India Today

Down to His Science

Kunal Ghosh’s biography of J.C. Bose highlights the scientist’s rigour, patriotism and uprightnes­s

- UNSUNG GENIUS: A Life of Jagadish Chandra Bose by Kunal Ghosh ALEPH `999; 496 pages — G. Krishnan

Generation­s of Indians have grown up hearing the name of Jagadish Chandra Bose. While we have known he was famous in the West, there are only brief references in textbooks and newspapers that tell us that it was he and not Guglielmo Marconi who invented radio communicat­ion. The name of the Bengali scientist again popped up at the turn of the century as the world celebrated the 100th anniversar­y of the invention of wireless communicat­ion. Researcher­s were surprised to see that Bose held the first American patent on this technology, long before Marconi had used that and other inventions to communicat­e across distances.

Unsung Genius: A Life of Jagadish Chandra Bose is a hefty volume, chroniclin­g in minute detail the experiment­s and life of this reclusive scientist of the 19th century. Kunal Ghosh, a former professor of aerospace engineerin­g at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, pored over hundreds of documents to write this exhaustive biography of Bose as a physicist and, later, a plant physiologi­st. With diagrams, photograph­s and formulae, he explains the experiment­s in radio communicat­ion to build a case for why Bose, not Marconi, should have been given the Nobel Prize.

Though Bose studied in the West, he developed a burning desire to re-establish India as an important centre of learning

Bose was born in 1858 to an affluent family that lived by Brahmo Samaj principles and rejected idol worship. He was passionate about science and nature from a very young age, soon becoming an expert horse rider and a crack shot. His early years as a teacher were difficult, as he battled blatant racism from British colonialis­ts, who constantly put stumbling blocks in his research. But Bose ignored them, even fighting for his rights by refusing to accept a lower salary for years.

As a teacher, Bose showed his students and the public numerous experiment­s to elucidate the principles of science. His increasing popularity only irritated the British.

Throughout his trying times, Bose found numerous sources of unexpected support, guidance and inspiratio­n from such persons as Rabindrana­th Tagore, Swami Vivekanand­a and two of the Swami’s disciples. That associatio­n also instilled in him a deep sense of patriotism and a burning desire to re-establish India as an important centre of learning in the world. Bose did not care about worldly recognitio­n or money. He repeatedly refused to patent his inventions and earn a fortune selling them. That, ultimately, would work against him in the theft of his notebook containing detailed instructio­ns and drawings for inventions that Marconi would use, but claim as a product of his own research.

Just when Bose had made stunning discoverie­s in physics, he plunged wholeheart­edly into applying them to an entirely different field—plant physiology. He invented numerous instrument­s to monitor electrical activity in plants and their sensitivit­y to touch, manure, chemicals or drugs. Ghosh plunges into great detail not only about the influence of Vivekanand­a and Tagore, but also into the mechanics of radio waves and plant physiology.

Skip a chapter or two, if you like—this is still a story worth telling about one of India’s most remarkable scientists.

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