Sunday, April 26, 2009

Shubashree's review of Lilavati's Daughters

Read it at The New Indian Express or at her blog. Some excerpts:

All the chapters in Lilavati's Daughters: The Women Scientists of India are available from the Indian Academy of Sciences website.

Some poisonous prejudices against women are that they are not as productive as men; they show stereotypical behaviour; they are unwilling to relocate and face challenges, and so on. All these myths are shattered by reading even within the first nine stories in this anthology: Janaki Ammal, from Kerala, was the first woman Oriental Barbour Scholar and D.Sc (1934), a botanist and a pioneer! Then is the story of B Vijayalakshmi’s heroic struggle against cancer of her stomach and abdomen, to carry out research in high-energy physics. Another pioneer is Asima Chatterjee, the first woman to receive a D.Sc. from any Indian University (Calcutta). Her work on ayurvedic drugs is the story of untiring and path-breaking research which led to the development of the anti-epilepsy drug, Ayush-56, which is patented and sold even today. Anandibai Joshi’s, Mumbai of 1865, is a story of struggle against the confusing marital complex- being educated and discouraged by the same person, her reformist-husband. Who can say that women fear controversy, if only you read the story of Iravati Karve, who was the pioneer in advocating statistical studies based on caste divisions – a theory that is controversial even now. Bearing testimony to the stolid undeterred labour of women, Anna Mani is a beacon of a physicist from CV Raman’s lab. Her thesis did not get her a degree in physics for some bureaucratic reason, causing her to shift her field to meteorology subsequently becoming Deputy Director General of the Indian Meteorological Department.