Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was quite candid as I mentioned in the earlier post. He talked about people bothering him. So, what is this?
I want to make it clear that I was delighted to hear from scientific colleagues and students whom I had met personally in India and elsewhere, as well as close friends with whom I had lost touch. Unlike real celebrities like movie stars, we scientists generally lead a quiet life, and are not psychologically equipped to handle publicity. So I found the barrage of emails from people whom I didn’t know or whom I only knew slightly almost 40 years ago (nearly all from India) difficult to deal with.
And he was psychologically savvy enough to hit out? Did he know the Nobel Committee? And did he not say he congratulated the person who called to inform him about the prize for his Swedish accent, assuming it was a crank call? So, if he can answer phone calls from strangers, he is going to get emails from strangers.
People have also taken offence at my comment about nationality being an accident of birth. However, they don’t seem to notice the first part of the sentence: We are all human beings.
I noticed the whole comment and reproduced it. Being human beings is an obvious fact and even those who go into space don’t cease being human beings. I wish he had the courage of his convictions and stood up for what he had said instead of this rubbish:
Accident or not, I remain grateful to all the dedicated teachers I had. Others have said I have disowned my roots. Since 2002, I have come almost every year to India. In these visits, I have spent time on institute campuses giving lectures or talking to colleagues and students, and stayed in the campus guest house. I have not spent my time staying in fancy hotels and going sightseeing.
Roots are not about giving lectures and staying at campuses. By going sightseeing you do not become less of an Indian. He is coming here on work in his professional capacity and has the audacity to talk about it as maintaining connections with his roots. He could have been going on lecture tours to Jalalabad, for all we care.
Finally, at a personal level, although I am westernized, many aspects of culture like a love for classical Indian music or South Indian or Gujarati food are simply a part of me.
So? I know westerners who love our cuisine and music and culture. What is he trying to prove? He has even given an interview about riding bicycles and all those wonderful memories. Why did he not think about them before shooting off his mouth about some professor making tall claims? Did these memories not seem important then?
Some of us had taken what he said in the right spirit, respecting his privacy and right to be not an Indian. He has, unfortunately, decided to do a 360 degree turn and come across as extremely patronising:
I am personally not that important. If I hadn’t existed, this work would still have been done. It is the work that is important, and that should be what excites people. Finally, there are many excellent scientists in India and elsewhere who will never win a Nobel. But their work is no less interesting and people should find out about what they do. My visits to India confirm that it has great potential and bright young students. A little less nationalistic hero worship will go a long way to fulfil that potential.
We know there is potential. While there are a few of us who do not believe in blind nationalistic worship, there are others who do so. That is why we have Gandhi and Nehru cults. How will less hero worship tap potential? He says he was excited about Gellman’s work and it did not matter what his nationality was. True. So, Indians also worship Michael Jackson and Angelina Jolie. What potential will they be fulfilling? And will anyone take him on about the “less nationalistic” advice? No. Because we are idiots. We will throw stones at our own when they point out certain hard facts, but not at this man.
Is it only about his inbox? If all this was unimportant, he would not be writing this defensive little piece. He would have gone on with his work instead of telling us about how we must look for potential and learn from his work, his roots notwithstanding. Fine. As I said, people will move on. He should too. And I hope he has the good sense now to let go and get into his quiet life and further tap his potential. The Nobel is not the end of the world, as he has so self-deprecatingly implied. Now all he has to do is stop holding forth on India, although the adulation will certainly be hugely appealing.
We are happy for him in his heavenly abode – the West.