Saturday, October 10, 2009

The NRI and the Nobel Prize

Every time a NRI gets some recognition, the media goes berserk. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He left India when he was 19. The question some ask is : could he have won the Nobel Prize if he had continued to live in India? Good question.

My first job right after college was at a premier research institution. I was on cloud nine. I was in awe of the place, since I had used their library for reference work for my thesis . And to think I had landed a job there, that too my first job, straight after college.

I could walk in without being questioned. I did not have to sign the visitors book. I had to don a white coat and my name came up on the employee board right up at the entrance. It was a great feeling. The place was like I imagined it to be. The large well designed laboratories, the best equipment, the latest journals. The right atmosphere for anyone with a scientific bent of mind. Or so I thought.

The first thing that set off the disillusionment was the caste politics that existed. You would think science and religion did not go together. I was wrong.

Once a month, presentations were made of the latest research on various topics. I found the occasion seemed more for the staff to catch up on a nap. And for the young enthusiastic newcomers like myself, it was quite an effort to present a paper to a sleeping audience, that woke up just in time to ask a few questions.

There were also meetings with the director, where every group had to discuss their ongoing projects. This was another sham. The seniors presented the plan of work. Almost every project was ripped apart, and members told in no uncertain terms that the work carried out was insignificant. In some cases modifications were suggested. I was impressed. After all, one needed inputs from others.

When the group met next with the director, I realised to my shock that the projects discussed at the previous meeting continued as before. This happened meeting after meeting. And all that would come out of these meaningless projects were several papers that were sent off to journals. A lot of them would be rejected, but here the perseverance of the staff member paid off. The paper that came back would be sent to another journal, till it was finally accepted for publication.

It was not as if facilities were not available. They were the best, the brains were the best too, but the will to do something worthwhile was missing. The sub standard work that was carried out resulted in publishing of research papers that were essentially for furthering their career.

I worked at the research institute for over 2 years before I left. Long enough to be totally disillusioned. This was in the '80s. I am hoping the situation is different now. Only then can we hope to have a resident Indian who can bring laurels to the country.


  1. I can understand your frustration, Radha. My son is doing his Ph.D. in the US of A. He left home with a huge scholarship, when he was 19. The previous year, he got 56% marks in Plus II in mathematics. He applied for revaluation for his maths marks, but nothing happened. As soon as he came out from the examination hall, he had told me he had done very well in his maths exam. He had got 100% in maths in 10th std. He was frustrated so much that he refused to write IIT entrance also. He wrote SAT exam, got 99 percentile marks and got good scholarship and went to a premium University over there. He will never have a good opinion about his own country. Never.

    The 'brain drain' is happening because of the lethargic attitude of us, Indians. Brainy Indians get their appreciation, only abroad.

  2. Quite disheartening.
    If one succeeds here it will be out of sheer luck.

  3. Yes it is a sad state of affairs..but just one incident and someone leaving the country for that as told by Sandhya is also an extrem.

    Instead of feeling honoured ..I as an Indian feel humiliated with the attitude of rejoicing and claiming your own to all those just born Indians getting which world we are living. we have enough of our own people getting the prizes why not gloat over them.

    Every country has its own pros and cons and we have to take both of them..we are improving but still it will take some time and will.

  4. Antarman - We should all be as optimistic. And yes things are improving no doubt. Yet, one can understand Sandhya's son's frustration. Such bright students should be motivated to stay back!

  5. Thank you Radha.

    I will not disagree with Antarman too, Radha. What I wrote was one incident in his life. The chain reaction of this, was more on the negative side. The irresponsibility of some persons in our education system is changing the lives of so many youngsters. I know one more bright young man, who went into depression after nearly similar incident happened in his life.

  6. this the reality of India,because we do not vote and we do not discuss the problems ,
    thanks for writing your experience.

  7. Excellent post. I can understand your frustration. Jayant Narlikar was denied a professorship becaue he was not "old enough".

  8. Yes, such a sad state of affairs.

    Your own experience, Radha, as well as that of Sandhya's son, are unfortunately not exceptions.

    I personally know a couple of youngsters who have had similar experiences.

    I agree with Antarman that this is our country and we should take both pros and cons, but it is often difficult for young students to do that!

  9. That's really sad! I can understand your frustration and good that you left the place in time...otherwise these negative energies start affecting us too slowly!
    Your post reminded me of a movie called "Ek doctor ki maut" which the protagonist was a bright researcher and he develops a vaccine for malaria(or some disease like that), but he was always pulled down and harassed by the Government officials and misses his internation award....and frustrated he leaves India for abroad to carry on his research further. Who loses in all this??

  10. Like someone ce said, "Indians who succeed here do so not because of the system, but insite of it!".

  11. Makes for a sad reading.I wouldn't have believd but for your first hand experience.Where does the fault lie?In the scholars and the admiistrators who fill the reasearch institute.
    You have written very well.


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