Hey, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, you've NOT got mail

I am so glad our Nobel laureate has said what he has.

“All sorts of people from India have been writing to me, clogging up my email box. It takes me an hour or two to just remove their mails. Do these people have no consideration? It is OK to take pride in the event, but why bother me? There are also people who have never bothered to be in touch with me for decades who suddenly feel the urge to connect. I find this strange.”

There are two levels on which I adore this comment.

1. He is not upto silly public relations and seeking of roots. I guess in his field it won’t matter much; an atom and molecule here or there won’t really pull at heart strings, unlike, say, a Salman Rushdie who can really get us all worked up because he is working on us. So, good going.

2. This business of thinking every Indian is really Indian makes no sense. I know the expats get irritated when I say it but here is one of you saying it in so many words, words that are far from polite, whether it would be in the gentle temple town of Chidambaram or the robust Punjab.

You won’t find him returning to be garlanded and have tilak put on his forehead and talk about how rich our culture is and how much he would like to dig into the rasam rice. He does not give a damn, and I am glad. We have enough of these Johnnies in New Jersey trying to claim heritage and crap. This man knows that some teacher at Annamalai University is faking it when he says that Venkatraman was his student. He must qualify as a true child prodigy for he left India when he was only three. He has called it “all sorts of lies”.

Ramakrishnan said it was good if his winning the Nobel Prize encouraged people to take interest in science.

“But 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.”

Great. I almost said ‘saar’ and then realised he would not know what that meant. I’d have to say jolly good, now that he is not even in the US.

However, I would like to know if he will indulge in such plain talking when the heads of countries congratulate him. If being Indian is of no value, and it ought not to be given that he was so little when he left, then he should be able to tell them to just chill. I mean, no one sends congratulatory notes to an accident of birth. He could have been born in Jhumri Tallaiyya and no one would have cared. Now Tamil Nadu and Surat and all of India think their dharti putra (son of the soil) has won. Some may even be planning to invite him. Fuhgetit. He is not playing ball. He might like to tell his father not to go around giving interviews about the Indianness, though.

As for the belief that people will take more interest in science because of his victory, this is temporary. It happens when someone goes to space or cracks a code. No one is mastering spelling after a girl of Indian origin won the Spelling Bee contest.

Given the number of Indian restaurants doing brisk business in the West, we have not had a surfeit of people getting interested in food. We just like to celebrate anything.

So, here is a short note to him:

Sorry about all those emails telling you nice-nice things about things no one knows or understands. Or, someone asking you about how is life and all that, as though you are interested in such small things. You are now big man and I am not flooding your inbox because I am fully understanding how inbox is suffering because of overweight. We Indians are like that only, eating and eating and getting fat. Not working out. But obesity is American problem also. You not knowing because you are busy with test tubes.

But, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, one day when the Western press asks you about anything on India, and they just might – about its foreign policy, its poverty, its global leap - please do not give your opinion. Even though you may be well-read, speak as a foreigner, not as one who knows. Coz, although you might remember the ground as you learned to crawl here, you don’t know the ground realities.

India does not count to you, and we respect that. For some of us, the chemistry prize could have gone to some Maori tribal. We don’t give a tosh. Oh, that reminds me to start deleting all those emails that are choking my inbox. You have to pay the price for fame; I have to pay the price for just being an Indian trying hard to be seen as one.

Rib-o-some, eh?


  1. Good post!
    Exactly what I was hoping someone said.

  2. An apt reply....
    I totally understand his inconvinience and frustration but probably this is not the way a noble laureaute should react...YES...'you have to pay the price for fame'...atleast thats the way you need to explain to people who don't understand the value of greetings and blessings...
    He should have taken the help of some little guy to sort out his email box if its killing his time...but now his words truly killed the little joy of a humble nation.

  3. His attitude is too much and you have given both sides of argument.Indians like to make heros all the time

  4. Its a difference of cultures and it is difficult for Indians back home to accept privacy. As an expat I can see what he means but I am no celebrity!

  5. I guess now that he has been propelled from the reclusive world of a scientists, wittingly or unwittingly, onto centre stage of fame brought about by the Noble Prize, he will need to learn to be a little more diplomatic in his utterances. But then, even if he doesn't, like you said, who cares. India will forget him in no time.

  6. I guess we are all pretty much on the same page, so thanks Aditya, KB, Aggi...


    Oh, you have no idea how you expats behave when you land 'home'...take us for granted! I understand privacy issues and I have expressed that, but it works both ways.


    Maybe his 'culture' will not let him delegate this work to someone else. Wonder why he does not have a separate work account.

  7. Hi FV

    Visiting your blog after a brief break..didn't read much about Venkatraman Ramakrishnan other than that he won the Nobel prize jointly and he is American. Of course his name and his picture reveals his ethnicity. So it was quite refreshing to read in your blog that much has happened since then :).

    "All sorts" of people live in India, and "some sorts" of them had written to him. As you said, if he takes note of all those "Indians" who didn't write to him then these "some sorts" would be quite a minuscule amount. And he thought it to be so important that he gave a statement about it !

    About Indians living abroad, they cease to be "Indians" the moment they surrender their passport for another one. And they should be treated as such.

  8. Hi RBaruah:

    Look what you miss when you take a break from here!

    A lot more has happened as you will see from my new post but, trust me, it is very difficult for people of Indian origin - even those who have completely westernised themselves - to accept that they are not Indian. It gives them a certain power over the 'lesser' Indians, I think...

  9. You've managed to say what I was trying to say but couldn't, on my own blog here:




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