The mouse that won the Nobel

This isn’t about Obama or his prize, but about the expected reaction in the Indian media to a hyphenated Indian winning a Nobel. The two emotions that surface after reading them are anger and pity.

In the TOI, it was front page news—Indian-American wins XYZ. Then Kapil Sibal “requests” that V. Ramakrishnan visit India “as often as he can to impress the youngsters with the delights of scientific discovery and technological innovation.” And then comes the most ludicrous bit (via Churumuri), idiots in Bengal and Tamil Nadu fighting over which state has produced the most Nobel laureates-

Bengal remains smug in its belief that the Nobel scoreline remains in its favour: Tagore, Amartya Sen and Mother Teresa are very much from the state. Ronald Ross (the discoverer of the malaria parasite) worked in Calcutta’s PG (now SSKM) Hospital, though places like Hyderabad, where the scientist taught, too stake claim to the Nobel laureate.

In contrast, both Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the prize as US citizens…


“Ramakrishnan did not do his research in Tamil Nadu, did he? If Tamil Nadu claims him as its third Nobel laureate that would be a poor man’s way of claiming a prize. Let there be a made-in-Tamil Nadu Nobel first,” said Dipankar Bhattacharya, professor at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune.

His assertion found resonance in some southern scientists. Prof. R. Jayaraman, former head of molecular biology at Madurai Kamaraj University, argues that Bengal, a knowledge-driven society, attracted and threw up more scientific talent. “Tamil Nadu can talk of Ramanujan, but his genius was discovered by a British mathematician. Raman did his groundbreaking work in Calcutta. Tamil society’s proclivity has been more towards the arts, religion and philosophy. So while we can claim S. Chandrasekhar and Venky Ramakrishnan as Nobel winners from Tamil Nadu, their research happened outside the country,” Jayaraman said.


A senior scientist, who too did not want to be named, said southerners bore a grudge that scientists from Bengal thrived because they were pampered during the British Raj, which allowed them quick access to the writings of Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg or Paul Dirac.

The divide sharpened following allegations levelled by southern scientists that C.V. Raman had been “hounded” out by Bengalis who were paranoid about having an outsider steal their thunder.

and this priceless quote-

…The problem, scientists say, continues over the allocation of resources, or refusal of it, for space technology.

“The area has become a south Indian hegemony,” said Sandip Chakrabarti, a senior professor at the SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences. “All the institutes are located in the south, giving proximity to Sriharikota as excuse. Nasa, in contrast, has spread wings across the US. Whenever we go to seek grants for space research in eastern India, we are told there would be a clash of interests with Isro. If tomorrow India is divided into north and south, it would take the south barely two-and-a-half days to conquer north India as it owns all our space and missile technology.”

Read it and weep.

Only those who have directly helped someone who later on becomes a towering success has the moral right to be proud of such success. I would also include those who respect, or are in awe of, someone’s ability or work in that category. But those who make it impossible for people to work in the country, through apathy, through laws that suffocate and kill ability, through blind envy, and a thousand other reasons, those who keep quiet in times of trouble and come out when its safe to do so, these people have no such right. Much of the “he’s our man” reaction on display, its a permanent feature, is nothing but rank tribalism.

The laureate himself has been at the receiving end of Indian love and affection-

Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has expressed disenchantment with people from India “bothering” him “clogging” up his email box and dubbed as “strange” their sudden urge to reach out to him.


“Do these people have no consideration? It is OK to take pride in the event, but why bother me?” the 57-year-old Indian-American scientist wondered in an email interview to PTI.

“There are also people who have never bothered to be in touch with me for decades who suddenly feel the urge to connect. I find this strange,” said Ramakrishnan…

Poor man.

It might not be necessary, but I’d better explain the title. If the reactions continue the way they do, in some years we might just see such a headline in case someone winning the prize for Medicine happens to use mice originating from India for his experiments. Tangents make the day.

John Elliott has a cynical post on India-

Inefficiency, lethargy and corruption have come to haunt the country and dominate the news this week on two quite different issues– the alarming spread of Naxalite violence (right), and the inadequate preparations for the Commonwealth Games that are to be staged in Delhi a year from now. That’s leaving aside, for a moment, India’s appallingly inadequate defence readiness in Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere on its north-eastern borders with China where tensions are rising.


The armed forces have been issuing Fennel’s warning in different words to the Defence Ministry for years to accelerate orders for urgently needed new equipment ranging from guns to helicopters and training jets that are mired in bureaucratic inertia, corruption, and the manipulations of competing suppliers that trip up each other’s potential orders. (The same applies to equipment needed for internal security such as tackling the Naxalites). How Pakistan and China must enjoy watching the self-inflicted damage that India does through all this to its own war readiness – could those two countries themselves do more damage in a border war?


Sometimes the lack of action on potential crises is intentional, stemming from a belief that some blood-letting is needed before a major issue can be tackled. I first came across this when I was part of a Financial Times interview with Indira Gandhi, then the prime minister, shortly after 6,000 people had been killed in riots in Assam. We asked Mrs Gandhi why she had not acted earlier to stem the killings, and she replied that one had to let such events take their own course before stepping in.

I remember how horrified I was by her answer…

Another example of the senility rampant in the Indian education system is the CBSE announcement that it will grade students on their “attitude” towards a host of people. The Times carried a counter view this morning—for some inexplicable reason, this section of the paper has been more sensible than the others over the last few weeks—which termed the idea “silly”

Value systems, or how well students play with others, are subjective and nebulous areas which the CBSE shouldn’t be getting into. It could end up rewarding conformism and punishing students with certain personality traits that schools ought to be non-judgemental about, such as introversion. Insofar as a bad attitude towards peers and teachers influences a student’s academic performance, the school is entitled to intervene to ensure that she is functional. That’s what guidance counsellors are for. What kids don’t need is yet another level of moral hectoring. Value systems are a subject of intellectual curiosity, which a good education is supposed to foster. Uniformity in everyone’s value system is not necessarily a desirable goal. Being too judgemental about them ends up suppressing choice and killing intellectual curiosity.

Janus faces tough competition.

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