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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nobel Prizes, Innovation and India

I came across this article about "What will it take for a Indian Resident to Win a Nobel Prize" (see pdf or converted html), written by CSIR boss, R A Mashelkar, with whom I had the pleasure of shaking hands once during IIIT's R & D Showcase. Little did I know Mr Mashelkar then.

The article talks about how the Indian society acts, in the name of conservation, to not only discourage original out-of-the-box ideas, but in some sense to even penalize them. In the history of science, a mere 7 Nobel prizes have gone to people of Indian origin, which is a shameful number. The Indian Society is so resistant to change that even original and novice ideas get lost very soon. At CSIR, Mashelkar did not have the difficulty of finding funds, but that of finding original fundable ideas. Even today, there's no lack of employment but the lack of employable people.

Nobel prize requires not only original ideas and path breaking work, but also hard work and luck. Considering the amount of investment India makes in research, it's hardly any surprise that all thinkers flee to USA or Germany. Not coincidentally, these are the two countries which have the highest number of Nobel prize winners.

India's answer to this appears to be -- well, we don't get enough Nobel prizes, we deserve more, let's reserve a certain number of them for Indians. That's what has been done with professional education lately. That's what is being done for jobs. At this pace, it's rather stupid to bear the brunt of being an Indian and sing patriotic songs. Fleeing to other countries not only makes sense, it also becomes necessary for survival -- I'm talking about the kind of people who need to think free to survive.