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Science in India: New Vistas

S. Gopal

By Ashis Nandy
Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 1980, pp. xii 151, Rs. 40.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 5 March/April 1981

The problem of scientists functioning in a non-rational culture, with conse­quences to their own personalities and to their work, is not a new one. Newton studied trigonometry and geometry to help him solve riddles of alchemy and astrology and Halley, the first secretary of the Royal Society, admiring a calico shirt imported from India, thought that it explained the reference in the New Testament to the Saviour's seamless coat. The problem has since been eased in the West by the decline of credulous belief and superstition but it has not ceased to exist; and no doubt the scientists who' are, for example, practising Roman Catholics either become schizophrenics or evade the contradictions by living in compartments. Everywhere the autonomy of science is a myth. But the dilemma is most acute in countries like India and Dr Nandy has examined it through two case-studies. He has gathered much new information and provides quite a few perceptive remarks, and it is worth per­severing through this short but not easily read book, weighed down by a jargon which conceals rather than reveals insight and weakened by an irritating streak of facetiousness. The choice of the scientists for study, Jagadis Bose and Ramanujan, is apt, if only because they were so wholly differ­ent. Bose lived long, was trained in West­ern techniques and reacted to his settings both in India and Europe. Ramanujan died young, was handicapped by the necessity of self-education and was happy in the unbroken cocoon of his Indian values. Nandy draws some parallels from their personal  lives—the dominant mother image, the crucial role of the wife—but it is really the differences which seem to matter. Bose was a typical Bengali gentleman ·of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, influenced by Brahmoism and nationalism and the Ramakrishna Mis­sion. His study of response phenomena in plants and his efforts to demonstrate that plant life was a shadow of human life and that plants eat, grow and face poverty, sorrow and suffering were signi­ficant at many levels. The acceptance of his results in Europe fostered the self­esteem of Indians living in a colonial society. The seeming demonstration· of the all-pervading unity that binds to­gether all forms of life gave sustenance to the Hindu philosophy of vitalistic monism. His experiments gave a special Indian perspective to world science and, by suggesting that modern science was ...

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