Sunday, October 23, 2005

How do you identify/ cultivate Indian Talent? - Philanthropy or Competition?

At a time, when the urban/elite/educated/globalised/free-market "intelligentia" of India is going over-board about the virtues of privatised, competitive opportunities (that will hopefully/supposedly bring out the best of talents in the country), this article by Dr RA Mashelkar is a fresh breath.

Dr RA Mashelkar (Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research & President, Indian National Science Academy), and the person who turned around CSIR to make it become the No.1 Global Innovator, ahead of Samsung (read: Samsung finds its match in CSIR)

This article written by him (Indian Express, September 22, 2005) vindicates that perhaps a supportive (subsidized/philanthropic?) social fabric of a society contributes more to identify, develop and leverage on the talent in a society (at least in Indian society), than an unthinking allegience to privatised, do-it-to-yourself social structure.

India’s future is in IT, but not in IT as in Information Technology, but in IT as in Indian Talent. Giving every opportunity possible to Indian talent to reach its real potential would truly empower India.

What happens to Indian talent today? Fifty per cent Indian children go to school. Thirty per cent of them reach up to 10th standard. Forty per cent of them pass. Thus, six per cent of our children go past the 10th standard. This is only a tip of the iceberg, of which only a very small part shines. A huge part of the iceberg remains submerged and dark. To me, India will be truly empowered when we let the entire iceberg shine by lifting it.

I too belonged to that submerged part of the iceberg. I was born in a very poor family. My father died when I was six. My illiterate mother did menial work to bring me up. I went barefoot till I was twelve. I studied under streetlights. Yet I was empowered again and again.

I studied in a free municipal school. Access to free education through public funding was the first empowerment in my life.

On finishing primary school, I sought admission in a secondary school. I required 21 rupees as admission fee. My mother did not have the money. A lady, who herself was a housemaid in Mumbai, gave her savings to us. One ‘have not’ sharing with another ‘have not’ was a powerful lesson of empowerment early in my life.

I stood 11th amongst 1,35,000 students in the state in the Maharashtra State Board exam in 1960. I was about to leave the school, since my mother could not afford my college education. Sir Dorabji Tata Trust gave me a scholarship of 60 rupees per month until my graduation. Thus, my next empowerment came through the philanthropy of an industrial house.

My school teachers empowered me. Principal Bhave taught me physics in the school. One day, he took us out in the sun to show how to find the focal length of a convex lens. When the sun rays were focused on the paper, it got burnt. He turned to me and said, ‘‘Mashelkar, if you focus your energies, you can achieve anything in life.’’

That gave me an inspiration to become a scientist. It gave me the philosophy of life; focus and you can achieve anything. Empowering India to me, therefore, means growing millions of Bhaves, who will inspire young Indian kids.

I was teaching and researching in England in the early Seventies. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. The news of Nobel Laureate Khorana not getting a job in India had done rounds. She asked the then Director General of CSIR, Dr Nayudamma, to go abroad, pick up the brightest and the best and offer them jobs on the spot.

Nayudamma came to London in 1974. He met me, among others. He offered me a position at NCL in Pune. There was no application, no formal interview, no bureaucratic hurdles. I came back to India, thanks to a science leader, who was trusted and empowered by a Prime Minister.

India cannot be truly empowered until the best of its talent stays in India and contributes. Why does talent leave India? An Italian Nobel Laureate, Riardo Giacconi, who settled in the US said, ‘‘A scientist is like a painter. Michelangelo became a great artist, because he had been given a wall to paint. My wall was given to me by the United States.’’ To empower scientists, it is necessary give them a wall to paint.

This year, I became only the eighth scientist from India to be elected to the US National Academy of Science since 1863. After the Nobel prize, this is one of the highest honours. Every scientist aspires for it. The honour came to me this year because a visionary CSIR leadership had empowered a young Mashelkar by giving him his wall to paint thirty years ago.

My lessons from my life are simple. A society, that gives an opportunity for education to everyone, that has inspiring teachers, that has philanthropic industrialists, that has visionary leaders in all walks of life and that gives the talent every opportunity to reach its real potential—becomes truly empowered.

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