When I think about our country, there are several things that come to my mind. Be it our culture, heritage, food or history – we are unique and special in every way. But the one thing that stands out in my mind is our intellect! Creativity, knowledge and genius always abound in our land. Be it for the mathematical zero, our engineering genes, insane GMAT scores or a slightly overkill IT wizardry, our nerdiness is quite renowned across the globe. But then there comes the bewildering paradox. History doesn’t do justice to our intellectual legacy. Neither do we!
Ask a child to name a few scientists and (s)he will go Einstein,
Edison and so on. Ask elder intellectuals and
the list might find some additions like Darwin, Tesla, Madam Curie, Da Vinci
and say a few more. Trust me, if someone manages to mention J.C. Bose,
Ramanujam, C.V.Raman or Homi Bhabha then I would be over the moon. Rewind your
memory to the science textbooks of your 10th or 12th
standard and you will see my point. Did we read about Har Gobind Khorana’s
Nobel Prize for cracking the genetic code? May be! May be not! Have you heard
of “Boson” named after the legendary S.N.Bose? Probably not! How much mention
was there about Vikram Sarabhai? Sure we find a snippet here and a citation
there. But nothing beyond that!
My point is two fold. One: we don’t celebrate our scientists enough. Two: We don’t make them enough any more either! And for sure lack of potential or caliber is not the reason for the latter. We live in a land extraordinaire. Here we can find an entire spectrum of people ranging from extraordinarily brilliant, capable and sincere all the way down to extraordinarily numb, dumb and corrupt. This is one kind of diversity our country can live without. And in this vast jungle of herbs and weeds interspersed by beautiful trees and carnivorous pitchers, even the noblest of intentions and most cerebral of ideas can disappear without a trace caught in the quicksand of something we have always been famous for: “Officialdom”!
While there are several obstacles to science in our country including our current higher education system and the social perception of professional education (I intend to write about the lack of societal respect for science, arts and humanities later), the single most dominant force that has straggled science for ages is the ubiquitous and obnoxiously recalcitrant Indian bureaucracy and red tape. We all know about this perennial curse that continues to demoralize our spirits in many ways and in many fields but the maladies suffered by science at the hands of this demon are so prosaic and debilitating that the resulting casualties are countless!
Does the name Dr.Subhas Mukherjee (Mukhopadhyay) ring a bell? If it does, you are elite and if it doesn’t; then you are not alone! He is an unsung, forgotten hero who didn’t get anything he deserved and most certainly didn’t deserve anything he got! Dr.Subhas Mukhrjee was the creator of
and world’s second test tube baby, a great mind and the inventor of a modern
miracle, a concept that revolutionized the lives of millions of childless
couples. This man’s remarkable vision created the first life outside the womb. India
There were just 67 days between the births of the first test tube baby (Louise Brown – born 25th July 1978) pioneered by Robert G.Edwards and the second (Durga – 3rd October 1978) brought to life by Dr.Subhas Mukherjee. Both Subhas and Robert were great scientists, doctors and legends who independently gave the world “In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)”. But the similarities end there. Dr.Robert Edwards won the Nobel Prize for his achievement in 2010 while Dr.Subhas hanged himself to death in 1981. His suicide note read: "I can't wait everyday for a heart attack to kill me."
While Dr.Edwards’s efforts were quickly recognized and glorified by his country, an ‘expert committee’ was appointed by the Government of West Bengal under the medical association and he was tried like a convict. His crimes: he did the impossible with bare minimum apparatus; he didn’t get it cleared by pandering to the so-called experts and bureaucrats; he was righteous and not subservient. Hence, for these heinous crimes, he was awarded with social ostracization and bureaucratic reprimand which left a permanent scar in his heart. The committee denounced all his claims and achievements. He was denied leave to write a detailed report of his results and to attend a meeting in
discuss his work. And he was further humiliated with a transfer to Japan as professor of
electrophysiology. I don’t think a man can bear any more injustice and anguish.
And his death has left a permanent scar on our society! Institute of Ophthalmology
A few years later in 1986, T.C. Anand Kumar created
first official test tube baby. And miraculously in 1997, he got to see the
research documents and hand-written notes of Dr.Subhas. After meticulously scrutinizing
and having discussions with Durga’s parents, he became certain that Subhas was indeed
the architect of first human test tube baby in Harsha, India . Dr.Anand Kumar’s commendable
and selfless efforts restored his due place in India ’s medical history in 2001 (20
long years later) when the Indian Council of Medical Research finally
acknowledged his contributions. It takes a great man to give away greatness and
glory of such magnitude to someone else. But the greatness of Dr.Anand Kumar
further magnifies the apathy and graveness of the situation. But for him, we wouldn’t even know of
Dr.Subhas’s genius! I am borrowing Kamal Hasan’s funny lines from a movie to
say something very serious: “A terrific scientist was made to look like a
scientific terrorist for 20 years!” India
Science has come a long way and certainly there have been improvements as it is slowly chipping away from the clutches of bureaucracy. But rosy days are still far off. Namita, Subhas’s wife, frail and bed-ridden still yearns for the day she will see an Institute named after her husband whose only sign yet is a dust covered plaque and a listing in some governmental file. While his own country has abandoned him, the world continues to discover and honor him in little ways that bring some solace to my aching heart. The international scientist community is slowly accepting Dr Subhas Mukhopadhyay's claim and recognizing
producing the world's second test-tube baby. And Kanupriya Agarwal (alias Durga)
is finally happy that some justice is being restored to her scientific father. This
is just one of many instances and it has cost the nation a legend and a legend
his life! I just hope I live to see the day when we give these greats their due
respect and just let them change the world! India
** Dr Mukhopadhyay's story was immortalised in the 1991 film Ek Doctor Ki Maut starring Pankaj Kapur and Shabana Azmi. (Watch it if you are interested)