Next time you are asked. ‘Which Indian do you admire the most?’, consider ‘Venki’, a man who tells you what you don’t like to hear

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“Which Indian do you admire the most?” is a standard question in the modern method of televised interrogation because of a scourge called the “rapid-fire round”.

Designed to make bored audiences look up instead of peering down at their phones, it is a device to make a pow-wow interesting with inane, staccato questions requiring inane, staccato answers.

Originally the contribution of the original quiz masters, Sidhartha Basu and Derek O’Brien, it was made popular by an even more modern television scourge called Karan Johar.

In the best traditions of that great meritocratic institution called Bollywood, Johar plagiarised the interview technique made famous by the French essayist Marcel Proust which the American magazine Vanity Fair has used on its last page for decades. 

So, if you are a movie star or her boyfriend or his ex in Johar’s couch with a coffee lota the size of a toilet mug, you are supposed to parrot some “iconic” name to keep the you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-your-bastard-son’s-whirligig going.

If you are a Miss India traipsing down the ramp and facing the jury at a Miss World or Miss Universe pageant, the answers expected from a bimbo eyeing an invite to Vineet Jain‘s next Holi party are: Mahatma GandhiMother Teresa, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

(The answer is never Shakti Kapoor.)

Since you clearly are not a tinseltowner or a ubermodel, and the chances of becoming one safely range between zero to minus-infinity, the options become a wee bit difficult in a nation high on chamchagiri and short of genuine heroes.

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So, the next time someone asks you “Which living Indian do you admire the most?” consider “Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan” for an answer.

And not just because he shared a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2009.

Because, in a world where most celebrities spout safe and politically correct drivel, “Venki” doesn’t hold back from saying things, as is, without fear of hurting “majority sentiments”.

# So, after he won the Nobel, when the whole world and his uncle started recalling “their glory days” in Baroda, Venki had the gumption to point out that he didn’t remember most of them.

# So, when Pradhan Vignani Narendra Modi delivered his “five Es” to illiterate applause at the so-called Indian science congress in Mysore, Venki said he wouldn’t attend another because it was a “circus”.

# So, when desh premis say ancient India invented plastic surgery and flew planes, Venki says simply “I don’t believe it. Science has to be based on data. You have to show that you did it and others should be able to verify it.”

# So, when hirsute babas like Jaggi Vasudev speaks of the good effects of mercury, or when other hirsute babas look benignly at the stars, Venki says homoeopathy and astrology are “bogus and harmful”.

Today, 20 September 2018, is the day when his book ‘Gene Machine‘ is released.

In an interview to Amit Roy of The Telegraph, Calcutta, he wears his scholarship lightly despite being the first Indian to be elected president of the Royal Society.

There are two types of Nobel laureates, he says.

“Some hanker after it so much it changes their behaviour. It makes them deeply unhappy and frustrated when, year after year, they fail to get one and is a disease I called pre-Nobelitis.

“After the prime, there is post-Nobelitis. They are asked for their opinion on everything under the sun, regardless of their expertise, and soon goes to their head.”

There is a third category which Venki doesn’t consider: pre-Nobelites who strut around like post-Nobelites.

There are many in our midst.