BooK Review scientists, all of them were born before Independence, 25 of them in the 19th century. Hoariest among them is our spirited THE SAGA OF nationalist mathematician, Radhanath Sikdar, famous for measuring the height of Mt. Everest. He is also ‘one of the earliest pioneers of popular science writing in the country’. INDIAN SCIENTISTS He was born in 1813. By Vinod Varshney Most of these scientists were exposed to western scientific culture and conducted some of their important research, if not all, in the well-equipped labs abroad, but their mission had always been to develop science and technology in . Treading in the footsteps of their seniors, the younger lot too resolutely took upon themselves to grapple with post- independence challenges to promote scientific and technological capabilities constrained with meagre infrastructural resources. They indeed laid a credible foundation of the much-needed science and technology base in the country which has today mushroomed into over 5,000 labs where approximately 5 lakh scientists work. The bio-sketches have been written by seasoned science writers and journalists who have deployed their ingenuity in presenting multiple facets of their scientific work, thinking and personality and also events that helped mould their outlook. But this has been done in a tiny space – only three pages per scientist. In such a niggardly space they could not have satiated readers’ hunger to know the complete complex scenario which existed in their time and blow by blow account of their vision Title: INDIAN SCIENTISTS and spirit. THE SAGA OF INSPIRED MINDS Most bio-piece scribblers have attempted to explore the Author: Biman , Sukanya Datta, heart, soul and time of the scientists, making them pleasurable T.V. Jayan, Hasan Jawaid Khan, Subodh reads. Unluckily, a couple of them suffer from unbearable loads of biodata type details pertaining to their education, degrees, Mahanti, Dinesh C. Sharma, T.V. awards and positions they graced. One or two, if not more, Venkateswaran & Rintu Nath bio sketches reek with unpalatable scientific jargons that may Publisher: Vigyan Prasar momentarily put off any non-science reader. However, overall, the book is invaluable and deserves a Pages: 218 place in every reasonably educated Indian’s book shelf. It just doesn’t tell the story of scientists but also provides a broader ANY graduation-level science students in Indian and wider view of the science-scape that was evolving during campuses will not be able to recall more than 10 or those intellectually resurgent decades. M12 names of prominent Indian scientists, that too The horizon is vast: so many fields, each so much different by stretching their memory hard, leave alone students of non- from each other and yet of immense importance: , science streams. What about the general public! The situation statistics, geology, instrumentation, genetics, pathology, might be more disappointing. astronomy, ornithology, cosmology, nuclear science, space A book recently released, Indian Scientists: The Saga of science, astrophysics… the list is inexhaustive. However, this Inspired Minds, can be of immense help to anybody who is small volume of 218 pages provides a holistic picture and looking for information about some of the most iconic brains tells how so many diverse fields relevant to Indian needs grew who laid the foundations of modern science in India. The book simultaneously in the country. It would certainly help broaden presents the work and life of the top 54 Indian scientists who readers’ overall perspective of science. are no more in this world. Why exclude some living scientists Scientists are occasionally mistaken as brooding junkies cut whose contributions might be equally spectacular! Perhaps to off from social realities and imperatives. No, they invariably ward off controversies!! are as much normal human beings as anybody else. Yes, they Rewarding it will be to know about these 54 biggies who may have some uniquely different traits or behaviour in their left a formidable legacy of original thinking, dedication and personal lives. A writer’s job is to pick out oddities to make activation of innate scientific curiosity exploring truths behind their bio-sketches look life-like. And it has been attempted to the puzzling and mysterious natural phenomena around. These a reasonable extent.

38 | Science Reporter | August 2018 Thus, readers would find that was a to become the DG of CSIR, was born to a farmer in a remote modest, humble person avoiding publicity and Sir C.V. Raman village in Andhra Pradesh. was ‘biased against women’. Subbarao displayed a peculiar It is painful to note that some scientists did exemplary workaholicity as much as not coming back to his wife from work but were not lucky enough to have the ‘right conditions, the US for 25 years and T.R. Sheshadri so particular about connections or an ability and inclination to use them’, if any, for discharging responsibilities that he didn’t attend the marriage self promotion. One such scientist was a pathologist, Sambhu of his daughter. He chose to remain busy in connection with Nath De who despite his path-breaking research and discovery an international conference. Atma Ram effervesced with of the cholera toxin, remained unhonoured and unsung. revolutionary fervour especially on the issue of widow re- Glaringly, women are big absentees in the early galaxy marriage. of Indian scientists. The reason? Their entry was extremely The book informs that so many scientists were passionate difficult in science. Even brighter girls were discouraged to take about arts, , painting and poetry. For example, Birbal up science. Societal norms were so much against them. That Sahni founder of palaeobotanical research in India, used to was the time when child marriage was a social custom’ and play sitar and violin. , the founder of the Indian female literacy was abysmally low—only 2.9 percent in 1931, nuclear bomb and Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the main architect much lower in earlier decades. No wonder, in the list of 54 of the Indian nuclear programme were both deeply interested Indian scientist prodigies of yore, one finds only five women— in music. This led to their first meeting. Ronald Ross, who Janaki Ammal, Kamala Sohonie, , Anna Mani discovered the malaria-causing agent, was a musician, poet and Darshan Ranganathan. Early women scientists had to be and a novelist too. The discoverer of discotic liquid crystal a feminist at heart and doggedly determined. Kamla Sohonie, Sivaramakrishna Chandrasekhar had deep interest in classical the first woman to earn a PhD in any branch of science, has Indian as well as western music and was a good singer. been quoted as saying, ‘the bias against women was so bad at Satyendra Nath , a connoisseur of folk and classical music, that time.’ She even accused the first Indian Nobel Laureate Sir used to play the instrument Esraj. C.V. Raman of being ‘narrow minded’ in this regard. Inspiring it is to find that several scientists cared about The panoply of scientists in this book includes those Indians science communication, many of them insisted that this should also who did their seminal work abroad. Two of them, Har be done in local Indian languages. For example, Atma Ram Gobind Khorana and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar received wrote ‘History of ’ in Hindi. Ruchi Ram Sahni the coveted Nobel Prize. Equally prominent researcher of instituted the ‘Punjab Science Institute’ with an objective to Nobel-grade, but a non-recipient, was Yellapragada Subbarow. popularise science among the common people. His public These three not only worked in the US but also settled lectures in Punjabi on the latest scientific discoveries with the there. The great Mathematician, S. Ramanujan, who did his help of lantern slides were immensely popular and people used spectacular work during his five-year stay in Cambridge, to pay an anna or two to get a chance to hear them. Meghnad however, came back to India like many others. Saha established the ‘Indian Science News Association’ to The book includes two Britishers also as Indian scientists disseminate insights and information about science. Satyendra since they did the major part of their remarkable research Nath Bose in order to popularise science wrote books in Bengali in India. Of these, J.B.S. Haldane, who had introduced the and set up the ‘Bangiya Bijnan Parishad’. J.B.S. Haldane wrote chemical origin of life, migrated to India in 1957 and acquired not only on scientific issues but also on politics and history. Indian citizenship. Ronald Ross, a medical officer in the British Similarly, D.D. Kosambi, despite being intensively engaged in Indian Medical Service, was born in Almora. He discovered mathematics, genetics, numismatics, etc, wrote several books how mosquitoes transmit malaria into human beings which on Indian history. led to the development of effective treatments saving millions Not all scientists were born in educated and well-off of lives. families nor were they brought up in a scientific environment. It is true that names of these 54 scientists have either For instance, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who gave India its first been ‘immortalized in the form of prominent institutions they indigenous satellite launch vehicle, was selling newspapers in founded or developed’ or in the form of scientific names given childhood to supplement the family’s income. Yellapragada to the phenomena or species they discovered. Yet most Indians Subbarow, who developed Aureomycine, the first of the do not know them adequately. At least all future scientists tetracycline antibiotics to kill both gram-negative and gram- must know about these great minds. They had also contributed positive bacteria, was selling bananas in his teenage at the river immensely in grooming a crop of young talents of their time bank of Varanasi. Nobel Laureate Har Gobind Khorana, creator into ‘full bloom scientists of repute later’. of the first artificial gene, had his early education under a tree in his village. Atma Ram, who developed an indigenous glass technology, earning 23 patents, came from a lower middle- Mr Vinod Varshney is a freelance science journalist. He was earlier Editor of Lokayat and also the National News Bureau Chief Hindustan. class family and used to walk a long distance to reach school. Address: A-2 Press Apartments, 23 I P Extension, Delhi-110092; Yelavarthy Nayudamma, noted leather technologist who rose Email: [email protected]

August 2018 | Science Reporter | 39