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The Great Indian Revolution

Or, rather why that is an unlikely event. Dreaming of revolutions might appear quite romantic for middle class Indians but when you dig deep, you’ll see that the situation is both better and worse than Egypt of 2011 or America of 1776.

The American War of Independence was driven mostly by economic factors and Britain enacting a host of draconian laws to augment His Majesty’s revenue not to mention to offset the losses suffered in misadventures against the French. All of which sound suspiciously familiar to an Indian … the British apparently learnt nothing and went on to repeat the same things in India in the early part of the 20th century.

The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 is too recent and the discontents that may have fuelled it are yet to be distilled by historians. The per capita GDP of Egypt however is way higher than India’s.

It would appear that people in different nations have different thresholds of tolerance towards what is broadly known as ‘poverty.’ Indians seem to have an extraordinary affinity with poverty. At least, Indians don’t like to rock the boat (so to say) too easily. The fabled Indian struggle for independence was hardly a pan-Indian affair. The British were apparently too tired after fighting Hitler and just wanted to go home when empire turned unprofitable and the going seemed tough.

Indians seem to have a strange set of priorities. They love their gods. They love to have kids. They love to have a large family — and I mean LARGE … numbering in the hundreds. There are festivities of one sort or the other every month or the other. Indians are too busy either worshipping their numerous gods, or attending a family marriage, or some other celebration because someone had a baby or because someone died …

Indians do not have time for intellectual diversions into the meaning of life or trying to understand the workings of nature.

Reflect on the typical way that an Indian kid grows up. What is the kid told? Perhaps she is told about the various gods not to mention their inexplicable and mercurial ways. And kids are told to ‘respect’ their parents. Yeah, Indian parents love to get RESPECT from their kids. And kids are told to respect not only the parents but all and sundry ‘elders’ in the family too. No questions asked.

So, that’s the way kids grow up. Schools and the education curriculum can be formulated in such a manner as to maximize the natural curiosity inherent in kids. But in India, everything is designed precisely to squelch and smother any such ‘ideas’ that kids may have.
Who do Indians look up to? Who inspires Indians? Who do Indians want to be like when they ‘grow up?’ If you ask the average kid or teenager, perhaps they will be hard put to name five heroes. Or, they might mouth some platitudes such as naming the usual suspects such as Gandhi or Nehru or Mother Teresa. Not that Jawaharlal is poor role model material.

I am curious why we do not worship ‘real’ heroes and achievers or ‘other’ people who have stellar achievements to their credit. Think of Subrahmanian Chandrasekhar. Someone who had the intellect to use the tools of mathematics to understand stellar structure. Someone who understood how galaxies form and evolve. Someone whose mind roamed the far corners of the visible universe. A polymath whose calculations led inexorably to the conclusion that black holes must be a physical reality. Difficult to conjure anything more exotic and exciting than black holes. And yet, black holes have become commonly accepted today in cosmology and astrophysics. Of course, when the idea was first proposed, it was received with derision and more.

What about Abdul Kalam? Or, Kalpana Chawla. Other scientists. Doctors. Cardiothoracic surgeons perform open heart surgeries daily and save lives daily. Yet, they are not worshipped for being the miracle workers that they are. Indian prefer to flock to hear bearded men (and un-bearded women) who should be rather old-fashioned in their dress sense. Godmen (and women). Yes, Indians just love the tribe. That is one commodity you’ll never find in short supply in India. And that’s a business where you can never go wrong in India.

Where’s the Indian with the creative imagination of a Jules Verne or Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke? Where are our Konstantin Tsiolkovskys and Robert Goddards? Einstein and Newton. Copernicus and Tycho Brahe. What made the Wright Brothers think that they could invent an aeroplane and succeed where the best aeronautical engineers of the time had failed?

The story of human civilization is a story of change. We do not confront the same questions or challenges. Old mysteries get resolved and old challenges are overcome and we are faced with fresh ones. We frame questions for ourselves — that’s the at heart who we are as a species. We build computers. And we explore. Well, we first understand the nature of the world around us. We come to understand the realm of atoms. Then we slowly learn to make atoms do our bidding in the shape of microprocessors. Who are the giants of this gigantic new intellectual leap taken by mankind? Bohr and Rutherford and their contemporaries and successors. From Heisenberg to Schrödinger to Dirac and Pauli and Feynman and Schwinger. What an age of intellectual leaps the 20th century has been! And Indians on the whole have been mostly sleeping through it. The worldview and outlook of Indians remains strangely unaffected by these many different cataclysms which have transformed different domains of science and human knowledge.
Take biology. From the great ideas of Darwin that started us on our journey to understanding about our own evolutionary past to the 20th century discoveries about the double helix structure of the DNA. What extraordinary advances have taken place in different disciplines of medical science! The human genome has been mapped in its entirety.

Great projects and tasks yet confront our species. Cancer is yet to yield completely to human ingenuity. The human genome will provide various insights into the workings of the human body and into where there’s scope for improvement. We are slowly rising to the challenge of trying to understand how the human brain functions. Clearly, a century would be too short a time to understand something which has evolved over millions of years. And we continue to ask about our origins and our place in the universe. The 20th century has answered some questions which had remained unanswered for thousands of years. We now know the age of the visible universe to be around 13.7 billion years. What a number and what an astounding feat of human intellect to have discovered that truth. And still, we discover more mysteries in the form of dark matter and dark energy and so, more questions to answer.

We now deliberate about multiverses and multiple big bangs and worm holes and more. Will Indians remain mere spectators as humanity seeks to solve these and other mysteries? It’s a matter of setting priorities and Indians seem to have their priorities set somewhat erroneously.

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