Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Sceptical Patriot - Sidin Vadukut

I saw the size of the book and its aspirations and wondered if Sidin has made fun of all our sacred India facts. He is after all one of the funniest writers in India (my good friend Krishna Sastry D and Vinod Ekbote are prominent among others). But when I found it was a serious attempt my heart sank. Why is Sidin becoming serious?

Let's get the the serious stuff out of the way. Plagued by sms's and chain mails which cited many Indian facts of dubious origin (normally followed by the advise - be proud to be an Indian), Sidin embarked on a fact finding mission to see how true these claims were.
The main facts that he focussed his research on and concluded after some serious research are:
1) Susrutha invented plastic surgery in India before anyone else ( Sidin score 9/10) - apparently we were doing plastic surgery in 650 CE
2) India never invaded another country in 10000 years (Sidin score 2/10) - apparently our kings have been invading Lanka and other small countries for a long time
3) India invented the zero (Sidin score 7.5/10) - Indian thinkers were possibly the first to use the zero as a number and not merely a placeholder
4) India was the richest country in the world before Britain came (Sidin score 5/10) - India was always rich and slowly lost out during the Brit reign
5) Jagdish Chandra Bose invented the radio before Marconi - (Sidin score 6/10) - Bose invented the mercury coherer which Marconi used in his radio
6) Sanskrit is the best language for programming computers - (Sidin score 3/ 10) - don't know
7) Takshasila was the oldest university in the world - (Sidin score 7/10) - it coexisted alongwith a great Greek school of antiquity

Sidin winds up with a chapter on what's the point of all this in which he talks of three epiphanies. The first is that there is no such thing as an Indian since we are all a mix of this and that. The second is that we must stop going to history to vindicate our actions today. The third is that all this progress was made in the times of open, turbulent, peaceful, well administered and curious times.

I agree. No point in going back to history and talking about it when we could be (or should be) doing stuff to prolong that tradition of making medical, scientific, mathematical, literary and other types of excellence. My entire take on these facts is that someone did that, wrote that, great. Let's get on with it and use that stuff and do something with it. Not hit ourselves and everyone else around us with these facts.

Sidin's work is neither here nor there - one can't take his scores too seriously because they are neither here nor there. There's some research, some known, some unknown, and some light thrown. Good. But a whole book was probably not warranted because he still maintains a tone that is only half serious despite all the research he has done. I'd have preferred to read another of his funny books which takes my mind off these matters.

But it was not a total loss again because I found his stories, the personal ones, very interesting. His fire accident, his first job as a consultant, his days at the REC, Trichy all gave some insights into his life which were far more interesting and funny to me than the India facts (sorry Sidin). In fact the India facts got so tedious at some point that I almost thought I'd give up on the chapters, read the score card and move on. But I seem to have made some vow that I will never leave a book unfinished and plodded on ('the World is flat' and 'The Story of Philosophy' are two books that lie semi done, but they are huge).

My score card. Intent 8/10. Interesting content 5/10. This one over, I am looking for the next funny.

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