Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A world more virtuous

Contemporary world is at cross roads today: be it rising violence or social injustice, increasing divide between the rich and the poor or the inequities: both social and political. The evolving socio political fabric and the tremendous competition due to a clash in opportunities & population pressure and the emerging chaos in India’s body polity have made Mahatma Gandhi and his thinking even more relevant than ever before. A reflection on Gandhi's definition of Satyagraha will lead us to the three basic tenets: satya or truth, implying openness, honesty, and fairness; ahimsa, meaning physical and mental non violence; and tapasya, literally penance, in this context self-sacrifice. Perhaps it is in the application of the tenets of Satyagraha that the individuals may find solace and the society may be able to rejuvenate itself. It may be pertinent to quote Gandhi:
“In the application of Satyagraha, I discovered, in the earliest stages, that pursuit of Truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For, what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of Truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but one's own self”.
The Satyagrahi is meant to practice self-effacement, humility, patience and faith best epitomized in Mahatma Gandhi’s own words: “Love does not burn others, it burns itself. ….. a satyagrahi, i.e., a civil resister, will joyfully suffer even unto death. It follows, therefore, that a civil resister, whilst he will strain every nerve to compass the end of the existing rule, will do no intentional injury in thought, word or deed……”
Drawing a distinction between passive resistance and Satyagraha Mahatma Gandhi is famously quoted: “Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatever; and it ever insists upon truth. I think I have now made the distinction perfectly clear”.
A very pertinent statement that Mahatma Gandhi made is of immense significance today when we confront terrorism and violence that is used to achieve narrow political ends. He said, “Violence will prevail over violence, only when someone can prove to me that darkness can be dispelled by darkness.”
I think that's what we have to remember and try to imbibe in our lives, that we can never overcome violence with more violence. We can only overcome violence with respect and understanding and love for each other. Today when we confront conflicts of all kinds be it– interpersonal, social, religious, state, national or even international conflicts – and use every possible technique for resolving them – in the end we may find the best resolution only through Satyagraha : a potent Gandhian instrument.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A world more enterprising

At the scale of a billionth of a metre Nanoscience and nanotechnology encompass not only newer advances and techniques but do cut across the whole spectrum of science from applications in medicine and physics to engineering and chemistry.
Indeed Nanoscience and Nanotechnology has been an idea that most people simply didn't believe and recently I read Richard Schwartz that the “impact of nanotechnology is expected to exceed the impact that the electronics revolution has had on our lives’. Perhaps the first use of the concepts in 'nano-technology'  as we know today was by Richard Feynman at Caltech on Dec 29, 1959 in his paper on ‘There is Plenty of Room at the Bottom’ we have come a long way to the watershed publication of ‘Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology’  and the ‘Nanosytems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation’  in the eighties  in the aftermath of the birth of cluster science and the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope that led to the discovery of fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. Simultaneously, the invention of atomic force microscope and the synthesis of semiconductor nanocrystals led to a fast increasing number of metal and metal oxide nanoparticles that contributed to the emergence of nanoelectronics, nanomechanics and nanophotonics.
In our drive from the simple to complex and vice versa and the urge to engineer new constructs in addition to natural ones across the world we have followed to approaches: the bottom up approach and the top down approach using the techniques of DNA nanotechnology for engineered nanosystems and the solid state silicon methods for fabricating microprocessors. As per the project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, today there are over 800 manufacturer-identified nanotech products with new ones hitting the market at a pace of 3–4 per week.
Nonetheless, there are calls for tighter regulation of nanotechnology alongside a growing debate related to the human health and safety risks associated with nanotechnology. A major study published more recently in Nature Nanotechnology suggests that some forms of carbon nanotubes a – a poster child for the “nanotechnology revolution” is as toxic to humans just as was asbestos. Thus we have to explore the societal and economic impact of technical, social and commercial uncertainties as well and formulate a responsible Nanocode in our country.
India has established several nanotechnology programs under its five year nanotechnology initiative as the government has recently announced a 987 crore program that includes three national Institutes of Nanoscience and centres of excellence. Presently, India has about 30 nanotechnology startups and about 50 research institutes and can be a world leader in technologies like nano fluid sensors, provided we have more private enterprise and a dedicated venture capital fund for nanotechnology initiatives. I am sure private participation will enthuse both the industries and the academics to the exciting new world of nanobiotechnology, bionics, optical computing with nanophotonic materials, fabrication, characterization and reliability of nanomaterials as also other emerging areas.

A world more equitable

There is more to the ethos and mindsets of a society in transition than the socioeconomic conditions of an emerging nation and other reasons viz political!

We do not encourage innovation but approve consensus and uniformity,

We do not motivate our youth for merit and their talents but promote mediocrity through reservations,

We do not treat all our children equal and provide similar education and equal opportunities at school level as the best private and public primary and secondary schools but foster a new class divide even at the school level of the haves and have nots,

We do not support economic assistance to provide equal opportunities to all irrespective of caste, creed and economic status but prefer to further promote the already existing creamy layer at the cost of those who are perennially deprived of it,

We do not inspire academic freedom and free enterprise but bring down academic and research standards by ensuring quotas for every one and the list goes on.

Apparently our approach is flawed.