Venky’s Chicken

He is obviously doing more than going through his emails. In today’s Times of India he has reacted to the reactions to his reaction about the woes of his inbox. He has apologised for “inadvertently” hurting people.

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.


  1. From your last post - "It is herds that decide on social behaviour and values."

    Venky doesn't belong to any herd. Just leave him alone.

  2. It is patently unfair to use a statement from another blog post on an entirely different issue here without making any valid argument. He may or not belong to a herd but I or anyone else has the right to comment on what he says about as a herd, branding the Indian behaviour as strange.

    He has no choice to be left alone in a public space. I am not emailing him and you have the choice not to read about him when the headlines clearly state what one means unlike his attitude.

  3. Sorry for not providing an argument. Since you are asking for it, here it goes:

    He didn't brand Indian behavior as strange, only of those Indians who clogged his email box, those Indians who didn't bother to be in touch with him for decades but suddenly felt the urge to connect, and those Indians who were spreading lies claiming to be his teacher. I see no reason why rest of India, which didn't clog his email box or spread lies about him should feel offended by his disenchantment.

    Its typical herd-like behavior to take offense where none was meant. He didn't deserve the kind of lynching that he received from the mob and he certainly doesn't deserve the kind of psychoanalysis where every word that he utters is put through the scanner of social behavior and values.

    He's one of those rare man, a true man of science who is devoted to his work, someone who is a notch above the rank and file that determines social values, someone who doesn't care much about his nationality or conferment of honors by the society. Try to understand things from his point of view. Here is someone who has led a fairly anonymous life pursuing his research quietly in his lab, suddenly being treated as some sort of hero for no other reason except that he is an Indian. As a scientist, he knows that his work is part of a process, a process which involves input from equally worthy colleagues, a process that has absolutely no connection with the color of his skin. As you know, he shared the award with two other colleagues, who despite winning the same award haven't been recipient of the hero-worshiping that he was subjected too.

    A lesser man would have basked in the glory and enjoyed every bit of attention being showered on him. But this guy being an individualist saw through the bullshit, the jingoism and the hypocrisy of the herd that respects, honors, values and loves only those who bring them the titles they take pride in collectively. (Had he won only a Padma Bhusan, I doubt his email box would have been clogged.) Being slightly isolated from Indian society, I guess he didn't quite realize that his words would be misjudged to such an extent and said publicly what many others in a similar situation would have said but only within the confines of their dining rooms.

    The mob or the herd quite expectantly disowned him when he exposed their pretentious pride in his success. But it must have hurt him a lot, to be dissed, condemned, castigated and his behavior being called disgraceful not just by the dumb herd but even by many level-headed opinion-makers of our society. Its tough to stand by your convictions, when everyone disses you as an ungrateful, arrogant dick and assumes the worst about you judging you by their own narrow, petty, twisted yardsticks. So yes, he copped out..the mob has forced him to become defensive and so he is now blabbering like an idiot, but then he is a scientist, not a journalist like you or a professional activist well-equipped to endure the vilification of those who till yesterday were showering him with garlands.

    Yes, you have a right to comment on what he says, but in my opinion, you should go easy on him and spend your ire on the brainless herd which tries to bring down men of individuality, honesty, humility and integrity to their own low-levels.

  4. Scientists and professors are really in their own world; with limited social skills -- that is why they are not politicians. Tehy are not used to aking statements and clarifying.. Leave him alone; let him do his research. He has made a great discovery; all of us can eb proud of what he has done. He may have used wrong words; may be he meant he does not like teh current politics or reality; but he likes the otehr aspects

  5. Agree with most part yet think he does not know how to handle the attention. He must realize that many Indians are proud of him.

  6. Even after all this we will not learn.He is also confused.

  7. Ashish:

    No one is denying him his own world, but that world is not an island. Heck, no one heard about spam? As regards social skills, he started it with issuing statements and then writing this clarificatory piece.

    Seclusion is not necessarily a professional prerogative; it happens to many people. No one asked him about current politics and I am waiting to see if he will speak about it, at least Indian politics. I did mention that people of other cultures can like aspects of different cultures.

    No one is taking away from his achievement, but if he only wants encomiums from those of his level, then I am afraid it speaks of extreme arrogance.


    Probably he does not...


    Well, this is the herd that blindly accepts whatever people dish out.

  8. Eklavya:

    Thanks and sorry about your comment appearing later...it unfortunately went to the bin and I could access it only when I properly signed in.

    It does appear that you have not read my earlier post on the subject. I will quote from there and you see for yourself. My issue is with his change in attitude and the fact that 'lesser' folks do not get away with saying what he did about nationalism.

    Here are the quotes that will gel with what you are saying:

    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.

    I am afraid, the above does not in any manner reveal that one is trying to bring down the man, and if he is so individualistic and beyond it all, then he might not feel the need to cop out and seek to belong, with a caveat...

    My "ire" for whatever it is worth is an equal opportunity offender. I doubt if he reads blogs, so he won't know that he is at any low level. There are enough people to prop him up.

    PS: What made you think some of us in certain professions can get accustomed to vilification?

  9. ...and one more thing. Way before this controversy, I had responded to a comment (that I did not take pride in VR's award) on my post 'Nobel Savages' with an I did not believe in basking in reflected glory.

    Just thought I'd mention it.


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