Every time I come out of public lectures by internationally renowned personalities in arts, sciences, or business, I am buffeted with tidal thoughts. The main reaction is how come such public dissemination of great ideas is non-existent in independent India? During trips to India, I pointedly check the newspapers for cultural activities in metropolitan cites. There are hardly any; a few events that perhaps held are not properly publicised.
Last December, I was in Chandigarh area (including Mohali and Panchkula) of nearly 3 million people, only one or two educational functions were listed in the Sunday Tribune. It is touted as the youngest modern city in India! Even after 50 years of its existence, its soul is still ephemeral. Twenty five years ago, when a friend suggested me to move in Chandigarh during our two-year stay, I had said, ?Chandigarh is a Western city on India'ssoil. I am not leaving USA for it!? Ambala Cantt became our home base and I commuted to Chandigarh for teaching a course in Panjab University.
Yesterday, though a weekday, there were five varied events on the UNLV Campus alone, and two were free to the public. One was a lecture by the Nobel Laureate (1993), Toni Morrison, the first in a new Black Mountain Lecture Series. It was under the aegis of Black Mountain Institute, a unique international think tank in arts and humanities housed in UNLV. The other was by Michael Turner (of Black Energy fame), University of Chicago cosmologist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His lecture was also the first in another new Arthur C. Clark Lecture Series to encourage creativity in sciences. Both were scheduled at 7:30 PM, but I opted for the astrophysics.
Such lectures are a tip of the iceberg. Thousands of short courses on every topic under the sun offered in colleges and community centers make them flea markets of open ideas around the year. The historical Chautauqua courses and lecture circuits of scholars like Durant define the quest of the US pubic for new knowledge. Will and Ariel Durant (1885-1981), the co-authors of classic 11-volume, The Story of (Western) Civilization, never worked for any institution. The freelance speakers became an institution!
Over the years, I have observed that once Indians, Hindus in particular, return from work, they get home bound. It may be good for the families, but it costs the society as a whole! The organised participation in sports, temples, social or political forums has not penetrated their psyche. In the US, beyond the profession, they do not socially assimilate. I am a victim of this inertia too.
During the lecture, it was heartening to see men and women standing along the walls, squatting on the floor, and sitting in the aisles. The technical presentation was laced with jokes and humor that Americans particularly are masters at. At the end, the questions from the general audience passed them for their high scientific IQ.
UNLV provides a setting and environment, but not the money. The money comes from the endowments of visionary individuals and corporations who strongly believe that an enlightened public makes a stronger nation. Toni Morrison may have been paid $20,000 plus expenses, and Turner around $15,000. It is not a small price tag, but the public is not charged!
One of the highlights of the lecture was a couple of photographs taken by the NASA'sHubble Space Telescope that cost $2 billons! Yes, this equals to Rs 90,000,000,000! It is more than the GNP of 50 per cent countries in the world. The cutting edges of science and mathematics belong to the societies that are organised, prosperous, and knowledge based.
Where does this symphony of the masses and intellectuals come from? It is a basically embedded in the organised religion of the land! That is Christianity in the US and Western Europe. In the ultimate analysis, science is religious and religion is scientific.
In India, more than 80 per cent of the population is of the Hindus. The Hinduism giving absolute freedom to question and inquire that it becomes inimical to its own organisation. The challenges lies in balancing it. Do I have a specific plan? Honestly, none. Why not? After all, what is a life of 66 years that I have lived for? I am searching.
However, till a current of the Ganga breaks out of the boulders of the mountains, my bits in this direction will continue. I am fully convinced of a strong correlation between the emanation of great ideas in arts, science and literature, and the organised Hindu Religion (Hinduism). In the spirit of Tagore'sfamous poem, Let My Country Awake, I would say, Let the Hindus of My Country Awake! Then alone, Tagore's75-year old dream in this poem will become a reality.