Physical and Mental Health

In my previous blog on fatalistic attitude found in our midst, there was a comment pointing out that the blog was ‘meandering with anecdotes’ and concluded that it was a mark of semi-educated politicians. If one thing I have not learned in life, that is to think and act like politicians, educated or not. Of course, that is in my view. I have always referred to K. Kamaraj, a former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, who was not ‘educated’ and did a lot to improve the state. I do share my experiences that may or may not be helpful or relatable to others. I am not an expert on physical or mental health. My experiences tell me some things that I like to share with anyone who is interested. These are my views as an individual and these do not represent the views of any other person or an Institution.

What causes a suicide? I have seen suicides happening in various circumstances all the time. A recent newspaper report points out a marginal increase in suicide in 2020 compared to 2019 (1). I wonder if there are as many reasons as the number of cases. If a suicide happens in an academic institutes like IISc, the immediate, and at times, wrong conclusion is academic pressure!

Our Institute has been in the news for wrong reasons in recent times. There were a few suicides in the last couple of years. Institute has taken many steps which include the following: i) Appointing more clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and other health care professionals who can stay with students in the hostel to help them; ii) Every Department/Unit has a committee that can help with anyone in stress; iii) Anyone with an IISc emailid can seek professional help online through the portal yourdost.com in confidence; iv) Anyone with an IISc id, can consult with several professional psychologists in Bangalore without having to take a referral from our health centre (in general, for consulting anyone outside, a referral is needed); and of course we do have a health centre which is more like a primary health centre that has been treating most of us with health related issues. In particular, during the second wave of Covid during April – June 2021, IISc decided not to send all students back home. Our health centre did a remarkable job of keeping our campus healthy. We did lose a few lives to Covid, some of them have been either retired or elderly relatives of one of us, staying out of campus. We lost two excellent staff who were in service, also staying out of campus. Even in these cases, our health centre was very helpful in providing all assistance. We also witnessed a few suicides on campus. In addition to all the steps taken, recently it appears that the administration has decided to change the ceiling fans to wall mounted fans as the ceiling fans had been used for suicides in some cases. Those who were aware of all these steps and those who didn’t know any of these, focused on the removal of ceiling fan to criticize and ridicule the Institute. Of course, everyone knows ceiling fans are not the cause for suicides. I think this step was not needed and this may not affect the suicide rate in any way. Those who are interested can look at this website for more information (2):

From the few recent cases in IISc, that I had some information about, academic pressure was not even one of the reasons. One student had completed his Ph.D. with flying colors and obtained a very good postdoctoral position in Europe. He left a note indicating that he would try to be a better son/brother in the next birth and committed suicide. Another student had depression. Healthcare professionals advised that he be given a break and sent back home. He was sent back home. It turned out that the depression was due to some situation at home. He pleaded for permission to return to the campus which was eventually given. He committed suicide after returning to the campus. For a news reporter, all of these appear as results of academic pressure cooker! Who has time for a detailed analysis and reporting! Besides, on matters like these, it is important to maintain confidentiality and Institute may not be able to share all the information it has.

Mental health is as important as physical health and there is no denying that. Most everyone writing about mental health, seems to indicate that there has been more awareness of mental health now than ever and it should be treated exactly like physical health. Failure, whether in an exam or a relationship can lead to depression. Experiencing a trauma can lead to depression as well. Experienced counselors can help individuals cope up with such failure/trauma. There are several lifestyle practices that affect physical health as well. As adults, it is our responsibility to take care of our health, physical or mental. Institutions like IISc, do have a primary health centre which can provide assistance for common illness. These are not multi-specialty hospitals with experts treating every organs. Doctors in our health centre refer patients needing more care to other hospitals in the city. Now everyone associated with IISc has some insurance and the Institute arranges for treatment without pay or reimbursement of some expenses depending on many things.

I had to interact with a few students who have complained about depression and anxiety. They were getting treatment from counselors. It appeared that for some of these students working in the laboratory caused depression and if they did not have to work they did not have depression. If someone’s health does not allow them to work in a laboratory without depression, it appears that they should find other things to do. Is Institution like IISc free of bullying? Is there any harassment of anyone based on their caste, gender, language, region, religion …? Institute does not allow any such harassment and it has established several mechanisms to counter this. Whether it is IISc or India or any other place in the world, there are rules and regulations. There can be a few individuals who may violate these. It is important in every system to be aware of such possibilities and take measures to prevent harassment and in cases where an individual is caught, take some action. IISc has several such mechanisms and people who were caught have been punished.

Another negative news from IISc in the recent times was about a faculty member being dismissed for sexual harassment. One other faculty member who was guilty was also suspended and this did not come in the news as much. In the much publicized case, it turned out that the action taken by the Institute on the faculty member was not just. He went to court and the court came down heavily on the Institute. Eventually, the faculty member was acquitted though the career of a very successful researcher was cut short. When institutions let media outrage cloud their visions, decisions like removing ceiling fans or firing a faculty member without careful investigation, are taken. In extreme cases, some innocents end up becoming victims. In my view, the reports about the recent suicides in IISc did not have any objective analysis. Blaming academic pressure as the reason for the few recent suicides is as ill-conceived as the plans to remove ceiling fans.

For physical health, there are rules. If anyone cannot work due to health reasons, they are entitled to some sick leave in addition to casual leave every year. If one needs to be away beyond these, faculty and staff could use earned leave or apply for leave without pay. Students are allowed to take 1 month leave. If their physical health does not allow them to attend classes/work in the laboratories beyond one month, there is an option of taking an entire semester off. This would of course delay their progress but gives them time to regain health. It appears that we do not have well laid out rules like these for mental health. It seems obvious that we follow the same rules as for physical health. Often, when someone says they are depressed or they have anxiety and so they cannot attend course or work in the laboratory, those in charge have difficulty in making a decision. While people who are suffering due to depression and anxiety need everyone’s support and care, they cannot be given a degree or a passing grade in an exam because of these reasons. Giving them salary or scholarship for extended periods would be violation of service rules. Whether a faculty, staff or a student has physical or mental health problems, Institute can provide some primary care. Beyond that it is for the individuals, and their family and friends to take care of the health problems. No organization can take care of anyone who needs constant care for a long period of time.


  1. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/24-6-per-cent-of-total-suicides-in-2020-by-daily-wage-workers-ncrb-data-shows-7596430/ Accessed on 25 December 2021.
  2. https://www.iisc.ac.in/academics/departments/center-for-counseling-and-support/ Accessed on 25 December 2021.

Is it the fatalistic attitude that is holding India back?

One thing that is observed about people from India is the aversion to take risk. I share my views on how an average Indian may have acquired this characteristics.

I had quoted this statement of Einstein in another blog earlier. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”. The way I interpret this quote, one can act like everything is in our hand or nothing is in our hand. Clearly, both these do appear like two extremes. However, a careful analysis reveals that, we have no choice but to act like everything is in our hands. To succeed in life, two things are important: hardwork and some luck. Luck is not in your hands and so one can only depend on hard work. One has to act like everything is in our hands. After all, fortune favors the brave.

From my experience, I have seen that, from our young age, we are told that without God nothing can happen. Let me narrate two stories I heard recently, one from a WhatsApp forward and another from a talk given by a popular speaker in Tamil Sugi Sivam. The WhatsApp forward I received is a story about a devotee in Sri Rangam. In the morning, after the prayers, they distribute ‘prasadam’, food with divine blessings. Often it is ven pongal, a delicious dish made of primarily rice and dhal. One devotee waits first in the queue everyday and demands many servings. Usually, everyone is given one serving. This creates a scene daily. God watches this saga of a faithful devotee everyday and decides to help. God finds out that the devotee is fighting in the queue for more servings every day as he has several kids to be fed and he does not have any income. God then appears in his dream and asks him not to worry about the prasadam. The devotee can go home after praying in the temple. As it was God’s wish, he does that the next day while still worrying about the food for kids. When he reaches home, he is surprised to see the Prasadam delivered at home with enough food for the whole family. When I read this story, I did not like it one bit. Here is an irresponsible devotee who gets married and produces many kids and does not support them. As he is a devotee, God ensures that his family is fed, as he prays. Stories like this should not have been written and shared to all groups. As long as you pray, things will happen for you. That’s a wrong lesson for humans.

Sugi Sivam narrated another story he heard about in one of his speeches. A barber, again a devotee, has an appointment with the king for giving him a hair cut. He walks to the palace well on time and finds some group praying on the way. He joins the prayer and sings and dances in praise of God. When the prayer is over, he realizes that he has missed the appointment. He gets worried and rushes to the palace. Instead of an angry King, he finds the King smiling, feeling good about a nice hair-cut. He thanks the barber for not only keeping his time but also for doing a good job. The barber then finds out that the God had gone to the palace looking like the barber and giving a hair cut to the King as the barber was in prayer. Sugi Sivam felt it was an awful story and I completely agree. Our Bhagavad Gita talks about doing one’s duty without worrying about the results. When did the narrative change to praying without doing one’s duty? Is it the result of assuming nothing is in our hands?

People in India know the importance of monsoon and most everyone who has some knowledge about India would know about the monsoon. A good monsoon helps the Government in power. Though climate modeling is an important area of Science today, predicting Indian monsoon is not so easy. I have heard a phrase ‘vaanam paartha boomi’ (வானம் பார்த்த பூமி) which describes a land mass that looks up to the skies for water. It describes the uncertainty. When Government can fall due to a bad monsoon, what can an individual do. I have heard about how the monsoon controls the economy in India. I was curious to find out how many countries in the world have monsoon. I have lived in the USA for about 8 years and I knew it did not have monsoon like in India. We live in a time when knowledge is in your fingertips, if not everything. I found a website which gave the list of countries having monsoon (1). It also gives the minimum and maximum rain fall during the monsoon. How does one make sense of it?

I decided to subtract the minimum rainfall from the maximum and divide it by the maximum. I thought this would give the uncertainty in the rainfall during monsoon. A number close to 0 would indicate that the average rainfall is what the country gets almost every year. A number close to 1 would indicate that the rainfall during the monsoon could vary widely. Numbers I found were revealing. Let me give a summary of the few countries. Data for 35 countries are available in the website referred above.

Average rain fall in inches

Name Minimum Maximum Uncertainty

Bangladesh 47 118 0.6

Bhutan 55 55 0.0

China 40 80 0.5

India 12 390 0.97

Japan 60 60 0.0

Mexico 23 39 0.41

Niger 9 30 0.7

Pakistan 16 16 0.0

Singapore 92 92 0.0

Sri Lanka 38 100 0.62

US (South) 12 12 0.0

While I did have some idea that the dependence on monsoon may have led most of us to be more fatalistic than the rest of the world, the numbers were stunning. The uncertainty for India is very close to 1 (0.97). That for Japan and U.S.A. (south) are zero. China has an uncertainty of 0.5, but the maximum rainfall it has 85 inches compared to 390 inches for India. This could very well affect the psyche of Indians and our thought processes. Let me compare the stories of Science Fiction movies to illustrate this further.

Back to the Future was a popular SciFi movie from the hollywood that was released in 1985. Michael J Fox was the hero and his life story is interesting in itself. The main point for this blog is that Christopher Lloyd acts as Dr Emmet Brown who creates the time-machine. There was no iffs and buts in the story about creating the time machine. A few years ago, one Tamil movie, titled 24 was based on time travel as well. It has one of my favorite heroes Suriya in a triple role. Father Suriya has been working hard to invent a time-machine. Firstly, he decides to put a limit of 24 hours (title) for the travel. One can see the fear the character has as imagined by the writer. Secondly, he does not discover the time-machine. The story has it that when Suriya was not watching, some wind blows and a leaf falls in to the reaction vessel and the time machine is created. Why can’t we even create something at least in stories, without chance or divine intervention? He is killed by his jealous and greedy younger brother, Suriya again, and the time-machine is lost. Son Suriya grows up as a watch mechanic. Again by two rare events the son gets hold of the time-travel Watch and its key. Both these events happen by chance without the son trying anything.

Another time travel movie came later with a title, Inru, Netru, Naalai (today, yesterday and tomorrow). This story has a time machine appearing from future and some guys getting hold of it and using it. The way the story ends, everything is put back as they were and life goes on without the demon of SciFi discoveries! Manirathnam brought out Navarasa, which had some good and mostly not so good and bad anthologies. (I did not like the Navarasa and each rasa mentioned with Hindi/Sanskrit words for the Tamil movie. Adbutha was a shocker for me and it took me a while to figure out, it was meant to be Arputham (அற்புதம்)). That apart, this story by Karthik Naren was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Inception and other movies. While one might appreciate the attempt to write and direct a movie such as this, the main character talks about astrology all of a sudden. Seems like, not only the people, even writers in India cannot imagine that everything is in our hands. All these three movies were disappointing in terms of the story lines.

We really cannot do much about the monsoon. We can certainly plan for good and bad monsoon years if we take control of our lives. I wish every Indian is taught to take care of themselves and do the best they can. For it to work, everyone should be able to see some progress as they work hard. This is where the society and country should do their roles. It seems that, birth still controls a lot in India. If every child can get equal opportunity to grow, in the next few generations, we can hope that more of us will depend less on God/Luck.

On a positive note, only recently I learned the phrase Que Sara Sara, and the song by the same title. I had known a song in Tamil that was inspired by this old song. I had not known about the original song earlier. Strangely, the original version from Italy has a mother telling her daughter that ‘what will be will be, the future is not ours to see’. (2) The Tamil adaption, with the same tune and almost similar lyrics had a twist. The mother tells her daughter: You will have a life as you desire (3)!

  1. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/which-countries-experience-monsoons.html
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pv1XlKpAUc
  3. https://youtu.be/zwi1TYepXEw

By flattening the earth, Covid-19 has highlighted the pyramids!

The year 2020 began like any other for me. Covid-19, as the name implies, was there already except we had no clue what was in store. I have heard about SARS in 2003, when the International Symposium on Shock Waves, to be held in Beijing, was postponed by a year. This reduced the time we had to organize the 25th International Symposium on Shock Waves in Bangalore in the year 2005. My collaborators from our Aerospace Engineering Department, Profs. KPJ Reddy and G. Jagadeesh played crucial roles in bringing this symposium to India for the first time and making it one of the best in the series. I did not read much about MERS but did read about Nipah virus in some parts of Kerala. During the first national lock down, I did see the Malayalam movie, Virus, which I would recommend to everyone. January and February were as busy as any other year, perhaps busier this year. A collaborator from UK was visiting these two months, I organized one and attended three symposia and had numerous travel, while teaching/attending a course.

In the first week of March, I heard some stories from colleagues who were traveling by air about the restrictions faced. After Kerala, Bangalore was beginning to have some cases. We had planned an in-house symposium (IPC Day) on 14th March, Saturday and IISc had planned the Court Meeting on 13th March 2020. I received an email on 10th March announcing that Court meeting was cancelled. Some students were celebrating holi during 9-10 March in our campus and many were beginning to worry about Covid. Some colleagues were suggesting that IPC day be postponed while many others, including me, thought we should go ahead with the meeting. As the concerns expressed by the few could not be ignored, IPC day was cancelled and the dinner we had planned for the 13th March was cancelled too. Many did feel at that time these were over-reactions. Though IPC day was cancelled, we had the Chemical Dynamics Group meeting on 14th March, in which several research groups participate. When we finished the meeting at 11 AM, Registrar’s email announcing the shutdown was there. IISc decided to ask all students to leave on 14th March and gave a two-day notice. I was glad we had cancelled IPC Day scheduled for 14th March. Campus community was upset and angry and it seemed to me that the Administration had enough reasons to shut down the campus.

IISc announced a two week shut down from 16th March with a 2 day notice. India announced a 3 week shutdown on 24th March with a 4 hour notice! Though some states had announced some restrictions by then, national shut down with a few hours notice appears to be a major blunder today. My reaction at that time was that it was a wise and bold decision. Three week shut down was extended by another two weeks. Since then lock down 3 and 4 happened and unlock down plans were announced. It is now 7 months. While several nations in the world are experiencing the second wave, India has a long wavelength and it is not clear if we have reached the peak of the first wave yet. It took more than 3 months for India to register 100,000 cases and we were having close to 100,000 every day until recently. The total number of cases is getting close to 7 million with more than a 100,000 dead!

In the early days, one of our neighbor lost her father to Covid and she could not go to the funeral. Her experience was horrifying as no one can be with the patient and relatives had a tough time paying last respect. Towards the end of June, one of my nephew caught Covid and he was admitted in the General Rajaji Hospital, Madurai. His experience was different. Many patients were staying in a hall and they were generally having a good time as most of them did not have any symptom. He was discharged after a week without having another test. (In the initial days, a patient had to be tested negative twice with a gap of 2 days before discharge). He did see a few cases of patients suddenly developing breathing problems and dying. Two weeks later, my father was taken to a hospital to check his chest congestion. Based on the CT Scan result, he was considered covid positive. His diagnosis happened when we were having PhD interviews online. To our shock, we could not get a bed for him in any hospital in Madurai. My brothers, niece and the nephew who had recovered from Covid were all trying their best to provide care for my father.

On the night of diagnosis based on CT scan results, he was admitted in the same ward in the General Hospital where my nephew was. However, in the two weeks, situation had become worse and there were no nurses or attenders available. A Doctor would visit once every day. One or two family members were staying with the patient in the SARI ward where many patients suspected of Covid were kept. Let me repeat. One or two attenders were staying with the patient in the ward, helping them. My brothers, nephew and niece took time and stayed with my father in the ward with only a mask and hand sanitizer. They were handling him, changing his diaper, giving him a tissue bath. My family is generally resourceful in Madurai and we could not get a hospital bed for my father at that time.

When we took him to the General hospital he was generally in good shape, except for the chest congestion, and asked ‘Why did you bring me to the hospital?”. He was tested for Covid on admission and the result came negative two days later. However, the next day after admission, he needed oxygen as his blood oxygen level reduced. My nephew’s experience in the ward helped in arranging an oxygen cylinder and it was not easy. During the three days he was there, he could be given oxygen continuously and a family member stayed awake to ensure that the mask was not accidentally removed by my father. My daughter, a Doctor, monitored my father over video calls and helped the others attending to him in person. After 3 days, we could get a bed in a private hospital and shifted him in an ambulance, continuing the oxygen supply. It was an ordeal that kept us worried. He was tested again and he was positive at that time. Once he was admitted in the private hospital room, it was like what one reads about Covid patient’s treatment. No one could visit him. Nurses and Doctors in PPE were caring for him. We could send a phone through an attender and talk to him the next day. He recovered in a week and was brought home after testing negative. He has both BP and sugar and takes tablets regularly. As his condition was critical, I applied for an ePass to travel to Madurai and it was denied.

Though his Covid condition was cured, he had some infections and pneumonia for which he needed treatment in a hospital. According to the regulations at that time, he had to be kept at home quarantine for 2 weeks before he could be taken to a hospital. Two weeks later, he was taken to a hospital where he was tested for Covid and kept in isolation until the result came negative again. He was moved to a room where an attender could stay with him as the treatment for infection and pneumonia continued. His condition looked critical and I applied for ePass again for travel to Madurai. Karnataka had relaxed all restrictions by then. Tamil Nadu needed an ePass and it was given for specific conditions such as medical emergency, death of a close relative, tender applications, and stranded returning home. I applied for medical emergency and it was rejected again.

Third time, I managed to get an ePass and drove to Madurai from Bangalore. By now, Karnataka regulations said that someone leaving the state and returning within 4 days, need not be quarantined. However, IISc had one week quarantine for anyone returning from another state. By now, I had stopped worrying about any logic in all these decisions. At that time, according to the regulations we followed, someone going to Mysore (about 150 km) could return and join work. Someone going to Hosur (about 40 km) had to be in quarantine on returning. I packed some food and drove non-stop to Madurai. I was tested before entering Madurai and my result came negative three days later. I stayed in the hospital with my father. He showed improvements, though his condition oscillated. I returned to the campus within 4 days. I drove straight to the Centenary Visitors House, where IISc had kept one wing for keeping the people in quarantine. Everyone was assumed to be a carrier during this time.

I stayed in 1 room for the whole week. IISc had made all arrangements and you could live on your own. One attender fully covered in PPE, would bring food three times a day and leave it at the door and ring the bell. Once I hear the bell, I come out and take the plate inside. Some attenders would move away from the door and wait until I picked up the food. With mask on, I used to thank them. Some attenders, would leave the food, ring the bell and walk back in a hurry. During this quarantine time, thanks to the nature of our work, I could continue my work. I also subscribed to Amazon prime and watched the Tamil movies ‘Thuruvangal 16 (16 directions)’ a very good crime thriller and ‘Baaram’ on Thalaikoothal (one way to put an end to an elderly patient, who is a burden (Baaram in Tamil) on the family). It was a disturbing movie. KD engira Karuppu Durai also covered this topic in a lighter vein and was positive. I like being positive under all circumstances. I watched Alex in Wonderland finally as well. Alex is a popular standup comedian, who had resigned his IT job in the Americas and returned to Chennai to pursue his interest. The show is based on Tamil film songs over 2-3 decades that I grew up with and I enjoyed watching this show.

If you had read this far, the contrast should have been stunning. My father, a Covid patient was kept in a general ward with family members staying with him as attenders in Madurai. In IISc, I was in quarantine being served food by attenders in PPE, though I had tested negative. First one was an inevitable consequence as the system could not handle the number of patients and the family members could not leave the patient unattended. Second one was the rule being followed at that time in IISc. During this period, there were a lot of incidents being covered in the print/social/visual media. In Kerala, a husband returning from abroad was not allowed in to the house by wife and her family. In Madurai, one old man jumped down to death as his family disowned him after becoming positive. One post in the social media lamented that Amitabh Bhachan and family could get admission immediately while some poor lady could not. How far removed from reality people could become? World has never been flat and I doubt if it ever will be. Scandinavian countries have achieved some level of equality, thanks to their small and more uniform population.

People all over the world, for one reason or other, disobeyed the orders/suggestions. Though, there have been talks about such a pandemic for many years now, when it finally arrived, no one was ready anywhere in the world. Africa seems to be handling it better than other parts of the world and it is likely to be due to the natural immunity. How long will this continue? I doubt if anyone knows. Spanish flu (originated in Ft. Riley, Kansas very close to Manhattan, Kansas where I did my Ph.D.) lasted two years and killed 10-20 % of those infected within a few days. Covid seems to be a milder threat and gives patients several days before the condition might become critical. If one is watchful and gets treated for the symptoms, the chances are that it is not fatal. The data as of yesterday, (from Worldometer website) show that “a total of 36,391,128 confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19 that originated from Wuhan, China, and a death toll of 1,060,443 deaths.” That is 2.9 %. The numbers in India show 6,832,988 cases and 105,554 deaths and that is 1.5 %. Somewhat coincidentally, both the numbers in the world and India show that 0.5 % of the population had become positive now. That is one in 200. I certainly know a lot more people, and in my circle it seems like this percentage is significantly more. This includes some who ventured out bravely and others who took all safety measures and isolated themselves until they caught Covid. My father survived and is recovering well. None of my relatives who took care of him turned positive. Stay safe.


Balance for the better: Empowering Women and Family!

This is a blog I started writing last year but did not complete. The recent birth anniversary of Periyar (17th September) and passing away of the second women to become a Supreme Court Judge in the USA, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (18th September) motivated me enough to complete it today. Ruth was shocked to learn that she was demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child in 1955. [1] She rose in her career and ensured to give judgements that protected working women and men.

I attended the Gordon Research Conference in Orange County, California in 2016 and Royal Australian Chemical Institute’s Physical Chemistry Conference in Perth, Australia in 2019. Both these events had a special session to discuss about empowering women in Science. The International Advisory Committee members of the International Symposium in Shock Waves got emails from a group pointing out that there was no women in the list of plenary speakers in 2019! Compare this to what was happening during the 1930s in Tamil Nadu. E V Ramasamy organized self-respect conferences [2] all over Tamil Nadu and in most of these conferences women were the lead speakers! During one of this meeting, he was given the title Periyar, a noble human. His views on feminism might appear too liberal even to the left-wing liberals of today. [3] Often it becomes important to pull the pendulum to the other extreme to bring balance.

On 6th April 2019, we had a panel discussion on “Balance for the better: Empowering Women” at the Inorganic and Physical Chemistry Department, Indian Institute of Science. I had become the Chair during October 2018. We have an Al(l)Chemist’s Society in the Department, which is managed by the third year Ph. D. students. They take care of the ‘extra-curricular activities’ for the Department and arrange several of them throughout the year. On 19th January 2019, we had a panel discussion on ‘Social Responsibilities of Science/Scientists’. I should write about it some time too. I have been planning to write about this meeting for some time and could not do it yet. The decision in May 2019 of the Senate in Alabama to ban all abortions and the attack on Vidyasagar’s statue in Kolkata around that time pushed me to start the blog in May 2019, but did not complete it.

Secretary of Al(l)Chemist’s Society, Ms. Rinkumoni, wanted to have one lecture arranged on 8th March, which happens to be the International Women’s day.

The President of Al(l)Chemist’s Club is Dr. K. Geetharani, first woman faculty in our Chemical Sciences Division since the early 1990s. Their first choice for the speaker was Prof. Rohini Godbole, an honorary Professor in the Center for High Energy Physics at IISc now and she also received Padmashri award in 2019. She has been an outstanding physicist and has also championed the cause of Women in India and all over the world. We could not do it on 8th March as Prof. Godbole had other commitments. I was suggesting to the Al(l)Chemist’s society that we could have a panel discussion on this important topic. April 6th was chosen, as that was when Prof. Godbole and the other panelists were all available. (This happens to be the birthday for my wife and an aunt who was staying with us when we were both working full time. I was delighted with this coincidence but did not tell about this in the meeting ). We had three other professionals in the panel discussion. They were: Prof. Dipshikha Chakravortty, Professor at the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology and also Chair of the Internal Committee Against Sexual Harassment (ICASH) at IISc; Dr. Nirmala Rajendran, one of the Medical Officers in our Health Center, also a member of ICASH; and an alumnus of our Department currently working in an Industry, who does not want to be named.

Prof. Godbole started the day with a talk on Women in STEM. She started by informing the audience that she had given talks on this topic all over the world, except in IISc, in a meeting she did not organize. It was indeed a surprise and I was glad that our Department did it. She brought out an important point. It is not just that women need to do Science. Equally Science needs women. So, she felt the title ‘Empowering women’ itself is misleading. I was somewhat relieved that Al(l)Chemist’s added ‘Balance for the better’ to the title I had suggested. All over the world, it is being recognized that diversity in work place does improve the performance of an organization.

Dr. Nirmala Rajendran spoke about health issues of working women. One important suggestion she gave was that women should not hesitate in asking others to contribute in sharing the workload at home. Often working women put so much burden on themselves and feel guilty of doing less both at work and home and it is important to avoid this guilt trap. Dr. Nirmala gave important tips for women about how to stay healthy in a professional career. Our Department does have a significant number of women among our Ph.D. research scholars and her talk would have been useful.

Prof. Dipshikha Chkaravortty spoke about the Institute Committee Against Sexual Harassment (ICASH) and informed the students about what one could do when facing sexual harassment in the lab. A teacher-student relationship is unequal and it is important that the teacher does not exploit this. Having power and not misusing it should really be the norm. However, misuse happens often and suffering in silence becomes the norm. Every system is trying to bring in rules and regulations to stop sexual harassment. Our Institute has established ICASH and Prof. Chakravortty discussed about the committee’s efforts to stop sexual harassment in the campus. I was shocked to read a statement from Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her Wikipedia page [2]: She also reflected on her own experiences with gender discrimination and sexual harassment, including a time when a chemistry professor at Cornell unsuccessfully attempted to trade her exam answers for sex. She had mentioned this during the Metoo movement expressing her support recently.

The fourth speaker was an alumnus from our Department working in an industry after some time in academia. I wish she could have continued in academia and realized she had to quit for personal reasons. It rarely happens to men. During her talk, I realized how important it is to have representation from all sections before making a decision. In the Department she served, there was a discussion about when to have a faculty meeting to discuss budget. Based on overwhelming choice, not a simple majority, it was decided to have this meeting in late evenings, 7 – 8 PM. I can relate to this decision in a new Institute trying to establish it’s name. However, she could rarely attend this meeting having a young kid to take care off. She did point out about a male colleague who had this same problem as his wife was working in another town and he had to take care of their kid after office hours. This is precisely why we need participatory democracy and rule of law ensuring that minority rights are protected. While a majority is enough to form a Government, decisions affecting a group cannot be made without hearing their opinion.

After the four lectures, we had a panel discussion involving all the participants, moderated by Rinkumoni. Four speakers served as panel members. The discussion was lively. It was pre-covid days and we did not record the proceedings. I wish we had. As I had mentioned above, when forcing a required change, one sees that the pendulum goes to the other extreme. I added family to the title today. Peiryar pointed out that family is oppressive to women. I have seen this to be true all over the world. I also feel family is a very important small unit for humans. While ensuring that women are not suppressed and harassed is extremely important, throwing the family structure would be similar to throwing the baby with hot water.

Ultimately, it is important for humans to find the right balance and act towards personal and common good. Both Periyar and Ambedkar, who lived their lives fighting for social causes, married much younger women when they were really old. These marriages were both based on mutual consent and for me they do not invalidate their work. As I get closer to 60, I feel it is important to have someone to share your life with. An Abdul Kalam or an Anna Mani could remain single and have a long and successful professional career and life. For most ordinary human beings, like me, it is good to have someone to call as a family. It is possible to have one where every member can pursue their interest and find a way to balance their individual and collective growth. That is indeed balance for the better.


  1. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg Accessed on 20 September 2020.
  2. S. Anandi, Women’s question in the Dravidian movement 1925-1948, Social Scientist Vol. 19, No. 5/6 (May – Jun., 1991), pp. 24-41 https://www.jstor.org/stable/3517871
  3. Periyar feminism, Ed. K. Veeramani, 2010. Periyar Maniammai University publication.


Science fiction in an old Tamil film lyric: Subtle Patriarchy in Promotion of Science!

This blog is written on 30th May 2020, as the number of Corona affected cases in India is increasing steadily, with the number of affected approaching 175000 and the number of deaths approaching 5000. It does not seem to have stopped anything else. We have a standoff between China and India. An unarmed African American was brutally killed by a police officer in front of another officer and some public watching around, with the street cameras recording the gory incident. India is facing the worst migration crisis since the partition. There have been a focus on Science with some pointing out Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel being a scientist and suggesting that Scientists should take part in policy making, if not in politics. May be a good time to write a blog to promote Science. In particular, one of the lines in the lyric says ‘We need to make an instrument that will help our kids learn sitting at home, without having to go to schools’. This is happening now. But, why on patriarchy now? Why not? Nandita Das has released a short movie on domestic violence in particular during the lock down (1).

One of my favorite comedians from Tamil films is N. S. Krishnan (NSK). His wife T. A. Madhuram (TAM) and he formed a good couple in life and movies. When they were both on travel to Pune from Madras to act together for the first time in a film ‘Vasanthasena’, NSK fell in love and they were married (2). NSK did not tell TAM that he was already married and his wife, Nagammal, was in Nager Coil at that time. It was not unusual those days for some one like NSK to have two wives. The NSK-TAM couple was a big draw in movies and they enjoyed fame and money like those of the hero/heroines in those days. As Randor Guy says in the the Hindu article “People loved their brand of comedy, satire, irony and social relevance.” The Wikipedia page on NSK says “He was a Gandhian, patriot and philanthropist, yet a controversial figure”. He was an active member of Dravidian movement, which takes pride about their role in empowering women. Both NSK and TAM had a very successful professional career in movies. As it was common those days, they both were good singers and all the songs in their movies were sung by them.

One of the popular songs by this couple came in a movie called ‘Nallathambi’ written by Udumalai Narayana Kavi. I have mentioned the lyricist in another blog earlier (3). The complete lyric in Tamil can be seen in a blog called Dhool Lyrics (4). As with many of their songs, this is a duet as well, sung by a husband and wife in the movie. Husband introduces Science to his wife and sings about the advantages of Science. Let me offer a translation, more as a prose, below:

Husband to wife: Aa, come, sit down. I am going to promote Science and invite the Westerners for a feast and show them what I have done. Will undo the plows used in Thanjavur and learn all Science thoroughly. I will find a way to produce a kid without a husband and wife. I will ensure that ignorance and superstition are demolished. I will use atomic energy to ensure that people live longer. Unlike the leaders from other Nations who have used atomic energy to kill people and destroy cities, I will use it to demolish ignorance and superstition and also to help in long and healthy life for humans.

Not only that, I will find ways to grow dresses for men and women from the cotton plant directly. I will find ways to make the old people look and live like young. I will show what my hands can do and create wind and rain. I will create a motor and fix it in a bullock cart and take your mother in that. Will take you in that as well and show how it runs.

Wife: Sounds great, but what are you going to do for our home?

Husband: For our home, tell me what do you need?

Wife: I need machines to remove the husk in rice, to grind rice/dal for making idli/dosa, and for pumping water. I need a machine as well to cook all day. I would like to have a water tap in our back yard and an air conditioner in our home. I need an instrument to help kids learn from home without having to go to school.

Husband: Is that all?

Wife: I forgot one: I need a machine which on clicking a button should serve idli and coffee on our table. I need fan above our bed and a machine to show time.

Husband: You mad lady, look at the women in our country. They do all the work at home. There are some women, who look at those from the West and long to have a life like them. Our women go to forest, do field work, work at home and eat rice. The women who want to copy Western women, go in car, roam around town, dress themselves in front of the mirror and have coffee (both of them laugh as it sounds funny to them).

The lyrics in Tamil is written in a colloquial language and rhymes well. The song was quite popular and I knew it by heart. Until a few days ago, I did not try to analyze it. When I was listening to it recently, it just occurred to me that, the guy wants to use scientific advances to help in his work. As the famous dialog in 3 idiots says, “A machine is anything that reduces human effort”. He brags about that to his wife and says he will show the western world his accomplishments. When the wife asks him to make some machines to help in her work, he calls her mad and preaches about how our country women are great as they do all these work by themselves!

Of course, now we can see that most of what was written in this song has been achieved. We have machines to do most of what both of them wanted. However, in 1949, when this movie was made and Udumalai Narayana Kavi wrote this song, the lyricist, NSK and TAM and everyone in the movie crew and all the people who listened to this song did not find anything wrong. All those watching the movie, may have laughed with NSK and TAM as the song ends comparing our hard working women in the country with Westernized women who just roam around having coffee! It is not as subtle, isn’t it.


  1. “Listen to her” a short movie by Nandita Das.
  2. https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/lighter-vein-column-nsk-part-3/article6639763.ece
  3. https://earunan.org/2015/04/02/learning-history/
  4. The lyrics of the song can be seen in Tamil in this link: http://lyricsdhool.blogspot.com/2017/03/vignanatha-valarka-porendi-nallathambi.html

Lies, deceit and poverty have been there in all Space/Time in the Human History: So are honesty and wealth!

This blog is written during the Corona virus epidemic that is sweeping through the world. I was hoping that such a common threat to humanity would unite the world. Perhaps I should not be surprised. It appears to have led to sharper divisions than before. We have great human beings as health care and essential service providers who are helping save lives often risking their own lives. We also have a large number of people writing and forwarding blatant lies and misinformation spreading them just to advance their own way of life or for just plain personal benefit. This has been given a new word recently!

If you have been reading print/online/social media, you would have read that word ‘post truth‘. Oxford Dictionaries chose this as the word of the year in 2016. (1) According to this, Post-truth is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. It goes on to claim that this concept has been in existence for the past decade! Though I had a general feeling about what this term meant, I could never accept that the humanity needed a new adjective in this new millennium. Emotion and personal belief may have played a more significant role in the past than in this millennium, though for people living now, this decade does sound like ‘post-truth‘ decade. ‘Sapiens’ author Yual Noah Harari (2) has already busted this myth by calling us a ‘post truth species’ who are happy to have ‘Shared fictions — in the form of news, religions, novels, sports, money, even brands — fill our lives”. Hindu philosophy has this concept of ‘Maya’, which may be loosely translated as magic or illusion. It is interpreted differently and one interpretation is that everything that we experience is an illusion. I am going to limit myself to honesty and poverty and highlight a few things that show that lies, deceit and poverty have been there forever, everywhere. So are honesty and wealth. To the best of my knowledge, Scandinavian countries seems to have produced a society in which disparity has been removed to a large extent. Corona has not spared these countries.

In 1994, there was a Hollywood movie titled True Lies, two decades before ‘post truth‘ became widely used. As we grow up, we are all taught to speak the truth and be honest. Most every human would have lied some time or other. As Warren Buffet says, “honesty is an expensive gift”. One might then expect that poor might lie to make a living. My experience shows that honesty does not depend on material possession. Some are honest no matter what. Some would lie to get anything and everything, irrespective of how much they already have. I am reminded of an excellent Tamil film, titled ‘Yaarukkaga Azhudhaan’ (யாருக்காக அழுதான்), which translates to ‘for whom did he cry’? I may have mentioned about this movie in another blog. It is based on a novel with the same title by Jeyakanthan. The whole movie is about a rich lady losing her gold ornament in a hotel. The room boy (excellent performance by Nagesh) is the obvious suspect. He says he did not take it and everyone else believes he did. He keeps smiling and says ‘I did not’ every time someone asks/accuses/threatens him. Finally, the lady finds it somewhere and everyone realizes that she did not lose it at all. When he finds this out, he breaks down and starts crying.

Perhaps the best Tamil poet in 20th Century, Subramaniaya Bharathiyaar writes in one of his popular songs in anticipation of and in celebration of Independence (he died young much before India got independence)

எல்லோரும் ஒன்றென்னும் காலம் வந்ததே-பொய்யும்
ஏமாற்றும் தொலைகின்ற காலம் வந்ததே-இனி
நல்லோர் பெரிய ரென் னும் காலம் வந்ததே-கெட்ட
நயவஞ்சக் காரருக்கு நாசம் வந்ததே

In this song, Bharathiyaar imagines an independent India in which all Indians are treated equally, lies and deceits have disappeared, the good people are revered and the deceitful have been punished. It was just about a century ago and clearly it has become his wishful thinking. Just after the independence, we did have this widespread optimism and also partition in which millions died.

I have mentioned Thiruvalluvar several times and his Thirukkural, written more than two millennia ago has a chapter on honesty (வாய்மை) and it has 10 couplets. The most popular one is perhaps the following:

பொய்மையும் வாய்மையிடத்த புரைதீர்ந்த நன்மை பயக்குமெனின்

According to this Kural, even a lie could be considered a truth, if that can lead to a flawless good. What is ‘flawless good’ was perhaps left to individuals by Valluvar and humans have convinced themselves that lying to advance oneself is acceptable. I am mentioning about this Chapter just to highlight the fact that Valluvar found it necessary to write a chapter on this. Another chapter is titled ‘புறங்கூறாமை’ (Purangooraamai), ‘refrain from slandering’. Anytime I point out such things, I have friends who would point fingers and conclude that Tamils were having these problems and Hindu Sanatana Dharma was all great. Of course, one has to read what Kautilya said in Arthasastra about corruption in Government. A weblink in Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis has a good summary written by Tarun Kumar (3). That Kautilya wrote this clearly implies that we had all forms of corruptions in those days.

Some time ago, in our Department we organized a lecture by one of our UG students about Sanskrit. That student had learned Sanskrit well and his talk was about the language and its construction. He recited some great poems and pointed out some poems which uses only one sound. For example ‘Ka’. I like to look at various languages and words and have come to some conclusions myself and from my discussion, I could not find anyone who had come to similar conclusions. For example, ‘chi’ (kai may be useful for a commoner) is a Greek letter and all the book discussing ‘chirality’ point out that it is derived from the Greek word ‘chier’ for hand. Though I have read this from college days, only a few years ago, while attending a seminar, I realized ‘kai’ itself is the word for hand in Tamil and in Sanskrit it is ‘kar’. I realized ‘kalki’ will never come as it is always ‘kal ki’ (tomorrow’s in Hindi) bagwan. I told the student about a poem in Tamil which uses only the ‘Ta’ sound. I am digressing. He mentioned about clever poets who hid their names in the poems. For example, first letter in the first line, second letter in the second line, and so on, will reveal the name of the poet. It seems like it was needed to prove that the poem was written by the poet as someone else could claim credit. The fact that it was needed clearly indicates that there were people who would lie. And of course, we have the Varna system dependent on birth and many still believe it. Science be damned. I had written about reservation and merit in another blog. (4)

Every Tamil reads about Thiruvalluvar and Avvayaar, the lady saint who has written extensively in Tamil. In one of her poems, she describes the things that are rare (arithu, அரிது) bad (kodithu, கொடிது), sweet (inithu, இனிது ) and these have beautiful lyrics and good messages for all time. According to her, what is bad is poverty. And she says, what is worse is poverty during youth. (கொடியது கேட்கின் நேரிவடு வேலோய், கொடிது கொடிது வறுமை கொடிது, அதனினும் கொடிது இளமையில் வறுமை). Again the fact that she wrote it clearly implies that we had poverty in her time.

Sapiens describes how every country and society had been cruel to some of its members, women, under-privileged, colored and so on. We did have dishonest people and we also had people like Thiruvalluvar and Avvayaar who wrote about them and advised against dishonesty. We have of course had reformers in India starting from Buddha, Basava, Savitri Phule, Gandhi, Ambedkar and Periyar. Mahatma Gandhi said “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I am no longer surprised that there are many who hate Gandhi in India today. For them painting a glorious picture is more important and they would not let facts come in the way.

There have been discussion about the potential of Corona virus in the Science literature for more than a decade. Clearly it spreads from animals to human and then between humans. I see a section of people who blame communism and non-vegetarianism as the main cause for this and for them post-truth seems but natural. I knew a significant majority in India is non-vegetarian. I thought Rajasthan is one state where the majority is vegetarian. However, when I went to Udaipur in late February, before the travel became dangerous, I heard from the local people that the majority there is non-vegetarian too. In closing, let me point out what a section of our society does in one particular instance. Owls are considered to be the ‘vehicle’ for Laxmi (Goddess of wealth) and sacrifising them on Deepavali/Diwali day is considered auspicious. You do some prayer and get Laxmi in and kill the owl so that Laxmi is trapped in your home (5). It seems this practice is there in north India. How easy it could be to remain wealthy for a year. Next year, find one more owl. Of course, ” Owls in India are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act that prohibits hunting, trade or any other form of utilization of the species or their body parts.” (5) In Wuhan, China, animal trade is a legal practice and it appears that China and Vietnam are finally banning animal trade after the Corona virus (6).

Humanity learns and corrects its ways. In the past, religious texts provided guidelines. Today it is our constitution. Thirukkural is not a religious text nor is Arthasastra. I am confident that the humanity will survive Corona virus or the next one that may come in another 100 years. Maybe I should not take the apparent division too seriously. We go in cycles.


  1. https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/2016/ (Accessed on 29 March 2020).
  2. https://ideas.ted.com/are-we-living-in-a-post-truth-era-yes-but-thats-because-were-a-post-truth-species/ (Accessed on 29 March 2020).
  3. https://idsa.in/issuebrief/CorruptioninAdministrationEvaluatingtheKautilyanAntecedents_TarunKumar_121012 (Accessed on 30 March 2020)
  4. https://earunan.org/2015/05/27/reservation-vs-merit-in-india-or-affirmative-action-vs-equal-opportunity-in-the-usa/
  5. https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/grotesque-killing-owls-for-diwali-good-luck-1613212-2019-10-27
  6. https://nypost.com/2020/03/28/china-and-vietnam-finally-ban-wildlife-trade-due-to-coronavirus/ (Accessed 30 March 2020)

Languages in India: Some experiences and a suggestion

India/Bharatha Kanda has been around for millennia with many languages spoken, without any national language! Some mention about the 56 kingdoms in ancient India. People have been traveling across the length and breadth of India, without a passport or a link language. People learned languages as needed. During the independent movement, some in the north of India decided India should have one language and they chose Hindi. Even before Independence, Hindi was pushed in all parts of India, where it was not spoken. In Madras State Rajaji as Congress Chief Minister imposed Hindi in April 1938. He went to the extent of asking people to speak in Hindi in the streets and Tamil at home. This led to a massive protest in the State (1). Protestors were not just political parties with different views. It included people from all background including religious leaders from Shaivaite Matts. Many political leaders were arrested and two named, Thalamuthu and Natarajan, died in prison. In Chennai, you can see a Government building named after the two who died in prison. By February 1940, Hindi imposition was lifted. Congress lost the next election.

Natrajan and Thalamuthu who died during the protest. I would recommend a recent article by A R Venkatachalapathy about this protest. (4)

After Independence, Hindi imposition was attempted again. In Parliament, attempts to make Hindi as the National language failed. Hindi and English were kept as two official languages and many of the languages spoken in India were kept as National Languages. As far as my knowledge goes, that was the only vote in which President joined to tilt the balance towards Hindi. Parliament vote was divided exactly in half for/against Hindi. Many of the states in India started following a three language formula.

As the Indian Government was trying to push Hindi as the National Language, Paksitan Government pushed Urdu as the National Language. Indian Government yielded when there was widespread opposition in making Hindi the National Language. Pakistan Government did not yield. In 1948 itself, students of Dhaka University staged a massive protest. On 21st February 1952, Pakistani police fired an unarmed and peaceful student demonstration and killed many students. International Mother-Language day is celebrated on this day. Bangladesh was born in 1970s (2). It would be interesting to look at the history of Hindi/Urdu. As I have pointed out UP has been having major Hindu/Muslim conflicts and built BHU and AMU, while Bangalore and Calcutta built IISc and IACS. From what I have learned, Hindi and Urdu both originated from Hindustani. Hindi and Urdu have more in common than Hindi and Sanskrit. Marati and Bengali may be closer to Sanskrit than Hindi.

Forgetting the experience before Independence, Congress Government in the Madras state again tried to impose Hindi in the 1960s. This may have been one of the reasons a tall leader from Tamil Nadu Kamaraj and an incorruptible Kakkan lost the next election. DMK came to power in 1967. Unlike the Parliament which was divided in half, Tamil Nadu assembly voted unanimously for the two language formula of having Tamil and English. I must have started my schooling around that time and I did not know all this history. I learned Tamil and English in school in Madurai. I did pass Prathmic and Madhyama offered by the Dhakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha and had learned to read and write Hindi. I went to IIT Madras and then to IIT Delhi.

During my stay in Delhi, I did not like the way some assumed and insisted on Hindi. One day, after we watched a Tamil movie in the hostel, as we were going to have some tea, we were chatting in Tamil among ourselves. One person on the street shouted at us in Hindi: ‘Aap Dilli may hain, Hindi may bathkaro’. Though I had learned about Hindi protest, I did not know much details at that time. I certainly did not like this. After IIT Delhi, I went to Kansas State University. In my first week, I met a guy from India at the University library. He started talking to me in Hindi and I told him that, I did not know Hindi that well. He was shocked and asked me: How can you be from India and not know Hindi? I realized he had no clue about India. What was surprising, many in the Hindi speaking states assume every one in India knows and speaks Hindi. They have not been taught about India.

After returning to IIT Kanpur as a faculty member, I went to Calcutta to attend a symposium. One of my close friends from Kansas days came to Calcutta from TIFR, Bombay. We were walking in the streets of Calcutta and heard people speaking in Bengali. My friend from Bombay was surprised and told me: Look at these Bengalis, they are speaking in Bengali on the streets. I was even more surprised by his comment and replied: What do you expect the Bengalis to speak? He then told me that they speak Marati at home and Hindi on the streets. I then told him that he should visit Tamil Nadu.

Now we see yet another attempt to make Hindi the only link language in India with the home minister claiming Hindi can unite India. I certainly don’t agree. According to Wikipedia today, world over ” 178 countries have at least one official language, and 101 of these countries recognise more than one language.” (3) India has two official languages and 22 National Languages. I do not see any need for India to have one link language which should be spoken in the streets all over India. Though India became an independent country in 1947, India has survived for several millennia including seven decades after independence without having such a link language. Imposing one is not needed. Starting from Rajaji in 1937, the proposers of Hindi have given one after another illogical reasons. One such argument was Hindi will improve the employment opportunities. It was never the case. After 7 decades of three language formula by all states except Tamil Nadu, Hindi states are among the least developed. For the home minister to say ‘Hindi is needed for Unity’, is indeed unfortunate as he is ignoring the fact that India has been around and has progressed well over the last seven decades.

Would Hindi help all Indians travel across the length and breadth? It is not fair to ask everyone to learn your language to help you on travel. I propose the following, which many may not like. Local language/Hindi/English be used in all sign boards across India. Local language and English remain as official languages in the States that do not want to have Hindi as an official language. All Government services, announcements by flights and trains should be made in local languages in addition to English/Hindi. If people migrate to different states, they will learn the local language. They have been doing it for millennia! Forcing Hindi on people against their wishes is not wise.

  1. M. Ilanchezhiyan, “Thamizhan Thodutha Por” (War waged by Tamils) II Edition 1986.
  2. Safar Ali Akanda, Language Movement and the Making of Bangladesh”, The University Press Limited, Bangladesh 2013
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Official_language
  4. https://www.rediff.com/news/special/when-the-south-rose-against-hindi/20190614.htm


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.


  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).

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.


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