India-A Nation of Geeks
"India was the motherland of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages. India was the mother of our philosophy, of much of our mathematics, of the ideals embodied in Christianity... of self-government and democracy. In many ways, Mother India is the mother of us all." - Will Durant, American Historian 1885-1981
India-a country identified by its curries, dazzling colors, spiritualism and religious beliefs, its expanse and multi-cultural living-is now fast gaining prominence for its ‘geeks.’ The Indian science is fast taking over the world. India’s tech industry is being recognized world over for innovations while enough has been said and written about the IT outsourcing from India. Shoots of creativity can be seen in different sectors like life science, biotechnology and computing. Indian chemists are producing life saving drugs that are being sold in Europe while Indian IT geeks are fixing computers in the US.
The word jugaad is familiar with all Indians as a word that represents the theory of getting a work done, by hook or crook. Financial Times defines it as “..a new way to think constructively and differently about innovation and strategy.” A frugal and flexible way of thinking innovation in an unforeseen and uncertain circumstances and getting the job done. This jugaad has perhaps led to many an inventions by Indian geeks which are most applicable to the Indian conditions. For instance the invention of a solar water purifier that eliminates bacteria at nano levels and can purify water from sea, river, bore wells or rain into drinking water. A perfect solution for a country like India where the supply of drinking water is considered unsafe. Another invention of non-hazardous stains for scientists saves them from health issues encountered while working in labs. Or a smartphone that was turned in to malaria detector; a molecule detector that has the potential of becoming a part of anti-cancer drug or the cheaper lens for the poor who go through cataract surgery. The list can be long, but many such jugaad inventions can be found that comes from the ability to think innovatively and economically.
In recent times India has gone on to live up to its reputation of a geek nation. Take for instance the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) also called Mangalyaan (Mangal-Mars, yaan-vehicle) that was launched on November 5th, 2013 by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), making India the first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit and the first in the world to do so in a single attempt. What makes this mission unique is not only its success in its first attempt, but also the minimal cost involved. Approximately USD 73 million (which was less than the budget of film Gravity) spent on the mission that made it the least expensive in the world was a result of lower worker costs, home grown technologies and less complicated payload than NASA’s Maven. No wonders then that NASA has invited scientists from ISRO to collaborate on its mission to Mars.
So was India always a country of geeks? The answer is a resounding yes! Just that it is being acknowledged only recently. Like the famous Manoj Kumar song from Purab aur Paschim goes, ‘Jab zero diya mere bharat ne, tab duniya ko ginti aayi’ (The world got to know counting only after India discovered zero for them). Indian mythological stories are full of instances that make us believe that medical science, biotechnology, weaponry, aircrafts and aeronautical engineering existed since ancient times in India. The mention of udan khatolas (flying saucers) or the building of Ram Setu (the Ramayan bridge or Adam’s bridge), the existence of which have been confirmed by satellite images are all proof of technology in ancient India. These are just a few examples that historians site to exemplify technology as a part of Indian history.
Much later to the mythological times, India contributed by inventing the number system. Aryabhatt, the first major mathematician and astronomer from the classical age of Indian mathematics, invented the number zero that is hailed as the most revolutionary step in mathematics. In India, mathematics has its roots in Vedic literature which is nearly 4000 years old. Between 1000 B.C. and 1000 A.D. various treatises on mathematics were authored by Indian mathematicians in which set forth for the first time, the concept of zero, the techniques of algebra and algorithm, square root, cube root and the value of pi. According to Australian Indologist A.L. Basham (A.L. Basham; The Wonder That was India.) "... the world owes most to India in the realm of mathematics, which was developed in the Gupta period to a stage more advanced than that reached by any other nation of antiquity. The success of Indian mathematics was mainly due to the fact that Indians had a clear conception of the abstract number as distinct from the numerical quantity of objects or spatial extension."
Similarly the excavation and discovery of the city of Dwarka submerged in the sea establishes the use of architecture and raises the possibility of the mythological figure of Krishna to be true. The found structures demonstrate a well planned city in sectors, with walls built of sandstones. Excavation of the Harappan civilization has proved how there existed great accuracy in measuring length, mass and time. The excavation of the structures built in the era demonstrate the use of decimal division of measurements. This civilization is also credited with the invention of measuring rulers.
Ancient history confirms the presence of Sushruta some 2600 years ago who, along with his team, is said to have performed surgeries such as cataract, artificial limbs, caesarean and fractures as well as neuro and plastic surgeries. Another invention that confirms the Indians were always the geek variety is the game of chess during the Gupta Empire in the 6th century.
Peter Johnstone, Professor of the foundation of Mathematics at Cambridge University has said, “Gravitation was known to the Indians before the birth of Newton. The system of blood circulation was discovered by them centuries before Harvey was heard of.”
Many more inventions in India have found their way into the daily lives of the modern world, like ink, toilet flushes, buttons to name a few. The 20th Century Bengali scientist Satyendra Nath Bose is one of modern science’s unheralded heroes whose work provided the foundations for quantum statistics, which were later developed and published by Einstein. He also was the first to demonstrate the use of radio wave for communications in 1895, about two years before a similar demonstration in England. The discovery which forms the foundation of radio, television, WiFi and remotes, was also published in the Daily Chronicle in 1896.
About 1.5 million engineers graduate every year in India, more than those in UK & US combined, adding to the cohorts of geeks in the country. It may be the lack of proper resources for these geeks that leads them to the western world. One in six employed scientists with science or engineering doctorates in the U.S. is Asian, and by the turn of the millennium, there were claims that a third of all engineers in Silicon Valley were of Indian origin, with Indians running 750 of its tech companies. India has contributed in a big way to many inventions in the world. India’s image as the land of geeks owes a lot to its history of science and technology that was way ahead from the rest of the world. It wasn’t for nothing the European explorers were keen to discover India!
Indians have great potential to create and innovate. Somewhere someone is always making a ‘jugaad’ to get some work done. Does their innovation deserve recognition and a larger platform?Do they get their due recognition? We all know that India has the wealth of innovative minds. It could be your neighbour, your own child or someone you know. Comment and share with us your thought and these stories of invention. What do you think is the future of these innovative minds in India? What do you think can be done to ensure the young geeks find a future in their homeland? We look forward to some suggestions and interesting stories of invention. Namaste!
Deepa Tripathi Chaturvedi