Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Books And Covers

My grandmother, my mother's mother, was a biologist. She did her MSc in an era when good Brahmin girls were reared to be good Brahmin wives. She was the Head of Department of Biology at one of Delhi's biggest public schools. She walked out of an unhappy marriage and earned her PhD at age 60. For years, I remember her taking crowded DTC buses (much to the annoyance of my mother) to go meet her thesis advisor. 

My aunt, my father's elder sister, is a biotechnologist. She left her only daughter in the care of her husband and went off abroad to study in an era when good wives gave up careers to raise good children. She returned to join the All India Insititute of Medical Sciences and went on to do remarkable work in the field of leprosy. Every time I visit her I'm drawn to the Padmashri hanging in her living room, awarded for her contribution to Indian science.

My mother is a doctor. Growing up, she was perhaps the only mum amongst my friends', who pursued a full time career and managed to be available to her family. I remember the few times she took us with her to the clinic. I was so proud to see her in action. She cured people. With science.

Today I attended a seminar on high-energy particle physics. A national meet to celebrate India's contribution to the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. 

It was not until I sat through this session....:

Crappy Photos, Awesome Lecture

...that I realized how unprepared I was for the appearance of these women on this particular stage. 

The lady in the white sari is a key member of the India-CMS project. (The CMS experiment at the LHC detected the Higgs Boson.) In the picture, she's just finished schooling the audience on how the Higgs was discovered. The lady in the brown sari is one of India's leading authorities on S particles and Supersymmetry. (To quote The Hindu, 'she is in a panel that decides the specifications of the next big collider at CERN'). She's just finished schooling a grumpy 185 yr old scientist-bully in the audience on how it's really done bitch.

If you'd asked me to visualize what India's leading particle physicists look like, these ladies would not be it. Why? Probably because they look like my grandmother.

And that's where it becomes about my failings. Why shouldn't they be India's leading particle physicists?
After all, they look like my grandmother.

Must read: Lilavati's Daughters:The Women Scientists of India by Prof. Rohini Godbole


  1. 'cos LSR is about self-indulgent arty-fartyness and a cooler-than-thou attitude, and studying useful things like math and science is for geeks?

    1. As astounding as the breadth of your knowledge about human psychology, gender & LSR seems to be - No.
      (You might have some unresolved anger vis-a-vis LSR to sort out. Call me. I have the name of an excellent dentist.)

  2. Awesome! For once, the word seems appropriate. :)

  3. Your mother cured people with science, you cure them with words. That's something you both have in common.

    Lovely post!

  4. Hey....just wanted to share the below link:

    Aideu Handique was the first Assamese woman to act in a film (Joymoti). She was later ostrasized by her village for calling her co-actor 'Bongohordeo' (husband) in the film. The film was later acclaimed as Jyotiprasad Aggarwalla's (a visionary director) masterpiece but she remained a spinster all her life.("Who would marry a girl who had stayed with men in a camp for a month?")

    1. Wow...what a story! Thanks for sharing.