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Biography of JC Bose:  Whirling dervish of Indian science

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A new biography sheds light on Jagadish Chandra Bose, said to be the father of modern science in India

New Delhi,ISSUE DATE: Apr 17, 2023 | UPDATED: Apr 7, 2023 21:39 IST

Sir J.C. Bose was the preeminent experimental scientist of his time. His work on radio transmission and the properties of millimetre radio waves preceded that of Marconi and others who not only got the credit for it but also managed to make money out of it. Later in his career, he worked on the response of plants to various stimuli, for which he developed several ingenious pieces of equipment

Born in 1858, Bose had a relatively privileged upbringing since his father was a civil servant in Bengal. After obtaining his undergraduate degree at St Xavier’s College, he went to England to study medicine but couldn’t do so because of ill health. He went on to study natural science at Cambridge under some of the most well-known scientists of that time

He returned and joined Presidency College in Calcutta, where he taught till his retirement. Despite a hostile administration, he managed to do his path-breaking research there. Later, when his work got recognition abroad, the government started funding his research as well as his lecture tours to Europe. After his retirement, he continued his research in plant behaviour and biophysics and also founded the Bose Institute, where he remained till his death in 1937

Meher Wan’s biography of J.C. Bose is an attempt not just to describe the life and work of this extraordinary scientist but also place them in the context of their colonial environment. His earlier years, which were decisive in shaping his personality, are described in great detail, as is the role played by his father. Bose’s work on the radio as well as on plant physiology is explained clearly, though with some repetition

The style of writing, however, is somewhat jarring. It reminds one of the way in which biographies of great men are written for ‘young adult’ readers. Describing Bose’s relationship as a child with an ex-dacoit, we have, “They have the stagnation of a deep ocean due to their experiences and waves of their desires bounce on the shores of their memories.” On the fear felt by Bose as a child, we have, “In his stubbornness, a person feels all the creepy caves of fear in the palace.” Mildly amusing at first, these soon get annoying and detract from the book’s flow

And then there are errors; some are minor, like the famous scientist George Stokes being mentioned as ‘Strokes’. But there are also some bloopers. “In 1913, J.C. Bose retired after completing fifty-five years at Presidency College.” This could have been possible only if he had been appointed a Professor as soon as he was born! That ‘kala azar’ is caused by a parasitic bacterium—it’s caused by a parasitic protozoa

The book is advertised as “the definitive English biography of the father of modern science in India, Sir J.C. Bose”. Well, this book definitely is not.

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