Maverick Hope

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The Nobel is not the only reason to celebrate Indians in science this month, says Samrat Chakrabarti

EVER TRIED measuring the world? Ever asked too many questions ? A post-industrial consumerist worldview posits the scientific exercise as a means to an objectified end the creation of artifacts that we call technology. But the pursuit that leads to an objective understanding of the nuts and bolts that underlie the mechanisms of nature is driven at its heart by a drive that is definitively human – curiosity. It is because Science answers this basic human urge that it forms a part of that other human artifact – Culture, which is the best argument yet in favour of saving a species that has perfected the mechanics of genocide.

In a world increasingly aware of its fractious nature, the scientific quest continues to be, along with music and art, an enterprise which treats man-made borders with contempt. For the pursuit of truth requires that we think of ourselves first as, paraphrasing Bertrand Russell, only as a biological species bound by an amazing story. But that story is undermined when science is portrayed in dull monochromes of lab-coat white and thickly-spectacled black. Just as great music is much more than the mechanical plucking of strings, so it is with the scientific pursuit: a colourful drama of passion, inspiration, luck and the comically banal.

While we celebrate a Nobel laureate of Indian origin this month, three resident Indians made headlines because they brought us closer to understanding who, what and why we are and in doing so have added rare sparkle to the barren landscape of Indian science. In their stories, we find a canvas that is Indian, but above all, human.

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