Dr Vijay Bhatkar is one of the most acclaimed scientists and IT leaders of India. He is best known as the architect of India's first supercomputer and as the founder Executive Director of C-DAC, India's national initiative in supercomputing. He is credited with the creation of several national institutions, notably amongst them being C-DAC, ER&DC, IIITM-K, I2IT, ETH Research Lab, MKCL and India International Multiversity. Besides playing multifaceted roles as a thinker, researcher, innovator, educationist, author, policy maker and institution builders, the IT leader of and internationally acclaimed scientist is also President of Vidnyan Bharati. He spoke to Organiser on Indian scientific thinking and India’s contribution to the world at large. Here are the excerpts:
- Indian Science Congress is about encouraging scientific temper. Do you think the reference to Indian ancient Scientific Wisdom has marred the purpose?
See that is not the real issue. Indian Science Congress has been about promoting scientific temper and it will remain so. There was just a reference and point of view presented in the Congress about ancient Indian Science. Now history of Science has been and has to be integral part any professional society. Unless we look at the major milestones in the field we cannot get the complete picture. Learning from history is very important aspect for building future, which till now we have neglected. Especially when we are ready to take a lead in all spheres of life as a nation, we need to learn from the past experiences. We did the same for IT. While developing vision for IT as India’s tomorrow, we studied space, atomic energy, electronics etc and then we worked on IT. Unfortunately, we ourselves are not aware of our own achievements that need to be put forth. For many of us Science is the gift of Western Europe, which is not true. We have a glorious past. From Vedic times till today we have made major contributions. When I met the Noble Laureate mathematician Dr Manjul Bhargav in the Congress he said teachings from my grandfather in Sanskrit have given me totally different perspective to learn mathematics. This should be brought right from school level to higher research level. We have looked at this issue in Vidnyan Bharti by providing study material to students and conducting competitive examinations based on this. It is a very popular experiment not only in India but even outside India. We have great tradition of instruments of knowledge and validity of knowledge experience, inference, logic etc. We should explore all those instruments is the real issue.
- Why do People reject the contribution of Indian knowledge system?
That is mainly because of half knowledge. Many of the scientists themselves don’t learn Sanskrit. I myself regretted that only after studying modern science. When I started asking deeper questions I turned to Sanskrit. We also failed to project our knowledge system in the scientific way. Many links are destroyed due to external aggressions also. But we need to connect the threads and build bridges with the modern science.
- What is the difference between the Indian and western tradition of scientific thinking?
Science is nothing but understanding the nature of reality. At that level there is no much difference between Indian and Western approach. The basic difference is Indian approach looked at science with integral perspective while western approach is fragmented. Western science focuses on physical reality as Man vs Nature or Subject Vs Object approach, while for us it is holistic perspective from individual to the Universe. Fortunately, modern science after research in Quantum Mechanics is adopting this perspective.
- What do you think is the real contribution of ancient Indian science to humanity?
We made contribution from mathematics to metallurgy. We also definitely contributed in geometry, civil engineering, town planning etc which is visible in Mohenjodaro and Sarasvati civilisation. The greatest places of learning like Takshashila and Nalanda were also based on scientific learning. But I think the real contribution is in philosophical basis. Indians saw reality from physical, biological, psychological, ecological and cosmic level. We integrated all levels through abstractions like Panch Mahabhootas (five elements). This is the biggest contribution India has made. Because of which we could discuss about many fundamentals and ideas that enriched our philosophical and scientific tradition. But we have to understand that ancient Indian and Modern western traditions are not contradictory but complementary to each other.
- How we can reconnect our ancient thinking with the modern one?
Research in science is itself taking care of that. To study reality western researchers were dependent on mind, body and brain, now with Quantum Mechanics they have started talking about consciousness for which they have to integrate with the Indian thinking. Unfortunately, it is the westerners who are recognising this and not us. Even in languages it was William Jones who studies comparative languages and told us that Sanskrit is the most scientific language, it is the mother of most of the languages. Now while mapping keyboards we also realised phonetic nature of language and Panini grammar. It is in NASA many people are studying Panini’s Ashtadhyayee than us. We need to create people who are equipped in Sanskrit and computers both. It is necessary for integrating symbols processing and meaning processing. For that we need to realise that we are the cradle of civilisation and had a great tradition of scientific approach which is integral with human beings. Then only we can reconnect the both. I am quite confident that this integration is inevitable in the 21st century.