Sunday, 16 August 2015

India: Motherland or fatherland?

I am  intrigued....by a question...Is India our motherland or fatherland ? Every Independence day we say "Bharat Mata ki jay"....even Vande Mataram suggests we think India as our mother...however our National Anthem says " Bharat Bhagya Vidhata" or " Adhinayak" ...which suggests we think of India as fatherland....we never sing" Bharat Bhagya Vidhatri" Or "Adhinayika"....so we pray to a father figure in our anthem but in Vande Mataram we imagine India as mother and while we say Bharat Mata we think of her as feminine.


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Onnyo Basanto Review



I could not but help write a few lines about this movie in Bangla....I read the story in '99 or 2000 in a Pooja barshiki...by Suchitra Bhattacharya...I did not know this favorite story of mine has been converted into a movie...it is all about as somebody suggested in a phrase : Proposed Bride's confusion.....the character Tannistha(Amrtia Chatterjee) is torn between two men ...one her fiance, a ruthlessly ambitious goal oriented man and another an ambition-less small scale businessman who makes perfumes for livelihood....you should see the end, I should not tell you, but the acting , the capturing of non verbal subtle gestures were touching, indeed moving....Kamaleswar Mukherjee as the father of the bride was effortless ( I knew he was a film maker !!, unaware of his fabulous acting skill)....Moments between Amrita Chatterjee (the bride) and Koushik Roy ( the failure) were subtle yet soothing and gentle....and hats off to the director Aditi Roy, this one and her first film Aboshesey show she has a talent...a talent to touch and evoke fine emotions, a talent to explore enormous layering and possibilities in a relationship.She made an emotion alive which is very rare and which I call " Brooding stillness " or " Gentle Brooding"....pangs or aches of heart which made my eyes moisten several times.....
I wish all of my friends understood Bangla ( no subtitles)....the new wave Bangla cinema is here to stay I guess....

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mutluluk ( Bliss) : A review



Yesterday evening I watched this fantastic movie in Youtube. It is about a girl in a village who is raped. The girl is now thought to be soiled and hence requires banishment. However she is escorted with a man from his village to Istanbul. After a brief sojourn in Istanbul fails to accommodate them they go to a resort-like place where they are befriended by a lonely professor in a yacht and tours with him. How this boat-tour changes the relationship between the girl and her man and how this professor shares his wisdom is a treat to watch for those who like humane storytelling. I enjoyed the transformation between the two. The scenic beauty of Turkey also adds to the experience. Go watch it.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Camp X Ray : Review



Camp X Ray is a nice movie I watched today online....a surprise from usual run-of-the mill Hollywood....Kristen Stewart played the role of an emphatic military officer who starts to understand an Arab detainee's pain ( played brilliantly by Payman Maadi)...
A nice departure from Hollywood masala.....the Twilight star proved to be a surprise offering a lot of insights....her face exuded a melancholy which in bengali can be called as Dhushar Bishaad

I was also reminded of Bimal Roy's film Bandini where the loving prison doctor, Dharmendra fell for the prisoner, Nutan.....Camp X Ray was however much more subtle in its treatment of humane feeling of a prison officer....

Sunday, 3 May 2015

An ode to Xerox machines

I studied and got my degrees in a time when computers were not rage and internet was nascent. There was no google, no PDF, no eBooks and no printer at disposal. We had to rely on books and journals for whatever we learnt. And Photocopier or a Xerox machine played a supreme role in dissemination of knowledge. So many class notes, so many books, so many journal articles I photocopied. Without those photocopies my education would have been unfulfilled. In late 80’s Xerox shops sprung up in every locality of Calcutta; their numbers increased proportionately in front of Educational institutes (schools, colleges, and universities), courts and mercantile offices. I got introduced to Xerox machines when I was class 9, I joined a coaching centre and many times I needed notes to be Xeroxed. That was the beginning. I never knew Xerox copies of books will finally occupy half of my library space. During BSc and MSc days I could not afford many foreign text books because they were so highly priced. So started the habit of getting books from library and Xeroxing them. Some books were reference books, not available in lending library. Reference books used to be issued overnight. Many times the books were so fat could not be Xeroxed overnight. So I like many others found a loophole. If you issue the book on Friday you got the weekend to photocopy. In that way I copied so many books from libraries of Rajabazar Science College ( Physiology dept), Presidency College and Jadavpur University ( during my MTech Biotech ). The books were necessary for NET , GATE preparation and gave me a lot of mileage later on. Then from library of IIT Bombay I got so many books on biography, science and technology got photocopied.

Today as I clean up my racks and throw many old unnecessary printouts I am reminded of those decades of Xeroxing and how it enriched my knowledge. It is known photocopying is a crime but without that crime I guess many Indians will not get their education. For India xerox machine has done for dissemination of knowledge than Gutenberg's invention in past two decades. At least all engineering, medicine, science, arts and commerce students will agree that without Xeroxes their education here in India would have been unfulfilled. Thank you Xerox.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Free Indian Science : Present scenario

Note: A part of my article was published in letter to editor section of the revered journal Nature in May 2014.

This has reference to Mathai Joseph and Andrew Robinson’s Comment : Free Indian Science(Nature, 3 April 2014, Vol 508,pg 36-37). It was eminently readable and  after years of education in India’s premier institutes ( I am a PhD in biosciences from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay,IIT Bombay and  hold degrees from  universities like Calcutta University and Jadavpur University and I teach biotechnology to postgraduates  in a premier college St Xavier’s College Mumbai in India) and teaching in a reputed college in India, I feel qualified to comment on this.

What they discussed is true. There is a distinct gap between what we achieved before and after independence in India in the scientific field. Almost independent of European school of relativity, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics Indian scientists Satyendra Nath Bose, Meghnad Saha and C.V.Raman made a brilliant group of Physics in Calcutta University. Half of the subatomic particles are today termed Boson in Bose’s honor; C.V.Raman discovered Raman Effect and Saha gave a theory of thermal ionizations in stars. Sadly after independence Indians did not participate in ground breaking work in science. We lost the nationalist fervor and zeal in science. We lost many of our brilliant minds to the western world ( e.g. H.G.Khorana – Nobel 1968, Subramanyam Chandrasekhar- Nobel 1983, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan – Nobel 2009 being the latest).There are two exceptions although - G.N.Ramachandran & S.N.De. Dr.G.N. Ramachandran of Madras University, India gave a triple helix structure of collagen (1) and Ramachandran plot of protein structures is now read by biochemistry graduates throughout the world (2). Dr.S.N.De of Calcutta, India discovered the nature of cholera toxin in 1959 which went unnoticed (3). This was a true discovery which was noticed so late that in his lifetime De did not get any honor (4).

In my opinion India made a mistake by weaning its universities. Countless research institutes were made all over India after independence which took away the good research students from the universities and these universities lag behind not only because of good researchers but also due to lack of funding. Paucity of good faculty and research students in universities has marred the educational spirit.  C.V. Raman saw it coming from the very beginning and famously lamented these institutes as ‘Mausoleums of Indian Science’ (5).

Apart from bureaucracy and lack of funding, lack of talent in science is another factor for the poor show. Salary of scientists and academicians is abysmally low to inspire any to make it big. A PhD student gets a salary of Rs 18000 per month which is almost half of what an entry level engineer makes. An entry level scientist or assistant professor in a college makes less than Rs 50000 after so many years of PhD and post doc abroad. In tier I cities that salary makes a hand-to-mouth existence. Whereas his counterpart in industry of same age makes twice/thrice the money. This is very true in the field of software industry where India is seeing a boom and which the authors mentioned jubilantly to stress on growth and capacity of Indian knowledge workers. If tomorrow Universities, Research Institutes and colleges pay the salary what software industry pays, I believe there will be no dearth of talent. Since professional engineering courses promise high salary, better lifestyle and promise of foreign travel Indian parents make it a beeline to make their wards enter into IITs(Indian Institute of Technology), NITs(national Institute of Technology) and engineering colleges. After the best brains of science take admissions in engineering colleges and medical colleges and other professional courses like IT, only the left overs come to undergraduate science courses. Hence a vicious cycle of poor students and later poorer teachers (these same poor or average students become scientists or lecturers !!) drive the system of science to point of no return. And this is compounded with brain drain to abroad.  Rarely one finds the teachers inspiring and motivated. And this situation in colleges breeds unhappy students who visions nothing but a bleak future in science as a career. Let’s face it. Money is a big incentive for a career and a living.

But recently due to economic growth Indian science is getting well-funded and doing better. Due to reverse brain drain many good scientists are returning to India ( Recession in the West is also driving many good scientists back!!). Please see a recent JCB paper where a couple of high impact Nature and Science papers published from India are quoted to show the changing face of biological sciences in India (6). Five of our journals have crossed the impact factor of 1.0 (7). Two of them are near to 2.0.  With a lot of research happening in Ayurveda (ancient Hindu medicinal practice) pertaining to medicinal plants we hope a turn around in the biomedical and pharmaceutical sectors. DBT (Department of Biotechnology) is now flush with funds and with modernizing of infrastructure nobody can and should complain of lack of opportunity in big labs in biological sciences at least. Recently DBT and DST have introduced attractive scholarships to allow young post docs come back and settle. India Bioscience is another grand effort funded jointly by DBT, Wellcome trust in that line. The present UPA government in India led by Congress party , though mired in corruption and facing a possible routing out in next general elections, has done enough to increase the opportunities in higher education by setting up of 7 new IITs(The famed Indian Institute of Technology), several IISERs(Indian Institute of Science Education and Research) and NISERs(National Institute of Science Education and Research), almost one NIPER (National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research) and AIIMS ( All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences) in  every state. They have upgraded many NITs and created places of national interest. Hence in recent past India has seen a significant increase in jobs in education sector and R&D.

If the present policy makers of India are allowed to do the good work that they have put in the past decade definitely we will see a sea change in Indian science. If we emulate the success of software or IT story by matching the salary of budding scientists with them, we can hope to retain and recruit enough talents to promote a scientific revolution. In fact the present government has been prudent enough to put us in a cusp of revolution in science by promoting institution building and flushing of funds. As of now at least in biology nobody can cry hoarse of lack of money or infrastructure as they did three or four decades ago. Things are changing and changing fast. Now the onus is on the scientists who have to think of original problems and match up to the international standard in publishing. Lack of originality in the realm of thought is endemic in Indian research which has to be rectified soon. If the post docs returning from abroad no longer rides on the idea of their mentors and rather start on their own extending collaboration to their foreign counterparts then the future is definitely bright. If Saha, Bose and Raman could make it independently in the 1920s and 1930s ,why can’t we today ?

Doing international level science is like a race. We fell behind, but thankfully we are catching up.


Reference:

1. Bhattachajee A & Bansal M. (2005) Collagen Structure: The Madras Triple Helix and the Current Scenario. IUBMB Life, 57(3): 161 – 172.
2. Stryer L. (1995). Biochemistry. 4th edition, W.H.Freeman & Company, New York, USA
3. S.N.De. (1959) Enterotoxicity of Bacteria-free culture-filtrate of Vibrio cholerae, , Nature, 183: 1533-1534
4. Joshua Lederberg (1990). ‘S.N.De- regicide of reigning dogma’ Current Science,  59(13 and 14): 628-629
5. P.Balaram.(1998). The Raman Legacy. Current Science. 75(10): 977
6. Vale R D and Dell K. (2009) The biological sciences in India Aiming high for the future. Journal of Cell Biology, 184(3): 342-353.
7. Jain N C. (2009) Five Indian journals cross impact factor 1.000 in 2008. Current Science. 97(9):1273.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Taking Sides




Taking Sides is a film made by Istvan Szabo. It is about a controversial orchsetra conductor Wilhelm Furtwrangler. He was a German and he was accused of not taking sides/taking sides during the Nazi oppression. He was a musician par excellence. When inquired by a tribunal after WWII he maintained a musician's duty is to entertain, not to take sides. Internet is rife with controversy about him but one thing is clear he was a legend in his field. His recordings are available in Youtube and people are all praises for his style of conducting. These days as I see artists and film stars taking sides in West Bengal I am reminded of this movie I watched in Nandan in 2002. Should everybody take side ?