Sunday, January 19, 2014

Prof. Gautam Desiraju on doing science in India

In a short, interesting interview in Chemistry Views, Prof. Desiraju, a colleague at IISc, shares his views on a variety of things. What might be of interest to this blog's readers are his views on doing science in India; they appear in his answers at a couple of places. First, about his own career in India:

Tell us a bit about your career path, please.

My career path has been highly unusual. For a start, I did my Ph.D. in the US and returned to India in 1978 in search of a job. Most Indian students in the 1970s did the reverse. They took a masters or doctorate in India and then fled to the US. My American training at the University of Illinois has been an abiding strength throughout. For example, I had no doubt that I would not accept, even as I attempted my tentative steps in the world of chemistry, the highly feudal and paternalistic model for science that prevailed in India. It still lingers on, albeit flabby and inefficient. The very fact that I have gained international recognition even while working in and against this oligarchic set-up, reiterates that one can follow one’s convictions if taught the truth.

I dared to follow my dreams and this led to a new subject, crystal engineering. I have been very fortunate in that two ideas I tried to build up on, namely the concept of the weak hydrogen bond, and the concept of the supramolecular synthon, led to broad support and success.

The second excerpt is his answer to a question about chemistry research and education in India:

What is the current status of chemistry research and education in India?

There is not much to write home about. A country of our size, talent, and resources could have achieved much more in the last four or five decades. We have been crippled by a feudal administration cum research set-up, a pseudo-socialistic model of governance, and a lack of adherence to strict standards and accountability, basically an old boys’ network with a lot of technical incompetence thrown in. There is little interaction between academia and industry, or between chemistry on the one hand and chemical engineering, biology, and physics on the other. Domination of the research and education scene by a handful of aging individuals has led to stagnation in recent years.

On the brighter side, the opening up of educational avenues in regions of the country that had traditionally been deprived of these advantages in the past, through initiatives of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), has led to an expansion of the base of the educational pyramid. This can have only good consequences because an increase in the number of educated students must by definition, weaken the feudal apparatus that has controlled science in India for many years.


  1. Vijay said...

    Gautam, as always, pulls no punches. He's bluntly appreciative as well as critical. And, when he has a view, he readily accepts debating it. Couple more like him in each field with his quality of science, honesty, engagement, clear writing and talking: Then we are home!

  2. Vijay said...
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  4. M.A.Padmanabha Rao, PhD (AIIMS) said...

    M.A.Padmanabha Rao

    Projected true picture on breakthroughs and discoveries India has made in recent years in science.

    As daily news papers in Delhi say Good morning to readers, from last 16 years I have made habit of reading Times of India along with my first coffee, though I was reading Indian Express some years ago when Arun Shourie was its Editor. Times Trends page in TOI, dedicated for science has been my favorite one. However, years of reading its science columns unfolded the fact that its science editors prefer to project the progress made by foreign countries rather than projecting India’s progress. Somehow, for several years Indian Dailies and magazines of repute did not show any interest in knowing the latest developments made in science by native Indian scientists, when Internet provides all material necessary. By not projecting the correct picture of India Indian press has been making more damage than benefit to India.

    Lately, the article ‘Indian Nobel nominators let invites rot’ by Kounteya Sinha TNN in TOI on 1st January 2014 has created a false impression to Nobel Committee as if no native Indian has done any breakthrough in any branch of science.

    Challenging his views, I have projected what physics discoveries were done in India, but my comment did not make any impact as Sinha’s article has already done significant damage. As a result, science students in India carry an impression that no native Indian scientist has done any breakthrough after Sir C.V.Raman.

    Journalists and Jurists have the ability to shape India into a glorious nation, but they are unable to act as efficiently as expected. But after Dr. K.S. Jayraman left PTI as science editor some years ago, I did not come across any science editor in PTI or elsewhere taking interest in projecting India’s true progress in science.

    Through e-mail, I have sent a list of research papers published from India claiming nine fundamental discoveries to top scientists of Department of Science and Technology, Government of India but they did not care even acknowledging my mail.

    In October 2012, the Journal of Indian Science Congress has published a list of India scientists, recognizing India’s significant breakthroughs in science.

    In this regard, Department of Science and Technology and Scientific Advisory Board to P.M. on science headed by Dr.C.N.R.Rao should seek the advice of Indian science congress, and the famous Academies at Delhi, Allahabad and Bangalore for recommending a list of candidates for Padma class of awards and Bharat Ratna.

    India has many eminent scientists including Dr. M.S. Swaminathan in every field worthy to receive Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honor, but lately Bharat Ratna was awarded just to one Indian scientist, Dr. C.N.R. Rao for his contributions in chemistry. By not awarding Bharat Ratna to other deserving scientists in agricultural sciences, medicine, physics, mathematics, economics, engineering and other specialties, India has falsely projected to the International bodies that India failed to produce any noteworthy breakthroughs, discoveries or inventions all these years. Therefore, Government of India should seriously consider yearly recognition of deserving scientists in every field that helps projection of India’s true picture.