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India's Great Scientist,
"Jagadis Chandra Bose's wireless inventions antedated those of
this provocative remark, I walked closer to a sidewalk group of
professors engaged in scientific discussion. If my motive in joining
them was racial pride, I regret it. I cannot deny my keen interest
in evidence that India can play a leading part in physics, and not
you mean, sir?"
obligingly explained. "Bose was the first one to invent a wireless
coherer and an instrument for indicating the refraction of electric
waves. But the Indian scientist did not exploit his inventions commercially.
He soon turned his attention from the inorganic to the organic world.
His revolutionary discoveries as a plant physiologist are outpacing
even his radical achievements as a physicist."
I politely thanked
my mentor. He added, "The great scientist is one of my brother
professors at Presidency College."
I paid a visit
the next day to the sage at his home, which was close to mine on
Gurpar Road. I had long admired him from a respectful distance.
The grave and retiring botanist greeted me graciously. He was a
handsome, robust man in his fifties, with thick hair, broad forehead,
and the abstracted eyes of a dreamer. The precision in his tones
revealed the lifelong scientific habit.
have recently returned from an expedition to scientific societies
of the West. Their members exhibited intense interest in delicate
instruments of my invention which demonstrate the indivisible unity
of all life.1 The Bose crescograph
has the enormity of ten million magnifications. The microscope enlarges
only a few thousand times; yet it brought vital impetus to biological
science. The crescograph opens incalculable vistas."
done much, sir, to hasten the embrace of East and West in the impersonal
arms of science."
was educated at Cambridge. How admirable is the Western method of
submitting all theory to scrupulous experimental verification! That
empirical procedure has gone hand in hand with the gift for introspection
which is my Eastern heritage. Together they have enabled me to sunder
the silences of natural realms long uncommunicative. The telltale
charts of my crescograph2 are
evidence for the most skeptical that plants have a sensitive nervous
system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure,
pain, excitability, stupor, and countless appropriate responses
to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals."
throb of life in all creation could seem only poetic imagery before
your advent, Professor! A saint I once knew would never pluck flowers.
'Shall I rob the rosebush of its pride in beauty? Shall I cruelly
affront its dignity by my rude divestment?' His sympathetic words
are verified literally through your discoveries!"
is intimate with truth, while the scientist approaches awkwardly.
Come someday to my laboratory and see the unequivocable testimony
of the crescograph."
accepted the invitation, and took my departure. I heard later that
the botanist had left Presidency College, and was planning a research
center in Calcutta.
the Bose Institute was opened, I attended the dedicatory services.
Enthusiastic hundreds strolled over the premises. I was charmed
with the artistry and spiritual symbolism of the new home of science.
Its front gate, I noted, was a centuried relic from a distant shrine.
Behind the lotus3 fountain,
a sculptured female figure with a torch conveyed the Indian respect
for woman as the immortal light-bearer. The garden held a small
temple consecrated to the Noumenon beyond phenomena. Thought of
the divine incorporeity was suggested by absence of any altar-image.
speech on this great occasion might have issued from the lips of
one of the inspired ancient rishis.
dedicate today this Institute as not merely a laboratory but a temple."
His reverent solemnity stole like an unseen cloak over the crowded
auditorium. "In the pursuit of my investigations I was unconsciously
led into the border region of physics and physiology. To my amazement,
I found boundary lines vanishing, and points of contact emerging,
between the realms of the living and the non-living. Inorganic matter
was perceived as anything but inert; it was athrill under the action
of multitudinous forces.
reaction seemed to bring metal, plant and animal under a common
law. They all exhibited essentially the same phenomena of fatigue
and depression, with possibilities of recovery and of exaltation,
as well as the permanent irresponsiveness associated with death.
Filled with awe at this stupendous generalization, it was with great
hope that I announced my results before the Royal Society --- results
demonstrated by experiments. But the physiologists present advised
me to confine myself to physical investigations, in which my success
had been assured, rather than encroach on their preserves. I had
unwittingly strayed into the domain of an unfamiliar caste system
and so offended its etiquette.
theological bias was also present, which confounds ignorance with
faith. It is often forgotten that He who surrounded us with this
ever-evolving mystery of creation has also implanted in us the desire
to question and understand. Through many years of miscomprehension,
I came to know that the life of a devotee of science is inevitably
filled with unending struggle. It is for him to cast his life as
an ardent offering --- regarding gain and loss, success and failure,
time the leading scientific societies of the world accepted my theories
and results, and recognized the importance of the Indian contribution
to science.4 Can anything small
or circumscribed ever satisfy the mind of India? By a continuous
living tradition, and a vital power of rejuvenescence, this land
has readjusted itself through unnumbered transformations. Indians
have always arisen who, discarding the immediate and absorbing prize
of the hour, have sought for the realization of the highest ideals
in life --- not through passive renunciation, but through active struggle.
The weakling who has refused the conflict, acquiring nothing, has
had nothing to renounce. He alone who has striven and won can enrich
the world by bestowing the fruits of his victorious experience.
already carried out in the Bose laboratory on the response of matter,
and the unexpected revelations in plant life, have opened out very
extended regions of inquiry in physics, in physiology, in medicine,
in agriculture, and even in psychology. Problems hitherto regarded
as insoluble have now been brought within the sphere of experimental
success is not to be obtained without rigid exactitude. Hence the
long battery of super-sensitive instruments and apparatus of my
design, which stand before you today in their cases in the entrance
hall. They tell you of the protracted efforts to get behind the
deceptive seeming into the reality that remains unseen, of the continuous
toil and persistence and resourcefulness called forth to overcome
human limitations. All creative scientists know that the true laboratory
is the mind, where behind illusions they uncover the laws of truth.
given here will not be mere repetitions of second-hand knowledge.
They will announce new discoveries, demonstrated for the first time
in these halls. Through regular publication of the work of the Institute,
these Indian contributions will reach the whole world. They will
become public property. No patents will ever be taken. The spirit
of our national culture demands that we should forever be free from
the desecration of utilizing knowledge only for personal gain.
my further wish that the facilities of this Institute be available,
so far as possible, to workers from all countries. In this I am
attempting to carry on the traditions of my country. So far back
as twenty-five centuries, India welcomed to its ancient universities,
at Nalanda and Taxila, scholars from all parts of the world.
science is neither of the East nor of the West but rather international
in its universality, yet India is specially fitted to make great
contributions.5 The burning
Indian imagination, which can extort new order out of a mass of
apparently contradictory facts, is held in check by the habit of
concentration. This restraint confers the power to hold the mind
to the pursuit of truth with an infinite patience."
in my eyes at the scientist's concluding words. Is "patience"
not indeed a synonym of India, confounding Time and the historians
I visited the
research center again, soon after the day of opening. The great
botanist, mindful of his promise, took me to his quiet laboratory.
attach the crescograph to this fern; the magnification is tremendous.
If a snail's crawl were enlarged in the same proportion, the creature
would appear to be traveling like an express train!"
My gaze was
fixed eagerly on the screen which reflected the magnified fern-shadow.
Minute life-movements were now clearly perceptible; the plant was
growing very slowly before my fascinated eyes. The scientist touched
the tip of the fern with a small metal bar. The developing pantomime
came to an abrupt halt, resuming the eloquent rhythms as soon as
the rod was withdrawn.
how any slight outside interference is detrimental to the sensitive
tissues," Bose remarked. "Watch; I will now administer
chloroform, and then give an antidote."
of the chloroform discontinued all growth; the antidote was revivifying.
The evolutionary gestures on the screen held me more raptly than
a "movie" plot. My companion (here in the role of villain)
thrust a sharp instrument through a part of the fern; pain was indicated
by spasmodic flutters. When he passed a razor partially through
the stem, the shadow was violently agitated, then stilled itself
with the final punctuation of death.
chloroforming a huge tree, I achieved a successful transplantation.
Usually, such monarchs of the forest die very quickly after being
moved." Jagadis smiled happily as he recounted the life-saving
maneuver. "Graphs of my delicate apparatus have proved that
trees possess a circulatory system; their sap movements correspond
to the blood pressure of animal bodies. The ascent of sap is not
explicable on the mechanical grounds ordinarily advanced, such as
capillary attraction. The phenomenon has been solved through the
crescograph as the activity of living cells. Peristaltic waves issue
from a cylindrical tube which extends down a tree and serves as
an actual heart! The more deeply we perceive, the more striking
becomes the evidence that a uniform plan links every form in manifold
The great scientist
pointed to another Bose instrument.
show you experiments on a piece of tin. The life-force in metals
responds adversely or beneficially to stimuli. Ink markings will
register the various reactions."
I watched the graph which recorded the characteristic waves of atomic
structure. When the professor applied chloroform to the tin, the
vibratory writings stopped. They recommenced as the metal slowly
regained its normal state. My companion dispensed a poisonous chemical.
Simultaneous with the quivering end of the tin, the needle dramatically
wrote on the chart a death-notice.
instruments have demonstrated that metals, such as the steel used
in scissors and machinery, are subject to fatigue, and regain efficiency
by periodic rest. The life-pulse in metals is seriously harmed or
even extinguished through the application of electric currents or
I looked around
the room at the numerous inventions, eloquent testimony of a tireless
is lamentable that mass agricultural development is not speeded
by fuller use of your marvelous mechanisms. Would it not be easily
possible to employ some of them in quick laboratory experiments
to indicate the influence of various types of fertilizers on plant
right. Countless uses of Bose instruments will be made by future
generations. The scientist seldom knows contemporaneous reward;
it is enough to possess the joy of creative service."
of unreserved gratitude to the indefatigable sage, I took my leave.
"Can the astonishing fertility of his genius ever be exhausted?"
came with the years. Inventing an intricate instrument, the "Resonant
Cardiograph," Bose then pursued extensive researches on innumerable
Indian plants. An enormous unsuspected pharmacopoeia of useful drugs
was revealed. The cardiograph is constructed with an unerring accuracy
by which a one-hundredth part of a second is indicated on a graph.
Resonant records measure infinitesimal pulsations in plant, animal
and human structure. The great botanist predicted that use of his
cardiograph will lead to vivisection on plants instead of animals.
side recordings of the effects of a medicine given simultaneously
to a plant and an animal have shown astounding unanimity in result,"
he pointed out. "Everything in man has been foreshadowed in
the plant. Experimentation on vegetation will contribute to lessening
of human suffering."
later Bose's pioneer plant findings were substantiated by other
scientists. Work done in 1938 at Columbia University was reported
by The New York Times as follows:
It has been
determined within the past few years that when the nerves transmit
messages between the brain and other parts of the body, tiny electrical
impulses are being generated. These impulses have been measured
by delicate galvanometers and magnified millions of times by modern
amplifying apparatus. Until now no satisfactory method had been
found to study the passages of the impulses along the nerve fibers
in living animals or man because of the great speed with which these
Drs. K. S. Cole
and H. J. Curtis reported having discovered that the long single
cells of the fresh-water plant nitella, used frequently in goldfish
bowls, are virtually identical with those of single nerve fibers.
Furthermore, they found that nitella fibers, on being excited, propagate
electrical waves that are similar in every way, except velocity,
to those of the nerve fibers in animals and man. The electrical
nerve impulses in the plant were found to be much slower than those
in animals. This discovery was therefore seized upon by the Columbia
workers as a means for taking slow motion pictures of the passage
of the electrical impulses in nerves.
nitella plant thus may become a sort of Rosetta stone for deciphering
the closely guarded secrets close to the very borderland of mind
poet Rabindranath Tagore was a stalwart friend of India's idealistic
scientist. To him, the sweet Bengali singer addressed the following
O Hermit, call
thou in the authentic words
Of that old hymn called Sama; "Rise! Awake!"
Call to the man who boasts his shastric lore
From vain pedantic wranglings profitless,
Call to that foolish braggart to come forth
Out on the face of nature, this broad earth,
Send forth this call unto thy scholar band;
Together round thy sacrifice of fire
Let them all gather. So may our India,
Our ancient land unto herself return
O once again return to steadfast work,
To duty and devotion, to her trance
Of earnest meditation; let her sit
Once more unruffled, greedless, strifeless, pure,
O once again upon her lofty seat
And platform, teacher of all lands.
"All science is transcendental or else passes away. Botany
is now acquiring the right theory-the avatars of Brahma will presently
be the textbooks of natural history."-Emerson
From the Latin root, crescere, to increase. For his crescograph
and other inventions, Bose was knighted in 1917.
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The lotus flower is an ancient divine symbol in India; its unfolding
petals suggest the expansion of the soul; the growth of its pure
beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise.
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"At present, only the sheerest accident brings India into the
purview of the American college student. Eight universities (Harvard,
Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Pennsylvania, Chicago,
and California) have chairs of Indology or Sanskrit, but India is
virtually unrepresented in departments of history, philosophy, fine
arts, political science, sociology, or any of the other departments
of intellectual experience in which, as we have seen, India has
made great contributions. . . . We believe, consequently, that no
department of study, particularly in the humanities, in any major
university can be fully equipped without a properly trained specialist
in the Indic phases of its discipline. We believe, too, that every
college which aims to prepare its graduates for intelligent work
in the world which is to be theirs to live in, must have on its
staff a scholar competent in the civilization of India."-Extracts
from an article by Professor W. Norman Brown of the University of
Pennsylvania which appeared in the May, 1939, issue of the Bulletin
of the American Council of Learned Societies, 907 15th St., Washington,
D. C., 25ø copy. This issue (#28) contains over 100 pages
of a "Basic Bibliography for Indic Studies."
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The atomic structure of matter was well-known to the ancient Hindus.
One of the six systems of Indian philosophy is Vaisesika, from the
Sanskrit root visesas, "atomic individuality." One of
the foremost Vaisesika expounders was Aulukya, also called Kanada,
"the atom-eater," born about 2800 years ago.
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In an article in East-West, April, 1934, a summary of Vaisesika
scientific knowledge was given as follows: "Though the modern
'atomic theory' is generally considered a new advance of science,
it was brilliantly expounded long ago by Kanada, 'the atom-eater.'
The Sanskrit anus can be properly translated as 'atom' in the latter's
literal Greek sense of 'uncut' or indivisible. Other scientific
expositions of Vaisesika treatises of the B.C. era include (1) the
movement of needles toward magnets, (2) the circulation of water
in plants, (3) akash or ether, inert and structureless, as a basis
for transmitting subtle forces, (4) the solar fire as the cause
of all other forms of heat, (5) heat as the cause of molecular change,
(6) the law of gravitation as caused by the quality that inheres
in earth-atoms to give them their attractive power or downward pull,
(7) the kinetic nature of all energy; causation as always rooted
in an expenditure of energy or a redistribution of motion, (8) universal
dissolution through the disintegration of atoms, (9) the radiation
of heat and light rays, infinitely small particles, darting forth
in all directions with inconceivable speed (the modern 'cosmic rays'
theory), (10) the relativity of time and space.
assigned the origin of the world to atoms, eternal in their nature,
i.e., their ultimate peculiarities. These atoms were regarded as
possessing an incessant vibratory motion. . . . The recent discovery
that an atom is a miniature solar system would be no news to the
old Vaisesika philosophers, who also reduced time to its furthest
mathematical concept by describing the smallest unit of time (kala)
as the period taken by an atom to traverse its own unit of space."
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Translated from the Bengali of Rabindranath Tagore, by Manmohan
Ghosh, in Viswa-Bharati.
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