Thursday, December 04, 2008

1500 years ago, an Indian was being funded for research by Indians

There is this Airtel advertisement that I keep seeing on television. It tells us that how Indians were inventing things and the world was following them. For e.g., it points to Aryabhatta who put forth the concept of zero. It also points to Sushrut, the first person to practice medical surgery and document it in detail. Towards the modern times, it shows about Vinod Dham, who led the team that invented the Pentium processor for Intel.

Now, what cannot be shown in this short advertisement is the tremendous amount of research efforts put in by all the three men. All of them did (probably) believe in themselves. Let's talk of Aryabhatta and Sushrut. They carried out a large number of studies and documented their successes for the future generations to taste their fruits. Aryabhatta is believed to have studied at Kusumpura, which is a name for Patliputra. The university at Patliputra was patronised by the king and wealthy of that era (equivalent to what is government and businessmen today). Aryabhatta wrote his famous "Aryabhatiya" while at the university in Patliputra. Sushrut, the legendary surgeon, lived in Kashi around the 6th century BCE. While I have no idea about his early education or his studies in the field of medicine, it was common in that age for the king or emperor to patronise education. The ruler would give a piece of land to the scholars interested in teaching or research and would fund them for their work. Many times, the wealthy too would patronise such institutes of studies or research. Thus, both Aryabhatta and Sushrut were products of patronised research. Both had an objective of serving the purposes of the society through their research.

What does this mean in today's context? If we are ready to believe in ourselves, as the Airtel ad wishes us to, there needs to be someone who can stand behind us solidly with resources to carry out research that can serve the purpose of the Indian society. Does Airtel want to do so? How many Indian corporates (not foreign multinationals) carry out research work to develop products suited for use in India? How much support does the government lend for the upkeep and expansion of research infrastructure? And till what time will we Indians rely on past glory to claim the superiority of our civilisation? We should believe in ourselves, back our researchers to the fullest possible extent and build an India based on our needs.
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