Why This New Biography Of Jagadish Chandra Bose Is A Must-Read

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Aug 27, 2022 12:36 PM +05:30 IST
Why This New Biography Of Jagadish Chandra Bose Is A Must-ReadThe cover of 'Unsung Genius'
Snapshot
  • His science, his allies, his struggles, his stoic dedication—a new biography of Jagadish Chandra Bose brings out all this and much more.

Unsung Genius: A Life of Jagadish Chandra Bose. Kunal Ghosh. Aleph Book Company. Pages 490. Hard cover Rs 750. Kindle Rs 712.50.

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937) is a phenomenon in the history of global science. At a time when India was under colonial rule, he represented and exhibited the synthesis of contemporary science and an ancient civilisation.

Jagadish Bose, creatively and constructively, broke barriers. He broke the barriers of the prejudice of colonialism and showed that science could be pursued by an Indian mind in a refreshing approach. He broke the barrier between physics and physiology. He broke the barriers between the animate and the inanimate through empirical demonstrations.

It wouldn't be wrong to consider Jagadish Chandra Bose as the first Vedantic scientist of modern times.

There have been at least two well-written biographies of Acharya Bose – one is by the Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes. The other is by Vishwapriya Mukherjee, for the Publications Division. The former is a detailed biography.

The present biography of Bose under review, Unsung Genius: The Life of Jagadish Chandra Bose, by Kunal Ghosh, is perhaps the most comprehensive biography of Bose which brings out the man, his science, his philosophy, his times and the extraordinary team of people who worked with him.

The book is dedicated to Sarah Chapman Bull who Swami Vivekananda considered as his American Mother. While the contribution of Sister Nivedita to the work and institution-building of Acharya Bose is known among Bose enthusiasts, that of Sarah Bull is not much popular. Ghosh has brought out her contributions in detail in the book.

As stated earlier, Ghosh had the biography written by Geddes as a point of reference. However, this work exceeds the work of Geddes in its meticulous attention to detail.

For example, Geddes mentions that a French physicist, M. Poincaré, appreciated Bose’s receiver as ‘exquisite’. Ghosh mentions the praise and then in the notes, adds the following:

Bose’s biographer Patrick Geddes attributes the quotation to M. Poincaré. A search by this author did not find a physicist, a contemporary of Bose, of the name M. Poincaré; it is likely the initial M in Geddes’s estimate meant ‘Monsieur’. There was, however, the famous physicist and mathematician Jules Henri Poincaré who was also a prolific writer.
(p. 74)

This is just one example to point out the painstaking effort with which the book seems to have been written.

Ghosh has also brought out in graphic detail the experiments that Bose designed to understand plant responses.

He also explains in detail the principle with which Bose built each of his experiments. For example, in the case of the ‘optical pulse recorder’, Ghosh gives a lucid explanation of how the instrument was constructed with a scenario in which the reader can try to replicate the basic principle involved.

With this instrument, Bose was able to test his hypothesis that plants do indeed exhibit movement but the movements are so minute that they were missed both in observation through the naked eye and through the instruments then available.

Ghosh writes:

Then ordinary plants were investigated with much greater magnification, and of course, after application of some form of stimulus or excitation. Bose’s intuition turned out to be correct. The leaf and other organs of ordinary plants also showed movements on being excited.
(p. 262)

Sister Nivedita was a guarding and benign presence in the life of Jagadish Bose. She protected Bose from the disappointments and attacks which he faced.

At the same time, she laboured with superhuman strength to make the world see the genius that Bose was. She worked on the drafts which communicated his experiments to the world, as she toiled for the materialisation of the Bose Institute.

The book brings before the eyes of the readers the kind of sacrifices made by Sister Nivedita for the sake of the Indian scientisit.

The book also details the contribution of Basiswar Sen (1887 –1971), known as ‘Boshi’, to the work of Bose. His wife and geographer-author Gertrude Emerson Sen observed an interesting experiment in the laboratory of Bose:

I saw his most recent experiments in progress, and he says that as a matter of fact, I am the first person to see them…. The real experiment consists in finding reviving drugs made from plants…. He thought he would try them on animal organisms. The graph of a fish’s heart went up and down, up and down, like a typhoid fever chart, and then less up and less down, and less and less, until the pencil was making simply a straight line on the plate. The fish was all but dead. He injected one of his preparations into it, and after five minutes the pen gave a mighty jump and began tapping the old jagged seesaw lines again.
(p. 402)

In other words, Bose revived an animal heart with a plant extract, a complete five minutes after it went flatline.

The personality of Bose that emerges through the book is quite that of an extraordinary human being. A determined, soft-spoken person who resisted injustice but never played the victim card.

As an example, Ghosh brings out the fact that Bose did not want to reminisce the way colonial British science institutions displayed malice towards him, though Geddes being an honest chronicler of science, did record them.

The author brings out another important fact of history. Bose, who was dependent to a large extent on the good will of the Government and who was also opposed to the radical nationalist movement in Bengal, actually helped monetarily to facilitate Sri Aurobindo’s relocation to Pondicherry.

The author states that Einstein attended the lecture of Bose at the university of Geneva where Bose was invited to speak after he attended the Intellectual Cooperation Committee there – an organisation associated with the League of Nations. (pp. 399-400).

T.C.Bridges and H.Hessel Tiltman in their compilation of the biographies of scientific personalities wrote about Einstein attending that lecture:

In 1926 (Bose) was back again in England, lecturing before the British Association at Oxford, where the great Einstein himself was in the audience. When the lecture was over Einstein solemnly declared that Bose ought to have a statue erected in his honour in the capital of the League of the Nations.
Master Minds of Modern Science, 1923:1940, p.25

It would be quite interesting to find out where actually did Einstein listen to Bose—Geneva or Oxford? Perhaps Einstein attended both the lectures?

One cannot exaggerate the love, brilliance and hard work that have gone into this well-researched and well-written book. This is a must read for every Indian and for every student of science.

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose should rightly be considered as the father of interdisciplinary investigation in biology. One wishes a day will come when 'Bose Day' will be celebrated throughout the world as the day of integral science just as Darwin’s Day is celebrated as the day of science of evolution. May this book catalyse the Indian Government to take steps to achieve that.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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