Noble Anguish

AP_Venki2_7167fWinning Nobel prize and accepting the kudos coming from all over the world is not an easy task. The world’s most coveted prize attracts everyone’s attention. The celebration of the winner won’t be confined to one nation or region. He or she belongs to the entire world. In this victory celebration, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan who won Noble prize for his path breaking protein research is an anguished man. Due to the thousands of congratulatory messages pouring into him, his email inbox got clogged. He was not able to access his official mails. Due to this tension he blasted people who ignored him during his student days. Understandable agony. But as a Noble winner he should also be a Noble human being to forget the bitter past and politely tell his fans that they can email messages in a separate id which can be created.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi writes in The Times of India (20 October 2009)

Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan only the seventh person of Indian origin to have won the honour has tellingly highlighted the frequently
unbridgeable chasm between emotional intelligence (EQ) and traditional intelligence (IQ). His recent statements, after receiving the Chemistry Nobel, underline the inverse ratio between IQ and EQ and do no credit to his obviously outstanding intellectual equipment.

Ramakrishnan is reported to have expressed disgust at the outpouring of fan mail received by him from India, especially from Tamil Nadu, after the conferment of the Nobel. On two issues, his anger is understandable, though perhaps expressed at the wrong time, the wrong place and in the wrong manner. He may be right in pointing out that several teachers have suddenly discovered him as their student in his school/college days in India, while he remembers none of them. Secondly, he has expressed resentment at being contacted by persons who had chosen to ignore him for decades but started expressing new-found love after the Nobel win.

Both sentiments are understandable, may even be justifiable, though Ramakrishnan can scarcely believed to be innocent of the universal creed and global phenomenon, not at all peculiar to India, that success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. That this universal phenomenon should surprise Ramakrishnan is surprising. He would surely have encountered enough of it in the American and European cultures in which he has worked for decades to not treat it as uniquely Indian, as his observations suggest.

But these parts of his statement are not the subject of this critique. What is deplorable is Ramakrishnan’s equation and linkage of something as lofty and noble as patriotism and nationalism with something as banal and ridiculous as the clogging of his e-mail accounts and a general disgust at being troubled by his countrymen. When a Rajasthani, or a fellow citizen from Jodhpur, gets an outstanding international award, i feel a wee bit extra joy and exhilaration than my other Indian compatriots, because i was born in Jodhpur and hail from Rajasthan.

When an Indian gets a prestigious global award, all Indians feel proud, and even jingoistic, whereas the same award to a foreigner is merely another statistic in a newspaper. This is not to suggest that we are, or i am, casteist, regional or practising false nationalism. Patriotism can be distorted and misused as the “refuge of the scoundrel” but, at its core, it has an intersection of noble values which, in this case, appear to have completely escaped the mind of a brilliant Nobel laureate.

These are the values of link and affinity with a culture, a people, a territory and a national identity. It is this sentiment alone which connects India and Indians, despite this country being the greatest aggregation of diversities on this planet.

Yes, Mr Ramakrishnan, the place and nation of your birth may be “accidents of history”, as you put it, but you are woefully and grievously wrong to suppose that the overwhelming tidal wave of affection for you from fellow Tamilians and Indians can be seen or explained merely as an accident of history. Your comments illustrate not merely an absence of EQ but the arrogance of relative youthfulness and an assumption that you can see and analyse everything from the mind while deadening your heart. I can wager a bet that when you grow old (maybe over 75 by western standards, but 65 by Indian standards), you will hark back and hanker for the peace, tranquillity and cultural affinity of the same Chidambaram town, whose eulogising e-mails you are currently castigating.

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