While he dissects the varied and unusual themes of his first book ‘Space. Life. Matter. ‘, Journalist-author Hari Pulakkat explains where India fits in the global scientific research space
The science book genre is extremely busy, and after a while it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the other. Isn’t everyone talking about space, health and technology? Journalist and author Hari Pulakkat decided over ten years ago that if he ever had to publish his own book, it had to be different. This year he finally released Space. Life. Subject: The advent of the era of Indian science.
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He claims, during a video call from his home in Bangalore with The Hindu MetroPlus, that “no one ever wrote a full book before or after independence on science in India. There have been a few biographies such as those of physicists CV Raman and GN Ramachandran. But that’s not unusual, as you usually can’t find books on British, Japanese, or German science… and if there are, they haven’t been very popular. The science is a full story across the world and you can’t easily break it down by country. “
Space. Life. Material. (Hachette India) is divided into three distinct but closely related sections: “Space” followed by “Matter” then “Life”. Instead of what might have been a mind-boggling tale of facts and figures, the book’s central voice includes historical anecdotes about some of the country’s most notable turning points in the discovery of science, such as Astrosat (the first telescope space), the country’s investments in pharmaceutical industries, especially cancer drugs and vitamins, and more.
Advice for young science journalists
- Hari says budding science journalists should have a deep love for the subject, adding, “Because you’ll want to know more yourself, you don’t have any other motivation. There will be nothing to stop you except the typical industry barriers. The hardest part is finding space for science journalism, not for science journalism itself. “
“All of these are independent developments,” he says, “but what connects them is the situation everyone was working in. Everyone was short of money, struggling against bureaucracy, struggling against culture and ambition. In terms of the science they were doing in the 1950s and 1960s, it was an era of isolation – no shared territories, resources or conversations. Now the situation is so much more different; people work across spaces and disciplines.
Sadly, the book – while highlighting the difficulties faced by scientists over time – some readers will be dismayed at the lack of women in its pages, which reflects the stigma of women in STEM at this time. Fortunately, that is changing, but there is still a long way to go to fill this glaring gender void.
Hari wants the younger generations, through the book, to familiarize themselves with the struggles of times past and understand the industry as a whole in terms of what needs to evolve.
Research and development
Despite the encouraging improvement in STEM industries in India, Hari points out that we have not invested as much as we should in these areas. “India has a large population of scientists. Funding is definitely not what it could be, and it’s a very open fact, but no one has been able to do anything about it. “
Having said that, he hopes Space. Life. Material. pays some positive attention to the considerable advances in research in the years to come. “We have come a long way in the past 20 years and our investment in science has tripled and the number of researchers has increased. We also have to remember that we are a middle income country and in this bracket we are on the lower side. It is difficult to make a lucrative career writing scientific literature.
Hari looks forward to introducing readers to unexpected chapters, such as the chapter “The Science of Leather” and how the leather industry in Tamil Nadu has been a major engine of economic growth for India. The chapter not only delves into monetary but also ecological dialogues. “It was intentional to have a very unexpected topic,” Hari laughs. “I wanted the reader’s experience to be not only insightful but also fun.”
Speaking of fun, Hari says interviewing people was the funniest part of the assembly. Space. Life. Material. – not a surprise considering his 20 years and more as a science journalist. “It was so satisfying and most people have met me without any problems. I spent a very long time with each of them to get the smallest details. Govind Swarup and Uday Shankar are just a few names, ”he said. “Likewise, the enormous Ooty telescope has the appeal of the Grand Canyon; you have to see it for real, the photos don’t do it justice. Science is so much nicer when you see something, and that said, the “Space” part of the book was the most fun for me. For some of the other topics in the book, the old equipment mentioned is unfortunately no longer there. Wouldn’t it be great to see this equipment? There should be a museum or a few across the country dedicated to older instruments. ”