Monday, 4 October 2010

IN SEARCH OF SCIENCE


IN SEARCH OF SCIENCE


The glossy covers of the books at the Science section of a bookstore in Camp look inviting. But amid stacks of such attractive science books, school student Shrey Manthalkar tells me that he prefers “watching science-based television shows to reading books about science”. It is then a question suddenly pops up: How much interest do youngsters have about science-related books, beyond their school or college curriculum, in this era of multi-media content.

I begin to check at the bookstores. From Charles Darwin to Richard Dawkins, all the major theorists, scientists and writers are present on the shelves with their bestselling titles. But they do not seem to attract any attention from buyers across the packed stores, as I spend an entire day to do the reality check.

“That’s not the case usually,” assures Narendra Chandan, proprietor of the Book World at a shopping arcade on FC Road. “Copies of books by Dawkins or Stephen Hawking or Carl Sagan and the rest have enough buyers to make the science books commercially viable for us,” he says.

What strikes me at these bookstores, is that science-related books displayed are only in English; those in Marathi or Hindi are not easily visible. My searches in the ‘Marathi’ sections of the stores yield just few copies of Agnatache Vijdnyan by Dr Sureshchandra Nadkarni, Preshit and Akashashi Jodale Nate by Jayant Narlikar, and a translation of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

I enquire with the store managers. “Science books in English are in demand among the young and the old, but there is hardly any demand for science books written in Marathi or Hindi even though there is no dearth of such books,” says one of them requesting anonymity. I hear similar words from others, like “physics student” Mayuri Joshi. “The science books in English are easier and often well-illustrated. So I opt for the original in English rather than the translations,” she says.

It makes me think: if science literature is mostly popular in English --- and that too mostly those by the big names --- what drives the relatively unknown or never-heard-of writers who pen books on science? I put his question to poet and retired headmaster Jaikrishna Pathak ‘Vipra’ who has written Bharat Ke Shresht Vaigyanik, a lean book in Hindi about nine well-known Indian scientists. “I loved science since childhood,” he says. So, with the help of his son Mridulkant Pathak, the senior Pathak “rummaged through old books and newspaper clippings” for two years to begin a journey in writing books “to inspire” the future generation. “But it wasn’t easy to get a publisher” for the book, Mridulkant tells me.

“Kids who have no access to television and Internet, can read about the scientific heritage of our country and the unknown nuggets from the lives of the great scientists from my book, or such other books written by so many other writers like me who have scientific bend of mind,” senior Pathak says with confidence. I somewhat cannot ignore that point. Who knows, maybe a young Indian is right now reading such a book and resolving silently to move beyond the syllabus, bring out the best of his or her innovative mind and join the group of ‘scientific Indians’ of future.