Category Archives: current affairs

IISc – first impressions

Nice trees. Very nice trees. That is the first thing you notice when you come to IISc. It is an island of green in a sea of gray concrete, beautiful and soothing at the same time.

The second thing you notice is relaxed the place is. Nothing of the ‘publish or perish’ problems that seem to plague friends studying in US universities. Consequently, the number of papers that IISc outputs in a year is not very high and I frankly think nobody should give a damn about it.

Another thing one notices is the number of people from Karnataka here, which is close to despairingly low. But our lunch table has enough interesting people, so not really too much of an issue from my perspective. The profs are really good, atleast in our department, students are quite capable with some exceptions.

The high point of the last month has been two talks, one by Ramaswamy Iyer and another by Uzramma, both questioning what is defined as ‘development’ today – the former in the context of big dams and the latter on the cotton cloth industry. IISc and its neighbors are able to get some really good people for talks, which is an advantage of being a famous institution and all that. However, one thing that immediately comes into focus is that the world of the people in IISc is completely cut-off from the real world, with people living in their own private wonderlands. Thus, Uzramma was given suggestions to do HRD, improve efficiency using solar power and such things when her talk focused mainly on generating a livelihood, which was being denied to many in India today. Iyer’s call for academic institutions to focus on water science will probably be lost on professors and students intent on keeping up with the latest topics in vogue in the West.

There is no dearth of a feeling that IISc is doing the country a great favor by its existence, though such a notion can be very easily questioned. The main contribution of  IISc seems to be the material enrichment of its alumni, all getting huge salaries by virtue of their ‘brand name’. And absorbing lot of CO2 and dust, thank you very much. It does not seem too interested in the material basis of its own existence, with lights and computers running 24/7 and not a single building that I have noticed implementing rain water harvesting, and all this with a Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST) on campus!!

There are places which are supposed to do interesting work, like the Divecha Centre for Climate Change and CiSTUP, but the imperative for the scientists here to deliver information and insight that empowers society as a whole seems to be missing. Science appropriate to our local context seems to have taken a back seat to cutting edge science which has no relevance to the hawker on the street. Is it possible to create science which is both cutting edge and socially relevant ? yes. One does not start out trying to be socially relevant, since that restricts the mindset of the scientist, but a complete lack of knowledge of problems facing our society which could lead to interesting science does not seem to faze the people here.

Not that the people lack awareness – there are amateur theoreticians and activists in every field here, be it politics, culture or linguistics. In that sense, IISc is a typical intellectual institution – people supporting Hindutva and Marxism and every other ism exist side by side, staying away from each other and looking down at everyone else who obviously have an ideology inferior to the one they hold dear. There are grand theoretical discussions and debates, but obviously none of that matters to the kid who had to leave school to work in the xerox centre, copying books he cannot even hope to understand. The fact that students and faculty of a centrally funded institution have a strong social obligation seems lost here. There may be people justifying that their social obligation is to produce original reasearch, i.e, publish papers, but Amulya Reddy might beg to disagree.

Like someone said, the poor have only the truth to fight with. Scientists, as seekers of the same truth must use their skills to help the cause of those who do not have anyone to look upto for help. Whether each student of IISc is doing her bit to work towards this end, is upto her and her conscience.

Environmentally friendly cows!

Once you start hearing papers say such things, you know something is seriously wrong. The motivation behind such a statement is that apparently cows belch too much, and their burps contain methane and this is a very potent greenhouse gas, and therefore we must breed new cows which burp less, so that they don’t contribute to climate change!

I have been trying to wrap my head around the concept of an environmentally friendly cow for almost a day now, just not happening. Maybe scientists nowadays are too advanced for us mere mortals to understand. But wait, just due to their sheer numbers, termites probably emit more methane than cows overall. Therefore, we must also try and breed new termites, and ban people from keeping termite farms. While we are at it, we should also breed new set of humans who do not eat junk food (especially peanuts!), since that is a huge cause for methane emissions as well. Looking at what junk gets done in the name of science these days, funding should not be too much of a problem.

Why is it that cows, that have peacefully belched their way through a couple of million years without causing too much climate change suddenly the enemy ? Obviously, the problem is not with the cows themselves, but the rate at which beef is being consumed makes their number quite formidable. So what is the answer to this ? according to the previous link, control the number of people, so that they can eat lesser number of cows!! Beef is not the staple food in most countries, and the population increase happens in classes which cannot normally afford too much beef, so wonder who is eating such a large amount of it.

This insane and ludicrous issue brings to the fore the contradictions of a civilization that cannot accept that its way of life is completely off track. It wants to keep thinking that the way it has progressed is viable, and only few minor issues arise that can be solved by ‘scientific innovation’. This blame-the-cow attitude has been with us for a long time: blame the poor, blame the corporation, blame the Muslim – as long as we are not blamed. Wonder when people will grow up!

Location shift

As a compensation for writing ridiculously bad exams like GATE, will be moving to the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ominously called CAOS!) in the Indian Institute of  Science, Bangalore. One hopes Bangalore is far more tolerable inside one of its greenest areas. The next couple of months will be spent preparing for another interview in the same department for another program, so expect fundas from fluid mechanics and miscellaneous boring things to dominate this space.

News that you might have missed

  • The economy seems to be heading for a meltdown, what you did not know is that a rural economy is purposely being liquidated in Maharashtra.
  • Glamorous dudes and dudettes getting laid off by Jet airways seems to have caught Raj Thackeray’s interest, but not the fact that India is better than only sub-saharan Africa in terms of its hunger index.
  • The banks seem to have cornered the media attention, while the food crisis is going unnoticed.
  • Everybody seems to be worried about how the global recession will affect Bangalore, but not how its water supply will.
  • All eyes are on the US elections, while conservatives parties are gaining ground in AustriaCanada and of course, Zimbabwe.
  • Zimbabwe’s now famous hyperinflation is moving focus away from its children.
  • Banks first, the earth next.