantation without making it excessively boring for the lay reader. The conversations between the various interesting characters laced with Hindi expressions make the book humorous and a fun to read. She has even provided a glossary at the end of the book for those not so familiar with the Hindi language. As a clever author, she has also brought in an element of sex to keep the interest of the reader stimulated. There is an entire chapter where Mandira, a bored wife and patient of Aman, gets excited by his touch during her physical examination to the extent that her sexual fantasies enable her to have an orgasm.

Sci-fi writers and ‘futurists’ have a common vision. This is called singularity, a point when technology and our bodies meet. We then become different people and at a higher stage of evolution. There are already some courageous people (cyborgs) who have had technological implants into their bodies for a number of reasons and are reaping the benefit of enhanced functions of their body parts. ‘The Silicon Mind’ is a trailblazer and welcome book by Manikarnika Lagu. We need more and more books in this category. Suitably adapted, ‘The Silicon Mind’ has the potential of being turned into a Bollywood movie.


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