When an eminent scientist puts in all his wit-and-wisdom gelled with logical & rational ink, even a 216 page scribe reads like an epic. And The Scientific Edge by Jayant V. Narlikar confirms my belief. The USP of this book is that he says so much in so little space – a condensed form of Indian Scientific Odyssey! Prof. Narlikar here in his book maintains an Indian scientific temper and delineates a seamless journey from its heyday to present pathetic scenario. He rubbishes certain over glorified facts, dismisses few notions that have been here for ages, dissects the (mis)conceptions, debunks few myths which hides itself in a veil of science, acknowledges the worthy, unearths what it must, criticizes the culprit without getting political and also gets suggestive wherever needed.
The book has been primarily trifurcated into three chronological divisions. In the first part, Prof. Narlikar begins with India’s glorious past underscoring the achievements of mortals who lives even today with their names and contributions to the relevant field. It mentions Aryabhatta, Bhaskaracharya, Charaka, Sushruta and the ones from Vedic era when scientific endeavors were on pinnacle of anything. Parallel to this, author also goes on disproving certain falsehood and fallacies which has got no scientific merit. To make proud of our legacy, the book also talks about Nalanda & Takshshila and the education system that flourished in classic era. Then it delves into the concerns for what arrested the growth of Indian science in the second millennium. Here it voices the lack of patronage, complacency sabotaging the exponential growth, rote learning as a great hindrance to logical and innovative thinking etc. The author with his scholastic aptitude also dives into scriptural references and quotes the phrases in contrary when dealing with Vedic sources as claimants of supreme knowledge source. His analysis of Vedic Mathematics also made an interesting and enlightening read which dislodges all fallacious attributes as an easy or faster way of calculation (and the limitation of the same). The subsequent chapter then sheds more light on astronomical pursuits in colonial era. In the penultimate part, Prof. Narlikar looks into the present scenario of Indian science with the chapters like importance of University, the scientific temper that needs to be cultivated and highlights the importance of science journalism. A chapter named ‘The Oxymoron of Vedic Astrology’ in the same part comes out to be a well researched account which questions the validity of the same (though few may agree or disagree over the matter). The author’s rebuttal over Vedic Mathematics and Vedic Astrology is more than an engaging read.
In the last & conclusive chapter part, this erudite professor of astrophysics, Prof. Narlikar advocates the need and importance of studying astronomy, Indian science fiction and concludes with a chapter devoted to science & religion.
Having said above, while examining the development and alleviation from current problem, I feel the author could have added one more chapter with a probable title like ‘Missing Breed of Science Popularizers’ in the country. Whenever I come across the noted names like Carl Sagan, Issac Asimov, Richard Feynman, Brian Greene, Michio Kaku, Brian Cox, Jim Al-Khalili etc., I look down for Indian counterparts whose numbers will not cross any respectable figure. Apart from Prof. Yashpal and Prof. Narlikar himself, I don’t find anyone in this domain with equal zeal and willingness. Why is that most of the men with proven mettle will either end up writing a text book (and numerical bank) to the maximum of his calibre or setting up coaching business or will settle down for a reputed post in Govt. establishments as a self satiating goal? Why is that I’m yet to enjoy a single scientific documentary being produced & televised in India hosted by an ivy league college professor garnering international eyeballs (like the names I cited above)? Why the conferences like TEDx meets abysmal Indian participation when it comes to science and technology? Where are those individuals with promising scientific intellect and who are equally popular over the screen (‘Turning Points by Girish Karnad’ over Doordarshan be resurrected in contemporary avatar). I think the answers will lead us to the solution of detrimental fate of science in India.
To sum up, The Scientific Edge is a contemplative approach towards evolution, then revolution, then diminution and then solution at last in the scientific yet pragmatic context. The author has also kept the language very simple & lucid which hurls no scientific jargon as a deterrent for layman. A must read for every Indian who loves science or better say – Indian Science.