–by Nigel S. Lockyer, Director
[Ed. Note: This is the third of a three-part series penned by Nigel on his trip to India in early March 2011.]
Day 4 (March 2, 2011): I start the day with tea in a small paper cup delivered to the room. Tastes great. Time for Tim and I to go for our morning walk around the VECC site…takes about 30 minutes. Talk about yesterday’s talks. Today we go to the conference Frontiers in Science, being held at the Taj Bengal Hotel in downtown Kolkata.
The sessions were interesting with a mix of physics, nuclear power, biology, business, and social perspectives. I sensed the passion and realization by the Indian presenters that they had a duty to address the country’s immense social challenges. This came up time and time again. Put simply, how does one justify spending millions of dollars on a science project when people outside are living in extreme poverty? One thing came across is that India is proud of its accomplishments and is up for the challenge. They recognize they must be more global…they are overly insular at the moment was the consensus.
I presented my talk on Canadian Science Policy. After listening to people’s comments, I think more strongly than ever that Canada has a plan for science…maybe we are not all in agreement with the plan, but we have a plan.
After the presentations were complete (only a hour and half behind schedule), we headed off to the dinner reception at The Bengal Club about 15 minutes away. The edifice was referred to as the last vestige of the Raj. We got into a discussion about what the “Britishers” brought to India…besides cricket, the language, tea, and the obvious stuff. One view that emerged, which may be controversial…1) The British united India by providing a common enemy. 2) British scholars (Sir William Jones) created the Asiatic Society in the 1784 and out of which came “Indology”, the study of the ancient Indian history. 3) They brought modern science at the same time as it was exploding in England, just after Newton and the rapid growth of industrialization. Another discussion was about picking tea. The conference organizer, Mr. Deb, picked tea as a teenager. He called it a garden but it was several hundred acres…a big garden. Bottom line is that “two and a bud” are the leaves that make the best tea.
Day 5: Start the day as usual with tea and a walk, breakfast and .. come back and there is a lizard in my room. I pretty much freeze and declare the room to be the lizard’s and bow out…off to the conference. I chaired the first session. One of the more interesting talks was by Aniruddha Lahiri, the President of the Chatterjee Group of Companies. He started his presentation “Marvel of Indian Entrepreneurship,” by quoting a modern “Britisher” John Lennon, who said that vision and imagination were essential for entrepreneurship. Of course most of the world thinks of India as being entrepreneurial. Lahiri argued that Indians are good at taking risks, move quickly, and indeed do make good entrepreneurs but they are not (yet) great innovators. On the other hand, the British are great innovators yet could never master bringing their ideas to market successfully…Jaguar and Land Rover, are now owned by Tata for example. Along these lines, I was quoted in the local paper, the Telegraph, that Canada was good at manufacturing innovation but the innovations were not worth much. Business is tough. There was a strong push at the conference for nuclear energy as well as India’s prominent role (9%) in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Cadarache, France. India is very proud of its role in this leading-edge technology enterprise for many reasons, but an acronym much repeated was CSR….Corporate Social Responsibility. Again, I think India wishes to convey it is a progressive country that is concerning itself with the environment and the many other social issues the country faces.