Saturday, February 25, 2006

Gyan-Vigyan I

“India Shining!” Not withstanding the politics surrounding this phrase, very few people refuse to accept that we are doing well. Since 1990, in addition to successfully facing the MNCs that entered our country, our companies are now venturing out into other countries and competing for their markets. Contrary to what a few cynics want us to believe, it is not just our software industry that is doing well, Indian Industry is doing well.

Of course we do have frequent, well founded, warnings from a few wise men that our much highlighted achievements should not be reserved to the service sector, and that we should have more Indian companies that compete with the world in manufacturing sector. Some believe that we need to build 'Made in India' to the level of 'Made in Japan', and if economics don't recommend such a goal, we should settle for making 'Made by India' as the benchmark for quality.

Considering the success of a few institutions in achieving something in this area, realizing such a goal does not appear to be an unreasonable expectation. Many in the present generation earn much more than our previous generations did, and more importantly many enjoy comforts on par with the rest of the world. We pride ourselves in having beaten the Chinese in one area since 1990, we are now a 'BPO Superpower'. Unlike in the manufacturing sector, where the Chinese had an early lead over us, it is not just manpower and low-wages that count, language matters. And that is our advantage: we are an English-speaking nation!

And that precisely is our problem: we are an English speaking nation. We, the descendants of the oldest civilization (no one has proved otherwise, so we ARE), prefer to call ourselves by a name given by some one in Greece. We prefer to conduct much of our official transactions in English, rather than in our mother-tongue. Though we are one of the best in the service sector, much of our population never benefits from it.

We pride ourselves for having some of the world's best graduates in Science and Engineering, and from my limited experience in the US, our pride is not misplaced. And this is the area where the problem is the most acute. We learn science in English and restrict our scientific debate to English. It remains an alien field for most of us, irreconcilable with our culture, a culture that we claim was scientifically the most advanced of its age- but we only claim that, we do not believe it enough to express the current scientific knowledge in our languages. Of course we have schools teaching science in local languages, but we force every one aspiring for a career in science to shift to English. So our efforts in this direction have only been half-hearted to this date.

We know the number system that our ancestors conceptualized by the name of some one else who learned it from us. This demonstrates the deplorable state that we have allowed ourselves to get into. It is time we remedied this state before it is too late. If not, we have enough examples in the present world to imagine where our future lies. The Arabs enriched their culture from the scientific knowledge that they gained from our ancestors, and so did the Europeans who came out of their Dark Ages and went on to rule the world. Accessibility of scientific knowledge to everyone, along with its internalization with one's culture, is necessary for a civilization to achieve the technological progress similar to that of any civilization that dominated the world in its age. If we fail to do so, we might still grow rich and strong but can not achieve a position similar to that of our ancestors.

Many mistakenly believe that our languages lack the vocabulary for much of scientific terminology, all the while failing to realize that it is our inability to integrate the modern science with our culture/language that makes it difficult to engage in scientific debate and spread the scientific knowledge in our languages. It is we who have to enrich our language by integrating scientific terminology into it, expecting our ancestors to have thought of terms for modern science is escapism at best. Most of us believe that our languages are better than English (spelling-pronunciation being a simple test for the doubtful), but still we do not feel compelled to do something to improve the situation, probably because most of us considered it an unimportant issue.

Had the Arabs and Europeans not translated the knowledge of Bharat into their own languages, could the Europeans have made those significant scientific and technological advances that brought such prosperity to their lands? Would the world be what it now is?

We should remember that the Airplane was first built not by any institutionally funded research group, but by two bicycle shop owners. Nor was the light bulb invented by a person with a host of formal degrees in science or engineering. Neither would've been possible if science was limited to Samskrit or even Latin. Much of our population considers science as a western concept, and hence against our culture. Another manifestation of the rift is the wide-spread tendency among the educated community of refusing to acknowledge scientific thought shown by those with no formal higher education. If we want to lead the world and live up to our heritage, we need to immediately attend to the widening rift between our culture and the scientific knowledge that we cannot live without. Science is our livelihood, Culture is our life. It is in our own interests to not let them be at opposing ends.


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