When I met the Nobel Laureate and Padma Vibhushan Awardee Dr.Venkataraman Ramakrishnan over coffee at Hotel Savera, the venue for his 2nd.S.V.Narasimhan Memorial Oration, I was struck by his simplicity and spontaneous smile and easy manner. Even as people were crowding around to catch his eye and have a word with him, I tried to take a picture of him when a sophisticated lady introduced herself as his cousin and said, ‘I will take a picture of both of you.’ and she clicked from my camera. I felt it was very
sweet of her to have offered to do so. I asked for his visiting card to which he replied, ‘I don’t have a card or a car.’ When I wished to know his email id to do an interview of him, he reached out for the tissue placed on the table nearby and quickly wrote it down and handed it over to me. I said I had no knowledge of Science or Physics and his spontaneous remark was ‘I am a failed Physicist. You know in a wedding invitation they write next to the bride’s name : B.A. failed. I was amazed at his sense of humour coupled with humility. When he said people might like him before his lecture and dislike him after that, I asked whether he would bust the many myths about Science, considering the topic : ‘The skeptical Scientist’ he would be speaking on. By then it was time for the programme to commence and the audience I observed was a mix of academics, doctors, former officials and school students who turned up in quite a good number (it was the first time that I had seen so many youngsters attending a lecture).
Dr.Ramakrishnan announced at the outset that in the interaction that would follow his oration, preference should be given to young students to ask questions and he would give prizes for the two best questions which were copies of books he had drawn material for his presentation: VOODOO SCIENCE BY ROBERT PARK (OXFORD UNY.PRESS)
2.BAD SCIENCE BY BEN GOLDACRE (FOURTH ESTATE,LONDON 2008) .
His one hour illustrative lecture interspersed with humour was spell binding and provided food for thought to many in the audience. Freedom of thought is essential to science and children have an inborn mechanism to believe what they are told; Beliefs are slow to die even among scientists; Astrology wholly depends on past, Astronomy is a science as it believes in change; Modern Science protects us from false fears and beliefs; Confident doctors generally tend to have better outcomes and Placebo is better than anti depression pills are some of the points culled out from his lecture.
Most of the questions based on his talk were posed by school students and few by some professionals.
Dhruv Satish of Pates Grammar School inEngland(he had come to Chennai on a holiday) had received a prize for his question on the placebo effect (I couldn’t locate the other prize winner).
It’s pleasant news we received in the beginning of 2012 that makes us all proud as Indians which is that Indian born Dr.Ramakrishnan has been conferred knighthood ‘for services to molecular biology.’ He would be known hereafter as Sir Venkatataraman Ramakrishnan or Sir Venky for short as he is known all over the world.
The S.V.Narasimhan (SVN) Memorial Oration was organized by his son, S.N.Srikanth, Managing Director, VASTA BIOTECH PVT.LTD. under the auspices of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai Kendra. SVN was CMD OF THE Hauer-Diana group of companies and was Chairman of the Chennai Kendra of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
N.MEERA RAGHAVENDRA RAO