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Pop Science Nationalism

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Raghunath Anant Mashelkar deserved better.  The man behind India's scientific intellectual property rights (IPR) revolution, a visionary administrator, an inspirational orator and one of the most humble scientists of his times, Mashelkar certainly deserved better publishing counsel. His book Reinventing India — a compilation of some of his electrifying speeches — falls short of inspiring. It is another story altogether that when the tall, dark, charismatic scientist delivered these very speeches with a glint in his eyes and smile on his lips, not a single soul went back home untouched by the power of his delivery. The pride of being Indian — something he wears on his sleeve — is infectious. Sadly, the spirit does not rub off on the book, which also suffers from poor editing and redundancy.
Why would you want to read page after page of rhetoric applauding the glory of Indian science? What would make you sift through chapters dedicated to a single theme unless, of course, you belong to the genre of science nationalists? How many from this genre are alive and around - who is the book written for? If it means to inspire gen-next scientists into believing in Indian science, then unfortunately, it does not speak their language or address their issues. If it means to be just a compilation of Mashelkar's speeches and essays, then it should perhaps say just that on the cover.

Some take homes (if you are a Mashelkar fan and read through the book to know more about the man, that is,) are his thoughts on inclusive innovation, his incredible personal journey to become what he has and truckloads of optimism on the power of Indian science. At times, the optimism comes across as overkill, if one were to see through objective and not tinted glasses. Cynics will find this oozing nationalism slightly irritating - why is Indian science in a bad shape if all's well and this is the 'decade of innovation in India' as Mashelkar says? He does make an attempt to outline the barriers to progress - inhibiting culture, poor budgets, poor IPR and legal skills, market illiteracy and the grand dad of all things evil in India - its bureaucracy. But they are tucked under the layers of effusive praise and unadulterated pride.

Interestingly, there's this tiny newsy bit on use of social networking for governance that does not miss a keen journalistic eye, primarily because of the debate currently raging in the corridors of power. Mashelkar's take on social networking: there's need for innovative policy measures to use positively the capacity of new media, to engage young Indian population in the democratic process. Hope Mr. Kapil Sibal is listening.

For the man credited with transforming the way India conducts its scientific pursuits, changing the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) into a profit making, IPR-savvy body and fondly known for his resonating 'I for India' slogans, one can only hope that this book will be overwritten by another one. One that does justice to this unmatched bundle of energy and salutes his contribution to this country's science.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-01-2012)

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