Dec 21, 2007

Great Minds... waiting to be discovered!!!

The other day I received an email with ‘Great Indians’ as its subject header. I opened the mail casually, eager to check if I’ve seen it before. But it wasn’t just another forward. This one got me thinking… it got me thinking real hard!!!

The mail highlighted some breakthrough innovations in the field of mathematics, science, astrology, medicine, yoga etc. It spanned across the likes of Aryabhatta, Bhaskaracharya, Sushrut and Varahamihir. A sense of pride engulfed me when I realized that all the modern day wonders in these domains have their roots in India. I closed the mail with a broad smile. While doing that I chanced upon the subject line once again and a thought pierced through my mind. ‘Great Indians’ – These great Indians made their contributions hundreds of years ago. Why have we not had as many ‘Great Indians’ in the last couple of decades?

Food for thought isn’t it? Spend a couple of minutes pondering over this and you will realize that most of the world’s leading innovations have their origins in something that was pioneered in India. I am sure this thought will lead you to question yourself. Has innovation in India stagnated? Have we learnt and grown enough? Have we stopped looking for newer things?

Given that the ‘Great Indians’ who I quoted earlier achieved their claim to fame so many years ago, it is an understood fact that access to information, communication, technology etc was not available to them. What they have achieved was purely on the basis of merit and the genius within them. With so much of advancement happening around us today why has the number of great Indian minds dwindled over the years? Why don’t we hear of such breakthroughs in India instead of simply being in awe of what the developed nations are churning out, in spite of the fact that one of the main reasons they’re doing well is that they get a lot of their inputs off Indian shelves!!!

With the boom in Information Technology, easy access to information and strong knowledge hubs available to us, the proportion of great thinking and such innovations should have been much higher. Sadly though most of today’s ‘great thinking’ happens abroad, and in most cases it is fuelled by Indian minds branded internationally. More crudely put – the brain drain continues!!!

India often complains about her problem of population explosion. It is a problem no doubt, but our inability to channelize our human resources is one of the main reasons why we’re drifting away unguided.

Information Technology in India has played the role of a catalyst in many ways. Be it bridging the urban-rural divide, generation of employment opportunities for people from the smallest of towns in India or the boom in our country’s economy, a lot has changed … a lot has improved. Unfortunately, though this entire boom is driven by the western world. We Indians are just following the crowd… potential great minds simply rusting away!!!

What then are the reasons for this stagnation? We cannot really blame our educational system entirely. In terms of curricula I think we are surely progressing but the Indian pedagogy needs a major revamp!!! Today most of our leading business schools and premier technical institutes market their brand on the basis of their placement statistics. Jobs in blue chip companies and hefty pay packets are what students are looking out for. Quality learning and practical implementation seem to have lost their significance.

Once we achieve our ‘dream’ jobs, there’s nothing much to be really happy about. Most of our corporate setups believe in taking the easier approach to business practices. Taking the trodden path seems to be the safest way out. Innovative Thinking takes yet another beating… all in the name of following ‘industry standards’ and ‘best practices’ laid down by the west.

For instance, take a look at a cross section of the IT companies in India. A majority of them adopt an onsite-offshore business model. This means our onsite counterparts decide what we do and how we do it. Take a closer look… and you’ll realize that most of the work that is off shored is some variant of software maintenance activity – production support, code upgrades and bug fixing etc. Simply put the quality of work that comes to us is very menial as compared to what we are capable of.

Is this how are dream jobs were meant to be? The irony of the whole thing is that we fail to realize this at the right time because all this humbug is brilliantly camouflaged. Interesting salary packages, stylish perks and incentives, pick up and drop facilities, Sodexho passes, a couple of onsite trips (not to mention the allowances in foreign currency) and the entire shopping mall - multiplex culture that has gripped our nation blankets the monotony of the inferior quality of the work being dumped on us. When we realize what we’ve got ourselves into we look up to job-hopping as the only solution!!! If this continues the larger problem will only get larger!!!

India’s corporate community has a major role to play to help our her emerge as a global innovator. In this fast paced economy there will be many obstacles that stunt efforts made by an individual or a group of individuals. Corporate bigwigs, political visionaries and our IT giants need to encourage, finance, market and sustain innovative thinking in order to help our nation scale greater heights. The appreciation in the value of the Indian Rupee is something we should be proud of. Instead there seems to be a lull in the business community. Imagine the returns we could have garnered if we had geared up ourselves intellectually. We could have done so well exporting all our homegrown products, services and ideas.

Also, I strongly believe that the IT sector has got a lot of undue mileage over the last few years. There are so many sectors like agriculture, medicine, finance, biotechnology, education and many more such areas where we can innovate and come out with path breaking revelations. There’s a lot of potential and there are a lot of avenues waiting to be explored. We just need to get started!!! We cannot rely on our government to help us in this initiative. There’s a lot of mess within that needs to tackled anyway. CEO’s of huge organizations in India should look beyond their company balance sheets and extend the required platform and opportunity to harness our true potential and emerge as a global leader in the true sense.

It’s time we look beyond earning profits for international multinational companies. It’s time we make way for many more ‘Great Indians’!!!

(PS: A special thanks to Balaji for forwarding the 'Great Indians' mail to me and to Saravanan for his comments on what I felt about that mail.)


S. Ravi Venkatramana December 23, 2007 at 8:57 PM  


Good one. My two paise worth remarks:

One of the greatest mathematicians of the last century, Srinivasa Ramanujan was working as a clerk in Madras Port Trust till his genius was identified by Prof. Hardy. Incidentally, yesterday was Ramanujan's birthday and there was no mention in any TV News Channel or newspaper. However, media were flashing news and pictures about a nonagenarian's demise who was a superstar's mother. Some of Ramanujan's works are still being taken up as research papers in some of the best educational institutions in the world.

Do we as a society recognize merit in the true sense or get more influenced by 'other' things? Has Ramanujan lost significance in today's Indian world?

We can pick up a few things from West. For e.g., Albert Einstein was a patent clerk in Swiss Embassy before he shook the Newtonian world by proposing his theory of relativity. Another one - the Western society goes overboard to support all physical requirements of Prof. Stephen Hawking, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics to continue with his research, given his inability to move and speak. Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman could easily express his dissent on some of the Government's views during the probe on Challenger Shuttle's explosion. Talent means a lot over there.

If we take pride in eminent Indians like Prof.MS Swaminathan et al, it will create a tremendous inspiration in the younger generation. I think a lot depends on parents and teachers to recognize the budding talent and nurture not only the 'Great Indians' but the world beaters of tomorrow and the Government to stop brain drain.

Keep writing.

- Ravi

dorai December 23, 2007 at 10:08 PM  

hi priya,
quite a serious thought for one so young. you know..someone stated that thousands of people saw the apple fall but only newton asked why? that could be one of the reasons that we indians have stopped asking why and started simply accepting whatever comes our way in way of monetary gains, incentives, perks etc that you had mentioned.
over the past few centuries, india has been ruled by more foreign dynasties and races than our own...self thought was lost in this process..we did what we were told to and that has evolved us indians to what we are.
accept it or start asking why the apple falls!!


K.Kaviraj January 18, 2008 at 10:46 PM  

hhhmmmm .... read it Priya :-) -- thinking over "wat to comment" :-)

Bakri February 2, 2008 at 12:40 PM  

hey priya..

nice post..:-)

It is indeed true that a lot of talent lies in India. Zillions of Engg. from every field rush to the IT sector for jobs leaving their own domains. But each one of them has a huge potential. There are loads of them who can "think outta the box" - but what happens? They get a job with an IT company with lotsa perks and incentives and they 'get comfortable' with their work which isn't quality work in most cases because of the onsite-offshore model adapted by companies...
And then there's the brain drain... So we end up making profits for foreign companies...This is definitely a topic to ponder upon..

Abhay February 14, 2008 at 3:26 PM  

How are u? Good post, my few cents are as follows:
I think there are 2 major aspects here....
Education System: I think it needs a major overhaul, we are taught to master subjects from the "exam" point of view and conveniently forget the concepts afterwards and move on. Students are more focussed on the "end result" which is "Placement" rather than the subject matter. The curriculum designers are to be blamed as well. In the west, most of the innovation driven companies sprung from universities, What happens here ? People learn to write "Hello World" in 5 to 6 different languages and compartmentalize themselves as "Java people", "VC++ people" etc. There is no emphasis on problem solving skills and looking "beyond " these barriers. Also because of the way the curriculum is designed, the most formative years are wasted in useless activities like completing(copying) journals and doing the same assignments which were given 7 years ago and have been passed from one batch to the other.

The second aspect is about Indian society in general. "Failure" is viewed as a taboo here, not many dare to take the road less traveled even if they possess the necessary grey matter. So if there is a safe option available in IT, a person with a good scientific bent of mind will probably not do a BSC, MSC, PHD. Peer pressure and society does not accept it as "cool" or unfortunately tags it as a "second option" if nothing works.

As with the great names mentioned in the blog, I would like to add Panini, the designer of Sanskrit language, its the "only" natural language in BNF form which can be parsed by computers. I chanced upon this link
and further investigations revealed that the problem of "Knowledge Representation" was solved to a great extent 2000 years ago. Sanskrit was the language to express syntax with semantics, and the semantics formed the basis of our philosophy. (
So it was a "grand unification" of sorts - language, philosophy, religion and way of life !!

Reading Nyaya is like reading "Theory of Cognition" - a fundamental part of AI. The first 2 volumes contain axioms and proofs and on basis of these, the philosophers prove that God exists in the third volume!!. Reading it is almost like reading code, it is pure logic !!

In fact, my work on semantic search engines has gained a lot of useful perspective from these ancient concepts !!. Unfortunately, today all these fundamental concepts have been perverted in the name of religion and we have lost our capabilities to use logic and reason and accept things blindly.
After all, one needs healthy irreverence to existing paradigms to innovate !!

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