Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nobel Prize and Noble values

Responding to reports that the Nobel Prize winner Mr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan had ‘expressed disgust at the outpouring of fan mail received by him from India, especially from Tamil Nadu, after the conferment of the Nobel’, Mr Abhishek Singhvi writes in his opinion piece in The Times of India of October 20th.

….What is deplorable is Ramakrishnan's equation and linkage of something as lofty and noble as patriotism and nationalism with something as banal and ridiculous as the clogging of his e-mail accounts and a general disgust at being troubled by his countrymen.

… Patriotism, at its core, has an intersection of noble values. … These are the values of link and affinity with a culture, a people, a territory and a national identity. It is his sentiment alone which connects India and Indians, despite this country being the greatest aggregation of diversities on this planet."

Once the old chestnuts of patriotism and nationalism are pulled out, it is impossible to argue further. From this self-righteous pedestal, the ‘patriot’ will dismiss or paint anyone who has even a remotely contradictory view as a treacherous traitor who is ungrateful to his/her mother/fatherland.

In fact, I face the risk of being branded a traitor because I referred to noble values such as patriotism and nationalism as ‘old chestnuts’

But if Mr Singhvi would cast aside his super-noble blinkers for a brief moment, he will realise that for a scientist engaged in pursuit of knowledge and truth, it is necessary to look beyond national identities. The research ecosystem has a global base and it is important that you don’t create barriers in your mind while seeking data or in assimilating the results from research carried out in some other corner of the world. Development in one’s field is dependent and closely linked to co-developments in various other fields and various other regions.

So, while Tamilnadu could claim proprietary rights over him because he was born here, or Gujarat could claim him as its own, because he did most of his studying there, Venky could respond in one of following two ways to such exuberance.

1) To come up with a lengthy statement acknowledging the role played by each one of his teachers from kindergarten onwards in shaping him, instilling the scientific spirit, motivating him for higher achievements, etc, and how proud he was to be born an Indian and a Tamilian, etc. Mr Singhvi would have loved it. I would have dismissed his statement as vacuous nonsense, even though it sounds gracious.

2) To tick the Indians off and tell them where they get off. Congratulatory messages are fine, but not ones that solely celebrate the fact of his being born here or hold this fact as being responsible for the Nobel.

He chose the second one. This gave Mr Singhvi the ammunition to shoot off an op-ed to TOI and to flaunt the patriotic badge on his sleeve. And me the material for yet another blog post to display my contrarian streak.


Sugar and Spice said...

I completely agree with you on this one, Raj.
Venky's actual statement was this: 'I, personally, am not important. The fact that I am of Indian origin is even less important. We are all human beings, and our nationality is simply an accident of birth'.
Mr. Singhvi conveniently ignored the first few lines and has harped upon the last phrase alone to show his 'patriotism' and 'nationalism'.
Well.. I guess the more important question is 'How you live?' rather than 'Where you are born?' or for that matter, 'Where you live?'

Ravi KR said...


Great Article. This outpouring of mails identifying with anything remotely Indian is a reflection of the drought of any remarkable achievements in any field barring the occasional academy award or nobel prize. So we cling to it as a society because we want justification to be part of this society and the associated breast beating. I used to get mails from ex-classmates drenched with jingoism extolling the virtues of Indians for discovering zero or things like that in 3000 BC (?) and I used to hate it. I commend for being 'unpatriotic'.

Raj said...

Indu, what do you mean you agree with me on 'this one'? Have there been ones when you could disagree with me?

Ravi, when a terrorist caught in UK was found to have Indian links, the PM said, " a terrorist is a terrorist; nationality does not matter". Yet, when Sunita Williams went on the Space Shuttle, he rejoiced on behalf of 'all Indians".

Sugar and Spice said...

Hi Raj.. It was a mere statement with no embedded meanings.
Anyways, there have been no disagreements on your posts until now. May be, there could be one in the future and that is why the words 'this one'!! :)

Sankar said...


Interesting as always. A well written possible money spinner with visibility for Singhvi, and as correctly pointed out by you, a blog for you to exhibit your liberal leanings along with your (already) well developed analysing and writing skills, and a time pass for us who wait to eagerly read what you dish out and leave inane comments.