It was no surprise when a delegate at the recently-concluded Indian Science Congress suggested the Ramayana and the Mahabharata prove ancient Indian civilisation featured aircraft (courtesy Ravana), guided missiles and test-tube babies. In making these statements, Andhra University’s vice chancellor G Nageshwar Rao was only following in the illustrious footsteps of Captain Anand J Bodas (you can see Bodas’s whole, hilarious speech here) at the 102nd Congress in 2015. Bodas claimed Indian texts had elaborate descriptions of ancient aircraft, including the suggested diet for pilots (comprising a system of alternating between buffalo, cow and sheep milk).
What was, however, quite novel in the 106th Congress, was the wonderful demonstration of hyper-confidence by another delegate, a Dr Kannan Jegathala Krishnan. Dr Krishnan was chosen to speak at the Children’s Science Congress, not because he is a child — he is 42 — but because it was deemed important to expose vulnerable minds to Krishnanian Physics. Dr Krishnan was chosen as a speaker in the ‘Meet-the-scientist’ section of the day’s proceedings.
Dr Krishnan is that most qualified of physicists — self-taught. He has a technical PhD in Renewable Energy Systems, and an MBA (no doubt one of the sources of his confidence). His distance from theoretical physics is made clear by the subject (‘Implementation of Renewable Energy to Reduce Carbon Consumption’) and content of his dissertation, which also makes for comical reading, and is available here. Consider a gorgeous sentence, virginal, untouched by either grammar or editor: ‘When called upon, under any contingency and back-up power is required at telecommunication sites, the ideal choice will be diesel generator which requires fuel storage, it produces combustion emissions, it is noisy and the maintenance costs are high.’ How wonderfully ideal diesel generators are!
Dr Krishnan then gave all the children (video here), and thereby us, a wonderful demonstration of the Krishnanian Scientific Method. In the Krishnanian universe, the relationship between the size of an object and its mass is perfectly linear. He said, ‘We have earth. The sun is 333,000 times bigger than the earth’ (Actually, in our universe, the sun’s diameter is about 109 times that of the earth, allowing 1.3 million earths to fit into the sun; the 333,000 figure is for the mass of the sun compared to the earth). ‘Tell me, my friends,’ Dr Krishnan continues, ‘Is earth heavier or sun heavier? Sun is heavier.’
Using this wonderful deduction that bigger is heavier, Dr Krishnan goes on to mention that over 95.4 percent of the universe is empty space. Then he asks, ‘Now which is heavier? Is earth heavier, sun heavier, or space heavier?’ Someone from the audience answers, ‘Space!’ Dr Krishnan is delighted with the student, and says, ‘So now you proved that, I didn’t tell wrong. You told exactly, Newton was wrong.’
Perhaps more students will join in a field trip to the Krishnanian universe, where Dr Krishnan will say, ‘What is heavier? A kilogram of feathers or a kilogram of steel?’ And prove that a big bag containing a kilogram of feathers is heavier than a small 1 kg steel weight.
In many ways, jokers like Dr Krishnan and G Nageshwar Rao are distractions. It is a disservice to Indian science to even mention them in the same breath as the Indian Science Congress, as Dr Manjul Bhargava, the first mathematician of Indian origin to win the Fields Medal, and one of the speakers at that convention, said back in 2015. Perhaps we should instead celebrate the driverless, solar-powered bus that Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode to attend the Congress, which was designed by students of Lovely Professional University. Or indeed the fact that the Indian Science Congress is an unbroken 106-year-old tradition. Figures like Rao and Krishnan are an insignificant blip in this rich history.
But while I freely concede that we should focus on the productive parts of the Congress, I cannot ignore that Dr Krishnan has something to teach us. He is a symbol of our times, because he brings together both hyper-confidence and a wonderfully bloated sycophancy. In this talk, he told students that just as the 20th century was the Einsteinian Age, the 21st will be christened the Age of Krishnan. The first task, in the age of Krishnan, will be renaming (for what else could it be in the Modi era?). Gravitational waves will be rechristened Narendra Modi waves, and gravitational lensing will be called the Harsh Vardhan effect, after our esteemed Minister for Science and Technology.
Only compensating for deep-seated insecurities can lead to both hyper-confidence and sycophancy. Feelings of inferiority lead to a compensatory self-aggrandizement; in the same way, a fragile self-image clings on to larger-than-life figures to feel more important. These larger-than-life figures can be adversaries in an epic imaginary battle, like Einstein and Newton are for Dr Krishnan in his speech; or they can be Gurus leading him to success, like Modi and Dr Vardhan are.
In this, Dr Krishnan proves a favourite Hindu Nationalist thesis — that many Hindus suffer from an inferiority complex. Indeed, much of our population finds their language derided, while the rituals, values and culture handed down to them by their parents are deemed uncool and passe in a globalising world. These pressures are real, and they will not resolve themselves without being attended to. So long as this insecurity lingers, figures like Dr Krishnan, vice chancellor Rao and Captain Bodas will crawl out of the woodworks.
But equally, Dr Krishnan also embodies the Hindu Nationalist solution. Hindu Nationalism claims that we Hindus have been leeched of our confidence and self-esteem by successive waves of invaders. The second notion is that we have failed in becoming followers of people like Modi, and have worshipped false Gods erected by 'sickular' parties. The solution, Hindutva says, is having more pride in Hinduism, more confidence in the Hindu past, and a dutiful obedience to our dear leader.
Kannan Jegathala Krishnan lacks none of these things. And his singular achievement, as he is lampooned in national and international headlines, is to become living evidence that confidence, self-esteem and slavish sycophancy are not a sufficient cure.
Hot air may lift a balloon off the ground, but our nation will require something more to rise above its circumstances.
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Updated Date: Jan 10, 2019 13:33:41 IST