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How about both? or Having (half) the cake and eating it too!

I remember hearing a story from Thenali Raman’s life. He was the wise man in the Court of Krishnna Deveraya. During his youth, he prays to Shakthi for long, Shakthi appears in front of him! She has two glasses in her two hands. She tells Thenali: “If you want more knowledge, take this one and if you want more money, take the other one”. Before Shakthi could wink, Thenali Raman grabs both and drinks them. Why do you have to choose? I have consciously tried not to choose between two things I love and have managed to have them both, may be less of each!

I went back to USA with my wife, within two weeks after our arranged marriage. When we got married, I had four years of cooking experience. Living in an apartment as a Ph. D. student, and not liking bread and cereal for breakfast, I used to cook most of the meals. My wife had three years working experience, as she started her work after her BTech and was staying home. When we were in USA, we did share the house hold duties. She liked cooking and I used to help in cutting vegetables and washing dishes. I ensured that the kitchen sink is clean when we went to bed every single day! Cockroaches used to be a serious problem. One day, she asked me: We are having Dosas for dinner, shall I make coconut or tomato chutney? I had the standard reply: Why not both? Some of my friends could not believe I would say this to a recently married wife 🙂

After coming to USA, my wife started doing MS in Computer Science. I was in the last year of Ph.D. When I completed, she still had close to a year. From August 1991-April 1992, I stayed back as a postdoc in the same group. My advisor was going on a sabbatical and he was also asking me to stay back and take care of the group, projects, etc… It turned out to be ideal, though it is generally not a good idea to continue as a postdoc in the same group. I got a postdoctoral offer from University of Illinois and we both moved to Urbana-Champaign. My wife could have applied for a job in Silicon Valley. She came with me to Urbana and worked for Wolfram Research Inc.

We were both certain about returning to India. We had our first daughter born in February 1994 and I had an offer from IIT Kanpur in June 1994. My wife resigned her job and we returned to Kanpur in November 1994. We decided to have another kid and thought it may be better to have one long break rather than two short breaks. We were blessed with our second daughter in 1996. Though we were both from big families, we could not have any one staying with us and help those days. I used to teach 13 hours a week and stay home most of the other time. I delayed submitting my first project to DST till 1996. One of the member in the committe asked me: Why did not you submit it last year? I told him, I had some personal reasons. I moved to IISc in May 1997 and the project was sanctioned only by the end of 1998 and funds released almost a year later. It is difficult to believe! I started my job in November 1994 and I got DST funds to build the microwave spectrometer in November 1999. Of course, I had students and they need to have their degree.

I started a very successful collaboration with Aerospace Engineering Department at IISc and my first student did his Ph. D. work in Aerospace Engineering in a field that was new to me and of course to him. Now this brings me to the major choice for young academics. To do independent work or to collaborate? The answer is: Why not both? One needs to develop an identity for oneself and also explore avenues for collaboration which can lead to synergistic output. It is possible. We built a pulsed nozzle Fourier transform microwave spectrometer at IPC and single pulse shock tube facilities at the Aerospace Engineering. Both involved time and unbelievable efforts. My promotion to Associate Professor position happened nearly 9 years after becoming an Assistant Professor. IISc usually has a six year period for evaluation, unlike IITs, which could give promotion to faculty members in 3-4 years. Of course, my 5 semesters at IIT Kanpur were not considered. I had no issue, as I needed that time to establish unique laboratories.

Having worked in IIT Kanpur for 5 semesters and taught several courses, I started teaching regularly in IISc. Another question for young academics: Teaching or Research! My answer is the same. Why not both? As Zare wrote in an Editorial in Current Science, anyone with a Ph. D., can become a good teacher with some effort (1). I had reviewed books for Current Science (2,3), I had served as Snack Parlor Secretary in our Faculty Club and I was the Amenities Committee Chairman. One can do teaching, research, and some administrative work as a young faculty member. All of these, without ignoring the family. I remember one incident very well. My wife had to go to Chennai with both our daughters. I could not take a break and go with them. I did not want to send them alone either. We went in Lal Bagh express which left Bangalore in the afternoon and reached Chennai in the night. My father in law came to take them home. I went to the other platform and took the night train back to Bangalore the next morning.

Another major question that young academics face is, basic or applied research. Should we do experiment or theory? The answer is the same. It is better to work on problems that interest you. We have done both basic and applied research in our group. We have done both experiments and computation. The current definition of hydrogen bond approved by the IUPAC is based on our initiative (4). We could put the most important noun and verb in Chemistry, carbon and bond, together like no one would have imagined (5). We could also show that a simple chromium coating could reduce drag for a rocket/missile (6). This work received unexpected coverage in both science magazines and newspapers, in India, Pakistan and the USA.

We have been told from the beginning: You can’t have the cake and eat it too! You have to give up something to get something. What we need to realize is that we can have some cake and eat it too. We should learn to make the choices with which we can live happily. If I had submitted the project to DST as soon as I returned, I may have been promoted earlier. If my wife had gone to silicon valley after her MS, her career could have progressed differently. After taking a 5 year break, she started her career and did very well in career as well. It would not come as a surprise to anyone that anytime she worked, her salary package was always significantly better than mine.

At every point in our life, we could have chosen to put family or career ahead of the other one. We consciously decided to find a balance. Never make one more important than other. Whether it is career or family, teaching or research, basic or applied research, coconut or tomato chutney, you can find a way to have them both! As everyone is different, the choices we made may not be the most appropriate for others. However, everyone can find a balance with which they can live happily. We win some and miss some, staying together is a blessing. May everyone who has read this for, and also others who may not read this, find the right balance in having the best, a career and a family can offer.

References:

  1. https://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/102/01/0009.pdf.
  2. https://www.currentscience.ac.in/Downloads/article_id_078_02_0202_0203_0.pdf
  3. https://www.currentscience.ac.in/Downloads/article_id_079_09_1392_1393_0.pdf
  4. E. Arunan, G. R. Desiraju, R. A. Klein, J. Sadlej, S. Scheiner, I. Alkorta, D. C. Clary, R. H. Crabtree, J. J. Dannenberg, P. Hobza, H. G. Kjaergaard, A. C. Legon, B. Mennucci and D. J. Nesbitt. Pure Appl. Chem. 83, 1619 (2011).
  5. Devendra Mani and E. Arunan Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 15, 14377-14383 (2013).
  6. V. Kulkarni, G. M. Hegde, G. Jagadeesh, E. Arunan and K. P. J. Reddy. Phys. Fluid, 20, 081703 (2008).
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Prakash Krishnaswami: An incredible human being and a close friend!

Prakash during a visit to Urbana, Illinois in 1995

It is 10 years since Prof. Prakash Krishnaswami, a distinguished faculty member at the Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Department at Kansas State University (KSU) departed us. Thinking about him and the last time we met him and his family, I am reminded of one of the quotes of Einstein, that I like very much: There are only two ways to live life: One is as though everything is a miracle and another is as though nothing is a miracle. Summer of 2007 was somewhat of a miracle in our life. I do not know the context of this quote. It also taught me that Einstein’s quote misses an important aspect of life. Life has misfortunes in addition to miracles. How did this summer of 2007 teach me about miracles and misfortunes? I need to rewind by 2 more decades.

In 1986, I moved to Manhattan, Kansas to start my Ph. D. in Chemistry. Manhattan is a small University town. When I left India, my mind was blank. I had no idea how my life would unwind in a foreign land. At that time, there were about 18000 students out of which, perhaps about 100 were from Indian sub-continent. There were a few faculty members from India living with family. It turned out I had a great time at Kansas State, thanks to an excellent group of people both in the University and in the little town. One prominent member of that group was Prakash. He had just married Sujatha and they both returned to Manhattan shortly before my arrival. We became very close friends. Most students going to Kansas State University those days would have enjoyed the hospitality of Prakash and Sujatha. Between 1986-92, when I was there, there was always some friend(s) with/without family staying at their home for days, months or years. They disproved the popular proverb in Tamil which says “medicine and guests are good only for 3 days” emphatically. In Tamil, it naturally sounds better ‘Vriundhum marundhum moonru naal (விருந்தும் மருந்தும் மூன்று நாள்)

I do not remember when we met first. Prakash was unusual, unassuming, empathetic and an abundantly talented individual. I learned that he had completed his B.Tech from IIT, Madras with flying colors. Somewhere down the line, he had also learned to fly. I thought of asking him to take me along during one of his flying session but never did that. After joining KSU as a faculty member, he registered for an MS in Mathematics and completed it. During 1986-90, we lived in Manhattan as close family. In 1990, I got married to Gomathi in Chennai and Prakash and Sujatha attended our wedding. Fortunately, they were visiting Chennai during that time. Our marriage was arranged by the families. Naturally, Gomathi had concerns about leaving home and traveling with a stranger to a foreign land. I remember telling her this: “We have great people all over the world”. Prakash and Sujatha were in my mind, along with many other friends from Manhattan.

During our stay in Manhattan, we used to drive away, often late in the night with friends to exotic locations. Prakash, Sujatha, me and Gomathi on one such trip with many other friends.

During 1990-91, I became the President of the India Students Association (it was not Indian and I never figured out why). Prakash was the Faculty Advisor. That year ISA expanded its activities nearly astronomically. In 1992, we went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We missed no opportunity to visit each other or travel together. It was also helped by a sabbatical Prakash took in Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago during that time. That was another eventful time. We had taken a friend from Urbana to Chicago and stayed with Prakash and Sujatha. That friend was Prof. Ramananthan, an eminent Mathematician from TIFR who was visiting UIUC. His life was a mix of miracles and misfortunes as well. I should write about that some time. By September 1994, Gomathi and I returned to India with our first daughter. Of course, before that we visited Manhattan staying at Prakash’s home for a few days. They had their only son Azad with them at that time.

After returning to India, we continued to be in touch and were lucky to have many opportunities to spend time together. Prakash did spend a semester each at IISc and at IIT Madras. After this, he was hopeful of returning to India for good. Unfortunately for India, that did not happen.

In May 2007, Prakash and family came to Bangalore and were staying with us. Prior to their visit, I had decided to attend the International Symposium on Shock Waves to be held in Göttingen, Germany during 15-20 July 2007. As I had an Indo-French project, which required me to visit the University of Rennes, France for 2 weeks that year, I thought of going to France just before the symposium, 1-14 July. I planned these two visits one day and returned home in the evening. Gomathi informed me that she had to go to Prague during June 25-30 for an NFC meeting representing Samsung. I was amazed at this incredible coincidence. I suggested to her that we go together and take both our daughters to Prague, Rennes and then Göttingen. Our second daughter was born in 1996 after we returned to India.

I had never gone on a sabbatical myself and that was the only time, I had taken my family with me. As we had two weeks in Rennes, and they don’t work during the weekend, we decided to go to Paris during the weekend 7-8 July. We decided to leave Rennes on 6th and return on 9th. On hearing this plan, Prakash told me that they were going to Italy during the first week of July for a conference. And they were planning to spend the same weekend in Paris! Shock wave symposium, NFC meeting and the conference Prakash attended were all decided by independent international bodies!

We could not believe this. We had both planned to spend the same weekend in Paris without knowing each others plan! We were pleasantly surprised and decided to spend the time in Paris together. It turned out we had booked hotels in different parts of Paris and were discussing about where to meet. When you want to meet someone in Paris, I thought the obvious choice would be to meet at the Eiffel Tower. We decided both our families will go to Eiffel tower in the evening of 6th July. Whoever reaches there first would wait on top of the tower for the other to join. We were nearing the entrance to the tower, when Prakash and family joined the queue. We waited for them to arrive and spend perhaps the best time of our lives going around Paris. A picture taken at the Eiffel tower with both our families reminds me of the miraculous trip we had in 2007. The time stamp has Indian Standard Time. Prakash is in his slipper, his usual footwear on all occasions.

It turned out that 9th July was the wedding anniversary for Prakash and Sujatha. We knew this and had packed a small gift for them. On 9th, as we were both getting ready to part ways, Prakash offered to give us a party. He was hesitant to reveal the reason and finally told us, “It is our wedding anniversary”! We smiled and gave them the small gift. Then, we took a train back to Rennes. Prakash and family were to take a flight next morning to the JFK airport New York. Prakash had done it often. Flying in to the east coast of the USA, visiting families and friends and driving from Manhattan, New York to Manhattan Kansas. Again after this trip, he started driving back to Kansas. When they were passing Pennsylvania, the misfortune struck us.

On the 9th July morning, we both visited, Sacré-Cœur, Paris. Anytime, I see a tower I like to climb to the top. Prakash and I were generally fit and never thought twice before exerting ourselves. We decided to climb up the Church building with our kids. I thought he looked more tired than I had ever seen him before. He had driven from Italy to Paris. We had been walking around Paris as if to utilize every minute we had in our hands. I thought, he may have been tired. I had no idea what was in store.

When I was back at the University of Rennes, I had an email from a common friend, another gem of a person, Youvaraj. Prakash had health problems and had to be hospitalized in Pennsylvania. He was diagnosed with Leukemia. I was stunned. We could not believe the miracle turning to misfortune so suddenly. Prakash survived till November 2008. He used this period to ensure that he would do everything that was needed for the survivors to lead a good life. He never complained about his health. He was always focused on what needs to be done. I managed to visit him during June 2008. That visit was another near miracle in itself. May be I will write about it on another occasion.

We live in a time of post-truth, over-coverage of negativity and many appear to have genuine concerns about the future of humanity and earth. I continue to remain positive. For I know, there are people like Prakash who never worry about themselves and do things for common good. In closing, let me share some part of an email I received from Prakash’s father C. S. Krishnaswami. “Prakash is always unforgettable and lives on to inspire his large circle of friends, relatives and students. He touched so many lives in his simple, selfless and self-effacing way. That is what we found out when we were in Manhattan. He himself never spoke of himself and of what he did.” I do not know if the father could ever tell this to his son. I do hope Prakash knew this! It is thanks to Prakash and many such noble souls, humanity and earth has survived for this long and I am sure they will continue to survive.


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Deepavali, for me, is the festival of sound!

“Unity in Diversity” Nehru knew India! “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain knew humans! I had written a blog on Deepavali earlier pointing out that it is celebrated in India on different days and different ways (1). Some of my friends were surprised to find that our family had idli and mutton on Deepavali days. Recently, The Hindu has an article about this tradition (2) and now it’s mainstream! Again, this year Tamil Nadu is celebrating Deepavali (naragachathurthasi) on 6th November and our Institute has a holiday on 7th November. Bangaloreans celebrate beween 6-8th November! Deepavali is most commonly known as the festival of light and for us, it was indeed a festival of sound.

At the cost of repetition, let me state a few things again. When I was young, a typical celebration of Deepavali started a month earlier. We buy new clothes and give it for stitching and visit the Taylor shop several times to ensure that the new dress was ready. We start saving money to buy more crackers. At home, parents would buy some crackers. Typically, women at home start preparing sweets and savories several days before Deepavali and stack up all vessels. One or two days before Deepavali, we go for buying crackers. Northeast monsoon may be bringing rain and the weather would be moist. It was important to keep the crackers in sun light when possible.

While most of the crackers were bought from the major suppliers ‘Anil’ and ‘Singam’ pattaasu (cracker in Tamil) , our savings would be used to buy what was called ‘Out’. This particular cracker was made in Madurai by Saurastrian families settled for centuries in the city. They migrated from Gujarat in stages and eventually settled in Madurai during Thirumalai Nayakkar’s period, according to one history note I read. They are called in Tamil as ‘pattu nool karar’, which means people who used silk thread to make sarees/clothes. I am not sure if Out is still made and sold. Out combines an ‘atom bomb’ and ‘a flower pot’ in one. It is cylindrical with an yellow paper cover about 4-6 cm tall and 1-2 cm diameter. There is no thread that is visible to light the cracker and run away. One needs to open the paper cover on top and the gun powder would be visible. It should be lighted. It would start the ‘flower part’ action soon and you run away. Within a few seconds, the ‘atom bomb’ will blast off.

Other crackers had interesting names. ‘Seeni vedi’ is the mildest cracker and it is small with a red cover. Vedi is the name for the crackers that make sound, in Tamil. ‘Kuruvi vedi’ (Kuruvi = sparrow) was slightly bigger and louder. Then we had Lakshmi vedi/Meenakshi vedi and they were much louder. All these crackers would have a black thread with white paper cover. This cover should be removed to light the dark thread and it spreads slowly giving one a little more time to run. ‘Seeni vedis’ are used in making multiple threaded crackers. When I was young, I used to see 50, 100 or 200 combined having a common thread running in the centre, with the crackers lined up on both sides. As I was growing and our economy grew, I started seeing 5000 and 10000walas! I suppose the ‘walas’ come from Hindi. These crackers come as a role and when you unwind them they could cover 10s of meter length and it could cover a significant part of a street one lives in. The bursting continues for several minutes and most have their hands covering the ears!

We also had other crackers that give out only light such as flower pots, chakras and colorful match sticks (mathaapu in Tamil), rockets that fly off and produce colorful lights and/or sounds. I would not be surprised if we have hundreds of such crackers that produce sound and light of varying magnitude. Deepavali was indeed a festival of sound in Tamil Nadu. As I had mentioned, the festival of light comes in the next Tamil Month, Karthigai. All house holds keep lamps at the doors throughout this month. On the full moon day of this month, Karthigai Deepam is a major festival. Lamps will be lit throughout the house and surrounding. Thiruvannamalai celebrates this as a city festival and it is worth a visit. The whole city, temple and the hills have lamps lit synchronously at 6 PM and it is an incredible sight.

Over the last few years, there have been serious concerns expressed about pollution during Deepavali. Both noise and smoke pollution peak on this day in most parts of India. It has attracted world wide attention and there have been several scientific papers published based on pollution levels following Deepavali. I remember, Science had published a paper too. It may be a good way to get into Science, as we know pollution would be high and international press would be keen to cover it. The title of a recent paper perhaps summarizes the issue succinctly: “Short term introduction of pollutants into the atmosphere at a location in the Brahmaputra Basin: A case study” (3). This does not sound dramatic enough for Science or Nature and so is published in a lower impact Journal. We really need to worry about many other things that we do which cause more permanent damage to our earth and environment. A responsible individual or society or nation should not do anything that could cause serious problems to the only planet we have for life. However, I find the oppositions to crackers during Deepavali as an extreme reaction, perhaps motivated by a hidden agenda.

Don’t we have problems with fire crackers? Yes we do. Some of them are too loud. Many of them need safety precautions that we have not bothered to learn or practice. Several accidents happen on the day of Deepavali and some children lose their eye sight. Crackers were being stored and sold from many places without any concern for safety. This is a universal problem in India and is not limited to Deepavali. The train accident that happened on the day of Vijaya Dasami cannot lead to a ban on the celebration. Every citizen, administrator, organizer, municipality, town corporations, State and Central Governments have to take safety with all seriousness.

There have been accusations of child labor involved in making fire crackers. We really need to regulate the production, distribution and use of fire crackers. However, I do not think some elites can decide that crackers should be banned and convince the Supreme Court to do so. The recent news about banning crackers traditionally made, even while allowing ‘green crackers’, does indeed raise suspicions about the real agenda (4). There are no green crackers. As I had written earlier about the ban on Jallikattu, a few elites who think they know what is good for everyone, should not be allowed to make decisions for everyone. We do need regulations and not a ban on crackers. Have a great Deepavali, wherever and whenever you celebrate. Ensure that crackers, if used, are used with adequate precautions. Let me wish you all again with a beautiful picture taken from my OnePlus6 camera. IISc students light lamps in front of our Main Building just after the Deepavali Mela celebrated by the IISc Family and Friends!

  1. https://earunan.org/2015/11/05/hinduism-is-not-a-way-of-life-hindus-celebrate-deepavali-on-different-days-and-yes-some-hindus-eat-beef/
  2. https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/early-morning-conversations-with-idli/article25400846.ece.
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1309104215302300
  4. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/green-crackers-make-sivakasi-see-red/article25406861.ece?homepage=trueNEERI&fbclid=IwAR1rcLoclKFYJAKFuD1tA7R2mJ807yZyB3qVzJKrT7nDS2am0Fz15UWoQPQ
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Indians Helped Nehru and Raman Make Favoritism and Nepotism as Accepted Methods! And it is time we undo this!

Nehru and Raman represent two ends of Indians. In short, Nehru was promoted by the system (powers that be) and Raman was self-made and supported by some who wanted to promote Science. I started thinking about these two eminent personalities in 20th Century India for various reasons. Swarajya had published an article claiming Raman had a better vision for Science than Nehru. It was too biased and verifiable facts were left out. I wrote a blog countering that (1). I also wrote an editorial in Current Science a few months ago, pointing out conflict of interest has affected Indian Science (2). That was appreciated by many, while upsetting and angering some (3-5). I continued my thinking about these two leaders and share my views in this blog.

Nehru, Jawaharlal our first Prime Minsiter, was the son of Motilal Nehru who was very influential in Congress. Motilal was the President of Congress twice, in 1919-20 and 1928-29. In 1929, Jawaharlal succeeded Motilal, not because he was elected but because, the system favored him. Wikipedia entry on Motilal Nehru says the following: “it greatly pleased Motilal and Nehru family admirers to see the son take over from his father” (6).  In 1946, this continued and Gandhi pointed his finger at Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister, even though the Congress had elected Sardar Patel. Today, there are some who believe Patel would have been better as the first Prime Minister of India (7) and there are others who do not agree with this (8). One thing everyone agrees and knows is that Nehru was not elected but favored. “Gandhi introduced the concept of forced decisions by the so-called ‘high-commands’ that usually means overruling state units.”

It is easy to comment about what was right and wrong in hindsight. The fact is that Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India and he was elected by the people time and again until he passed away in 1964. Unlike, what some doomsayers predicted, India survived as a democracy through his life and till today.

C. V. Raman on the other hand comes from a family of modest means. His father Chandrasekhara Iyer was progressive and ensured that his sons got ‘English’ education (9). Raman had once mentioned “I was born with a copper spoon in my mouth and my father had a salary of ten rupees a month”. Raman’s father was the first in the family to get ‘English’ education and became a school teacher. Raman was a child prodigy of sorts getting his BA when he was 15 winning gold medals in English and Physics, from the Presidency College, Madras (now Chennai).  He got his MS when he was 18 and had already published a paper in Philosophical Magazine (London), though Presidency college had focused only on teaching and had no history of research. As may have been typical of the educated youth in those days, he cleared the Indian Civil Service exam. He went to Calcutta in 1907, barely 19 years old, to join the Finance Department as an Assistant Accountant General. That Raman would come back to Science was helped by Dr. Mahendra Lal Sircar, who established the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science in 1876 itself. Sircar died in 1904 and was saddened to see the Institution reduced to dusty rooms and unused laboratories. His hope that some young man would step in and make IACS a great institution was proved right by Raman, three years later. He worked on research in his spare time without any financial support and gave up his job and accepted a Professorship with a salary five times less at the University of Calcutta. He went on to become the first Nobel laureate in Physics from the East and did not stop research until 1970, when he passed away in Bangalore.

When Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in 1964, Lal Bahadur Sastry became the Prime Minister of India briefly. After this, Nehru’s daughter, Indira became the Prime Minister. She had made her last name Gandhi, though neither the father nor her husband had that name. And as they say, the rest is history. Jawaharlal succeeded Motilal as the President of Congress in 1929.  Indira did not succeed Jawaharlal. I have read about a ‘Kamaraj plan’ that propelled Indira Gandhi to be the leader of Congress and Prime Minister of India. I often wondered why Kamaraj did this. Kamaraj was a tall leader of Congress, coming from Tamil Nadu. He is known to be ‘incorruptible’ and served as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. During his tenure, several developments happened and in parallel, free lunch was introduced in Schools to bring the poor kids to school. When he died, he had no savings or property and his mother stayed in a rented house. Why did Kamaraj favor Indira? Was he convinced the ‘royal blood’ is good for the Nation? Did he think the people of India would accept Nehru’s daughter? Did Nehru or Indira speak to Kamaraj and asked him to do this? That is quite possible and I do not know.  Kamaraj is known as the king maker, for making Indira the Prime Minister. The people did vote for her.  Both Nehru and Indira got the Congress Presidentship and Prime Ministership due to personal favors and they both won many elections. Does it mean Indians want dynasty or does it mean Indians do not mind dynasty and will vote for the favored sons and daughters, until they mess up? India did defeat Indira Gandhi after Emergency.

When Raman passed away in 1970, his son Radhakrishnan was appointed as the Director of Raman Research Institute (RRI) founded by Raman himself. Jayaraman, who authored the official biography of Raman (8), writes: “After Raman’s death, it was his wish that the Directorship of the Institute be offered to his son Radhakrishnan, a well-known Radio-Astronomer.” Radhakrishnan did not need to win any election and a small committee had to select him. Kamaraj’s role in this case was performed by Ramaseshan, Raman’s nephew. Jayaraman’s book mentions that Ramaseshan took an active role in carrying out Raman’s wishes.

What Motilal and Jawaharlal did became a precedence followed by all political parties in India, including those who were ideologically opposed to birth based privilege! One can see this in our neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Today, starting from a Prime Minister, to a Chief Minister, Minsiters, MPs/MLAs, City Mayors to a local Panchayat leaders, dynasty rules. While appointing a son/daughter as a Director of an Institution appears less likely today, what Raman did has been practiced in Institutions, Universities, Colleges and High School across India. If not a son, a student takes over! Favoritism and nepotism can be seen in many fields, where the control is with a select few.

In a democracy, political succession needs validation by the people. In academia, a committee’s view is enough. People who rise to power this way, can do well or fail. Nehru and Indira are admired by many in India and Radhakrishnan was loved by RRI. However, as I had asked in the Editorial, we would not know if some one else could have done a better job. Conflict of interest must be addressed in a transparent manner in every appointment. As I mentioned in the Editorial, even for a crow it’s chick shines as gold!

Would Patel becoming the first Prime Minister of India have changed how India grew? Throughout our history, I wonder if the right person was chosen only based on his/her credentials. Are we still cutting of the fingers of Ekalavya, so that Arjun can be the best archer, even if we miss out a Olympic medal? or Have we reached a stage, when the best archer will represent India in the world?

References:

  1. https://earunan.org/2018/03/04/jawaharlal-nehru-and-c-v-raman-nehrus-vision-is-more-important-for-science-in-india-not-ramans/
  2. E. Arunan, Curr. Sci., 2018, 114, 1385–1386. http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/114/07/1385.pdf
  3. Subrahmanyan, R., Curr. Sci., 2018, 115(2), 193.
  4. Swarup, G., Curr. Sci., 2018, 115(3), 369.
  5. A. Gupta et al. Curr. Sci. 2018 115(6), 1020
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motilal_Nehru Accessed on 9th October 2018.
  7. https://www.indiatvnews.com/politics/national/why-gandhi-opted-for-nehru-and-not-sardar-patel-for-pm-6689.html?page=3
  8. https://herald.dawn.com/news/1153825
  9. A. Jayaraman, C. V. Raman, A Memoir, Indian Academy of Sciences, 2017.
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Indian Institute of Science, Uncategorized

Faculty Recruitment in Institutions with Emphasis on Teaching and Research!

I have been planning to write on this topic for sometime and finally the Editorial published in Current Science dated 10 July 2018 triggered me (1). I wanted to write this as there had been a huge response to another editorial I wrote three months ago on conflict of interest in Indian Science (2). I had written some other editorials and several comments in Current Science (3) and these have attracted comments from a few with similar views, mostly from the Academia. However, the Editorial on Conflict of Interest elicited applaud from many and anger from some, in the academia. Many appreciated this for speaking the truth. What surprised me was that this Editorial was also covered by some news media, http://www.dailyo.in (4). Dinesh Sharma titled the news as ‘How conflict of interest is murdering Indian Science’.  I was worried about the news  coverage of academic matters, given that news has to be sensational. Indian Science is alive. Of course, it is not performing to its potential, which is perhaps true for many things in India. Conflict of interest is certainly a factor that is affecting it.

Another unusual comment I had for my editorial follows: “pl do not become a knight in shining armour. The matters are nuanced. You have a large following. They should not go tilting at all the wind mills”. Though, I had disagreed with this comment at that time, I do share some worries. In fact, Saibal Gupta has articulated my worries well in his editorial. (1) His editorial is about ranking Institutions and how all the various numerical indices may not be able to identify great faculty candidates. He goes on to say: “What might the solution be? This is a difficult one, as it involves the ability, confidence and wisdom of our faculty selectors to be able to look beyond ‘numbers’. For reasons not entirely academic, and we must admit, our own transgressions over time, academic decisions that do not conform to the ‘number’ game have become legally open to challenge, and can easily become fodder for a news-hungry media that is ‘looking’ for evidence of academic corruption. We need to convince ourselves that there is space for admitting people who we recognize as good in the fundamentals, and who we believe would be able to think ‘differently’.”

There has been some ‘transgressions’ as Gupta points out and there have been clear cases of conflict of interest as I pointed out. However, one should not forget the fact that many institutions, in particular, IITs and IISc, have sustained quality for many decades. This would not have been possible if the whole system was corrupt. I do believe that there is always room for improvement and perfection would remain a goal, that is never attained. On the other hand, I have also seen that the perception of corruption in India, in every field, may be far higher than the real corruption.  Anyone who is not selected may conclude, there is corruption everywhere. Obviously that number would be large. We do have honest people in every system and India has been surviving and growing thanks to the tireless work of many such people.

I wanted to share with everyone interested some information about how a faculty member is selected. I have been directly involved in this for about a decade now. A committee looks at all the applications and decide whether or not to consider the applicant further. There are many reasons why an application may not be considered further. Our Department does not like to inbreed i.e. none of our Ph. D. students are generally considered for faculty positions in our Department. There are other Departments in IISc and also other Institutions, that may not share our view. Another reason a candidate may not be considered is because the Department may not be looking at some research areas at that point in time. If for example, one theoretical chemist was hired recently, and the Department is not keen on hiring another theoretical chemist, applicants record would not matter. The number of publications, impact factor, number of citations and h-index, none of them may count.  If the research area of the candidate is considered to have significant overlap with that of an existing faculty  member, not just the recently hired ones, that applicant is unlikely to be hired as well.

At any point in time, we may like to hire faculty members in some areas. We do look at the candidate’s record in terms of past publications and future research plan. We do not necessarily go by the number of publications, impact factors of the Journals in which they are published and citations. Particularly, in my field, for example, the Journal of Chemical Physics, has a good reputation though it may have a lower impact factor than the Journal of American Chemical Society or Angewandte Chemie. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that only a small number of papers dealing with physical chemistry/chemical physics are published in these ‘general chemistry’ Journals. Even among the few papers appearing in these Journals (and also the ‘general science Journals like Science and Nature), most have dramatic conclusions about topics that have huge appeal to chemists/scientists. I can cite two examples that I am aware of. In 2013, Science published a paper on ‘visualizing hydrogen bonds’ and the authors were from Physics and Chemistry Departments (5). It was covered in all magazines and I wrote a ‘Research News’ in Current Science as well (6). Later on a more detailed study questioning this interpretation was published in Physical Review Journals. I can only guess Science refused to publish them. (7) That is only for the experts.

Somewhat coincidentally, in 2013 Science had published a paper on the first observation of the ‘Criegee intermediate’ which is very important in atmospheric chemistry (8). Science was not interested in publishing a more thorough work, which provided more accurate and thorough data and that was published in the Journal of Chemical Physics (9). This work was done by Y. P. Lee and coworkers from Taiwan. I was listening to him during the Asian Spectroscopy Conference in Taiwan in 2017. In his talk, he mentioned the following: “We have published several papers on this important intermediate and the significance of these papers is inversely related to the impact factor of the Journal in which these are published” Scientists know the difference and it is what we call a ‘peer evaluation’. This appears as ‘perception’ in World ranking . Peer evaluation, appearing as perception in these ranking should not be confused with what a commoner might think about perception. In judging Science, peer evaluation is not perfect, but there is nothing better.  I just heard from someone that UGC was planning to remove this ‘perception’ in national ranking, and I think it is a bad idea. Most from India may have heard about Vashishta, an ancient saint. To be certified as a ‘great saint’ by Vashishta was considered the greatest of honor a saint could get. In Tamil “வஷிஸ்டர் வாயாலே பிரம்மரிஷி’. Peer evaluation is just that.

Candidates who work on the same areas from Ph. D. to postdoc and have plans to continue in the same area are unlikely to be considered irrespective of the impact factors and citations. When we look at the postdoctoral work, we try to judge if there is any original contribution from the candidate. Candidates have to show and prove that they can think independently. That they can identify an important unsolved problem and know how to tackle it. Once a candidate is shortlisted, (s)he is invited to give a talk based on past work and also a talk on future research plan. All faculty members attend these talks and ask questions. Reference letters from referees suggested by the candidate and also some experts working in related area are sought. These letters play a crucial role. Often, faculty members who have supervised and/or worked with a candidate are the best judges and most provide an honest evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate. When I returned to India, I have had requests from students with whom I had no interaction, asking for a reference letter. I have always refused. These letters are not to be confused with ‘recommendation’ as commonly known in appointments in India. I cannot recommend a son’s friend or a friend’s son for any job. I can recommend my students and anyone else with whom I have worked based on my observations.

Candidate gets to meet with all faculty members and discuss for about 30 minutes with each, in addition to giving a one hour seminar and 30 minute research plan presentation. There has to be a nearly unanimous view among the faculty members about whether a candidate can be hired. There is very little room for corruption or influence in this affair, if all the faculty members express their opinion. Over the last decade or so, when I have been closely involved in this process, no one has ever tried to influence the selection of Assistant Professors. Is there a possibility that the collective judgement of the faculty members can go wrong? That probability is certainly not zero. However, to repeat myself, no one has tried to influence the selection of candidates for faculty positions in my experience.

References (all the weblinks were accessed on 13 July 2018):

    1. Saibal Gupta “Balancing teaching, research and institutional rankings” Current Science, Volume 115, pages 7-8 (2018). http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/115/01/0007.pdf
    2. E. Arunan “Is Indian Science Ready to Tackle Conflict of Interest Rationally?” Current Science, Volume 114, pages 1385-1386 (2018) http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/114/07/1385.pdf
    3. http://ipc.iisc.ac.in/~ea/current_science.html.
    4. https://www.dailyo.in/technology/science-in-india-cv-raman-current-science-indian-institute-of-science/story/1/23673.html
    5. Zhang, J., Chen, P., Yuan, B., Ji, W., Cheng, Z. and Qiu, X., Science, vol 342, issue 6158, pp 611-614, (2013). DOI:10.1126/science.1242603.
    6. E. Arunan “Hydrogen bond seen, halogen bond defined and carbon bond proposed: Intermolecular bonding, a field that is maturing” Current Science, vol 105, pp 892-894 (2013).
    7. https://pubpeer.com/publications/345962A4190EDDB394CDEFB056026E#fb16414.
    8.  Su, Yu-Te; Huang, Yu-Hsuan; Witek, Henryk A.; et al. SCIENCE   Volume: 340   Issue: 6129   Pages: 174-176(2013).
    9. Ting, Wei-Lun; Chang, Chun-Hung; Lee, Yu-Fang; et al. JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS   Volume: 141   Issue: 10     Article Number: 104308 (201)
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Indian Institute of Science, J N Tata, Uncategorized

J N Tata planned the Indian Institute of Science and Swami Vivekananda did not influence it!

It is 27th May again! In 1909 on this day, the vesting order for the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science was issued. Last year on this day, I had written a blog about this great institute and the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science and argued that they defined India before independence (1). One of the reasons was the choice in naming these institutions as Indian. Calcutta in the state of Bengal and Bangalore in the Mysore Kingdom built educational institutions named as ‘Indian’, many decades before India got independence. In Uttar Pradesh, Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University were established in the following decades. One can still see this difference in the view points of the people of eastern and southern India in comparison to the northern states. Often I feel that there is a huge communication gap between the people of these regions in India for historic and geographic reasons.

This blog is not about the names though. It is about whose vision led to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). It is become a popular myth that IISc resulted from a stimulating discussion between J N Tata and Swami Vivekananda while on a ship from Yokohama to Vancouver. A recent post in TheBetterIndia mentions that they met on 31 May in 1893 (2). If one is not careful in reading this post, the myth will resonate as a fact. I have written a few blogs about learning history and pointed out how difficult it is to learn history (3-5). I also believed in this myth and have written about this in my first blog on ‘Learning History’ (3) and also a recent editorial in Current Science focusing on conflict of interest (6). I had email discussions with two experts: Dr. Subbarayappa who authored a book on the history of Indian Institute of Science (7) and Prof. P. Balaram, our former Director, who ensured that we will have an Archives and Publications Cell at IISc. I have also been helped by Mr. Sharath Ahuja, who was taking care of the Archives and Publications Cell in the initial years. I am pleased to share the images from Mr. Ahuja, of the Tata statue at IISc and the commemorative stamp issued by the Government of India during our Centenary. You can see the replica of our Main Building held by Tata in his hands! It is a fitting statue for the founder in front of the iconic building shown in the stamp.

The letter written by J. N. Tata to Swami Vivekanada, on 23rd November 1898, offers the most important clue. This is reproduced in the book by Subbarayappa and also the TheBetterIndia portal. This is what Tata says at the beginning: “I trust, you remember me as a fellow- traveller on your voyage from Japan to Chicago. I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels.” Clearly, he does not mention about any discussion about the need for a research institution. On the other hand, Tata continues this sentence with: “I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of Research Institute of Science for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read”  (emphasis added).

Prof. Balaram gave an excellent talk on the history of the Indian Institute of Science at the National Centre for Biological Sciences recently. Thankfully his talk is available on YouTube (8). I would encourage anyone interested in the history of Indian Science in 20th Century, not just IISc, to listen to this talk spending the 90+ minutes! Prof. Balaram quotes from primary sources about J. N. Tata’s plans for Science and a research Institution in India years before he met Swami Vivekananda during his voyage to Chicago. Why then, Prof. Balaram decided to include Swami Vivekananda in the commemorative stamp during the centenary of IISc? His talk has some clues as to how this happened. If you are keen, you may listen to the talk.

Tata in his letter went on to say the following: “I am of opinion that if such a crusade in favour of an asceticism of this kind were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science, and the good name of our common country; and I know not who would make a more fitting general of such a campaign than Vivekananda.” Tata clearly wanted Swami Vivekananda to lead the Institute. In his book, Dr. Subbarayappa mentions that Swami Vivekananda’s reply to the letter by Tata could not be traced. However, an Editorial was published in April 1899 in Prabhuddha Bharata, a magazine started by Swami Vivekananda. The editorial is not signed and perhaps was written by the Swami. It starts with this sentence: “We are not aware if any project at once so opportune and so far reaching in its beneficent effects was ever mooted in India, as that of the post-graduate research University of Mr. Tata. The scheme grasps the vital point of weakness in our national well-being with a clearness of vision and tightness of grip, the masterliness of which is only equalled by the munificence of the gift which is ushered to the public”. The scanned image of the editorial can be seen below:

J N TATA AND SWAMI VIVEKANANDA001.jpg

Clearly, Swami Vivekananda recognizes IISc as an outcome of a project mooted by Tata and was very enthusiastic of this project. He was invited by Tata to be the first head of the Institution. However, it is clear that Indian Institute of Science was the result of J. N. Tata’s vision and this vision was not influenced by any discussion with Swami Vivekananda. J. N. Tata not only planned IISc, he also built steel and power plants to help India become what it is today. One cannot celebrate IISc or India, without celebrating the great J. N. Tata.

  1. https://earunan.org/2017/05/28/indian-institute-of-science-iisc-and-indian-association-for-cultivation-of-science-iacs-defined-india-before-independence/
  2. https://www.thebetterindia.com/127599/swami-vivekananda-jamsetji-tata-chicago-conference-iisc/
  3. https://earunan.org/2015/04/02/learning-history/
  4. https://earunan.org/2015/04/11/learning-history-ii-and-happy-new-year/
  5. https://earunan.org/2015/04/14/learning-history-3-birthday-new-year-and-so-on/
  6. E. Arunan, Curr. Sci. (Weblink: http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/114/07/1385.pdf )
  7. B. V. Subbarayappa “In Pursuit of Excellence: A History of The Indian Institute of Science” Tata-McGraw-Hill 1992.
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=horcEiRiHh0

 

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Indian Institute of Science, Uncategorized

Jawaharlal Nehru and C. V. Raman: Nehru’s vision is more important for Science in India, not Raman’s!

Some of my friends had forwarded articles from the Swarajya online magazine now and then and it was clear to me that the articles that were sent to me by my friends had an agenda and truth would be left out if the agenda would be in danger. So far, I never thought I should respond to them. It is impossible to respond to everything written whether you agree with them or not. Once in a while, I have posted my views in Facebook and rarely in Twitter.  A recent article published in Swarajya titled “The Double Life of CV Raman” (1), which claims to show how Indian Science should be funded, finally triggered me enough to write this blog. At least for those who care to know, some facts must be given. This article mentions Raman’s great contributions to physics for long and at the end mentions two incidents to prove Raman had a better vision than Nehru. I am surprised  that the author thought Raman had a vision and quotes these incidents to prove this.

The first incident is from a biography of Raman written by Uma Paramaeswaran. Raman criticized Nehru’s plans to start CSIR laboratories and insisted that funds should only be given to individual scientists and not for national laboratories. This is wrong on many counts. Also, this clearly shows how blind one can become when they are committed to an ideology. National Laboratories are not some ‘socialists plan’. Every country in this world irrespective of their ideology have them from the USA, France, UK to Russia and India. Supporting individual scientists and national laboratories are not an ‘either or’ choice! This should be obvious to anyone! Of course, not for some one whose only aim is to discredit Nehru.

Nehru not only formed CSIR laboratories with an objective to promote technology in India, but also started IITs to promote individual excellence where faculty and students pursued their blue-sky research. Our founding fathers had vision for the country and Raman and the author of this article do not. Under Nehru’s leadership, India not only started CSIR and IITs, ITIs were started. Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) was established in 1958. Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was established in 1962 and Nehru’s close aide and scientist Vikram Sarabhai headed it. This became ISRO and the rest is history. After blaming 7 decades of misrule, among the first things Modi did as the PM was to come to ISRO and watch the successful launch of Mangalyaan. Physical Research Laboratories, established under Department of Space, in Ahmedabad has not perhaps shined as the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Los Angeles, but it has provided crucial support to ISRO. Several state Universities have done outstanding research before and after independence. especially in the first three decades. I personally know Scientists from the National Aerospace Laboratory in Bangalore who have worked towards ISRO’s needs. As I had pointed out in another article, a recent DG-CSIR, who was consumed by the number game, had told some of them to stop doing that and do something that can be published. That’s certainly not Nehru’s fault.

ISRO has shined from the beginning. Are the CSIR and DRDO laboratories and state Universities doing great today? Most of them are not doing that well. Nehru started all of them and some have succeeded and many have failed. Blaming Nehru’s policies for the failure of some is obviously motivated by a political agenda. Did Raman have a different policy, which India could have followed and succeeded better in Science? He is quoted as shouting ‘fund me and individuals and don’t start CSIR’? At best, it sounds childish to me. This article does not describe any other policies of Raman that India could have followed. I doubt if Raman ever had any such policy. For those who would like to have a complete picture of Raman, I would suggest a book titled ‘Dispersed Radiance’ written by Abha Sur, a Ph. D. in Physical Chemistry who became a social scientist later (2)

Raman has been a typical example of how scientists in India have behaved in independent India as he seems to have mentioned. “He (Raman) felt Nehru had allowed Indian science to be hijacked by self-serving people who were given control of policy making.” Now let us look at some facts. Meghnad Saha invited Raman to work with Congress before Independence and help form scientific policies for an independent India. Raman refused and felt his job was to just work on his science and not help the future Government. To his credit, Raman kept to himself from the Government before and after Independence.  When he did not get what he wanted, he shouted.

The second incident quoted, based on a personal conversation with Raman’s grandson, is difficult for me to believe. The article mentions about “Raman ‘picking up a bust of Nehru that stood on the shelf and hurling to the ground’, breaking it into pieces”. Was he that immature and consumed by anger? It seems like many Indian scientists have followed this ‘throwing tantrums’ to achieve their goals. In a matured democratic society, it should not work. However I see this working even today in my own Institute. Some professors think, they are so great and they can shout and abuse anyone from a Director to a clerk. . Raman probably did it in his house. Some scientists today do it in the work place. They are following the bad example set by Raman.  In a civilized society, such an act should be a punishable offense!

Raman was invited to become the Director of the Indian Institute of Science and he started in 1933. He could not survive as the Director for long and he was asked to step down within a few years. There is a book on the history of our Institute titled ‘In pursuit of excellence’ written by Subbarayappa (3) and those who want to know his side of this episode can read the book. Irrespective of whose fault it is, Raman had to resign as the Director of IISc, much before India became Independent and Nehru became the Prime Minister. Many others have served as the Director of IISc admirably, including his successor, Prof. Jan Chandra Ghosh who took over in 1939. He excelled as the Director of IISc and was asked to start the first Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. He did that and then he was invited to be the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. When he was to leave IIT Kharagpur, the students went on strike asking him to stay. Raman did not have such quality as a leader of science. He was an individual who excelled in Science and I doubt if he ever had any policy for Science or Nation!

There was a controversy between Raman and Born as they had different views on lattice dynamics. This is almost typical and nothing unusual. What was unusual in this controversy is that Raman was unwilling to listen and discuss. He nearly became a believer and went to the extent of forcing his students to prove his theory right. At least during this episode, he did not seem to have promoted independent thinking which is essential in Science. He rejected papers having a different view when he was the Editor of Current Science. Eventually, his theory turned out to be incomplete if not incorrect. For Indians, hero worship is in the blood. For me, whether it is Nehru or Raman, learn about what all they did and come to your own conclusions. Be wary of authors like the ones who wrote in Swarajya claiming Raman’s plans are better than Nehru’s without even mentioning any such plans! It would be easy to spot them.

References:

  1. https://swarajyamag.com/amp/story/science%2Fthe-double-life-of-cv-raman (Accessed on 4 March 2018)
  2. Abha Sur, “Dispersed Radiance” Navayana Publishers (2011).
  3. B. V. Subbarayappa, “In pursuit of Excellence: History of the Indian Institute of Science” Tata McGraw-Hill Publications (1992)
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