Author of The Land of the Wilted Rose, of the The White Mahatma Quartet, Anand Ranganathan studied Chemistry at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to pursue a doctorate from Cambridge. A man of varied interests, he is researching dengue and tuberculosis at the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Delhi. We told you, varied interests!
It is difficult, although not impossible, to make this up, and all those who’ve come through to the other side of a Saturday afternoon nap after being force-fed two mounds of rajma-chawal would understand: simply this – dreams get bizarre. They transform from the hackneyed oh-I-should-send-that-guy-a-friend-request-when-I-wake-up, to the kind Freud would walk over coals to get you all softened up on. Hand-on-heart, then, I saw Charles Darwin all wrapped up in a coarse shawl, with aurora steaming off him, holding back the threshold of an auditorium entrance baying, “Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahan hain…?” Promise! He even cried “kahan hain” three times as in the original.
You see, it can all be traced back to that Friday, when after having watched Pyaasa on Loksabha TV (Parliament was not in session or was adjourned sine-die, can’t recall), I made the mistake of inviting a scientist friend over for coffee. He came grudgingly – his Maruti 800 needed wheel alignment – but then got all excited after a few noisy gulps of my legendary concoction. We discussed the state of the nation, the state of the nation’s science, and, inexplicably, the state Rakhi Sawant was in. Then, in keeping with the serious nature of our debate the talk veered towards The Theory of Evolution and Charles Darwin. My scientist friend, being an ardent devotee of Sai Baba, was of the opinion that men attained greatness only when the hair on their head turned unmanageable. In other words, great danger lurked behind great beards. “Look at Marx!” he cried. Towards Darwin, he was equally scathing. “Western concepts, all,” he said, “and each one of them nothing but a copy of all what Indian scientists and thinkers had left behind thousands of years ago!” The solitary exclamation mark doesn’t do justice to the force with which he delivered the sentence. Wiping his spittle from my face, I reached for his kurta sleeve to try and calm him down but he was unstoppable. “Just yesterday, do you know, I received this e-mail that informed me about how we had given the world Zero, Pythagoras’ theorem, surgery, theory of evolution, differential equation, antibiotics, helicopter, surface-to-surface missile, and” – here he paused for effect – “IVF.”
Two things in this digital world of ours are constant: a grieving Nigerian promising to transfer two million dollars into our bank account, and an NRI extolling the phenomenal achievements of our brown forefathers. The first is a scam, the second a part of our school curriculum. In short, whatever decent can be conjured up, has already been done-and-dusted by our very own bare-chested dhoti-clad existentialist wanderer of the forests. Electricity? Insulin jab? Super AmoLED? You don’t stand a chance! I don’t know who this fiendishly cunning NRI is but I suspect he might be that ubiquitous south Indian who wears a handlebar moustache (with a mole thrown in) and a printed dog-collared half-sleeve shirt, the kind Michael Phelps might mistake for a body-hugging swim suit. He used to work for NASA – as his e-mail claims – but now gets his siesta kicks from thair-sadam, the Dravidian stand-in for rajma-chawal. You can fight him only with your raised eyebrows and your pitiful sighs. You could have used a high-powered light-saber but you can’t because, well, his forefathers invented that too! He is the Darth Veda and the force is with him.
Worryingly, this strange, silly, absurd, rib-tickling force is now all pervasive and we are all enveloped by its dark side. It would be foolhardy to assume that the bug hasn’t yet snacked on the conscience keepers of our nation. It has. NRI achievements now occupy more column yards than the ubiquitous 4BHK Greater Noida ‘actual site photographs.’ The real estate is no longer the poster boy of his fourth cousin. Bobby Jindal is. Not content with usurping mankind’s achievements as our very own, we are now forever on the lookout for unsuspecting brown foreigners who we can bundle up in a sack, give a good scrubbing over, and bring out in the open again – as Indian. Goodness knows how many Nobel prizes we have ‘won’ thus! Foreign bankers, deans, R&B singers, economists, biologists, writers, hoteliers, sommeliers, chefs, even the Queen (the one with the moustache): all Indian. Americans? Indian. Europeans? Indian. Trinidadians? Indian! And trust the blasted French: to shamelessly nick our most famous mathematician away from us is one thing, to rename what used to be Sharma’s Last Theorem, is, frankly…
The mark of a nation, its peoples, is the confidence that it, that they, exude. A nation is seen to speak in an accent, it appears as a shade of a colour. But its culture, its achievements (if they are of any worth), transcend the man-made boundaries and speak in no accent, appear without any colour. But look at us! We hate our accents. We hate our colour. We, as a nation, are not comfortable; and our anxiety belies us. We want to be recognized as a great nation, a great people. And since we are not a great nation, since the overwhelming majority of us earn half-a-dollar a day, since we have the highest child mortality rates, the highest malnutrition rates, the highest incidence of tuberculosis, of hunger, of illiteracy, we scamper for the next best thing – that we were great once! And because, sadly, human history is witness to the fact that rarely has a nation extolled its greatness through a novel, a play, a film, or a painting (these virtues mere supplements to its already established greatness), but rather through the magnificent achievements of its chemistry, physics, biology, medicine and its mathematics, we venture to bombard unsuspecting mailboxes with the amazing achievements of the brown wizards of yore.
What exactly does “Indian” science mean? Who is an “Indian” scientist? Where is Nalanda now? Where is Taxila? Where’s that man who designed the sun temple? Where are the men and the women who painted the Ellora caves? No one knows their whereabouts, no one knows their names. Dust! Look ahead seven thousand years, still a tiny fraction of the age of our universe. What purpose would it serve a man then, to remember us, our achievements? “Ah!” he may say, with a lump in his throat, “a few of my brown forefathers sent a billion dollar satellite around the moon a few times, when with that same money they could have made the rest of my brown forefathers a little less ill, a little more literate, a little less malnourished, a little more educated, more aware, more happy, more safe, more secure, a little more alive!” But what would they have known, those fools! How else could they have held their heads high among the rest of their fellow men and women? How else could they have felt the pride that comes only through an ‘Indian’ satellite, an ‘Indian’ antibiotic, an ‘Indian’ helicopter?! Who knows? Maybe the Pyaasa song would survive seven thousand years, given that those from the dancing girls of the Indus Valley Civilization have.
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