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.