Steve Jobs is dead. I wanted to make history by saying just that in this column and dramatically leaving the rest of the allotted space blank. I couldn't at first think of anything more to say. For, in the words of a poet: “Death. Nothing is simpler. One is dead!”
After setting out at the age of 21 to redraw the map of the cyber world with his out-of-the-box thinking, in his 56 years on the planet, this drop-out produced out-of-the-hat rabbits such as Macintosh, iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad. It will all be Jobs dominating the media and Web sites with innumerable tributes to his unparalleled genius which stood the computer industry on its head. The obituaries will liberally draw on his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address in which he recounts three stories that shaped his life and thinking, pointing out how his chucking structured educational courses, and later, being “publicly” fired from the company he himself founded, gave him the courage to follow his “inner voice” and his heart's dictates. He then movingly talks of the immensely creative force that awareness of approaching death can be.
At the moment, though, my thoughts are not on the passing of this innovator par excellence who gave the world the intriguing mantra: Stay hungry, stay foolish. The question uppermost in my mind is: When will India have its own Jobs? Or Gates? Or Larry Page and Sergey Brin?
Despite all that India boasts of its ancient cultural heritage — its epics, Upanishads, Arya Bhatta, Varahamihira, Sushrutha, the decimal system, the zero — it has not been able to match the Western mind in respect of the latter-day inventions and discoveries. India's record is abysmal in regard to the number of Nobel Laureates, scientific papers and patents.
I have long wondered why a Columbus should be discovering America, a Scott exploring the South pole, a Livingstone uncovering the Dark Continent of Africa, or a Cook claiming Australia and not a Ramaswami or a Rakesh Bhatt? Why should the falling of an apple lead a Newton to his Laws or the rattling of the lid of a kettle of boiling water lead a James Watt to the steam engine? Why did Indians with all their thousands of years of investigation into the mysteries of Brahman, the soul and the like fail to go into the scientific significance of day-to-day happenings as Wright Brothers, Salk, Fleming, Edison, Marconi or Baird did?
Even in regard to the so-called success stories in software, it is all an extrapolation of what was already common knowledge handed from the West, and not the result of any original thinking. Indeed, in some circles, Indians in the software field are regarded as no more than tech-coolies!
NEXT BILL GATES
There are, no doubt, success stories of Indians in other countries but only in run-of-the-mill professions (teaching, financial services, medicine). Most of them are mere salary-earners. The only Indian names coming up again and again for their extra-ordinary contributions in science are C.V.Raman, S. Chandrasekhar, H.L. Khorana and V. Ramakrishnan, of whom all but one were expatriates. What is it in the soil of the US that enables it to grow geniuses of the likes of Gates and Jobs and Page and Brin, and that too at such a young age, while India is yet to produce achievers of comparable calibre?
Here is a quick check list of reasons: The hierarchical set-up reflective of a feudal mindset, breeding conformity with established conventions and incapacity to break new ground or take risks; want of sustained focus on, and allocation of the needed funds for, both pure and applied research; absence of a sense of perfection, thoroughness and excellence; lack of self-pride.
However, here is a tidbit that should gladden our hearts: The Consumer Electronics Association of the US recently asked in a survey where the next Bill Gates will come from; 40 per cent of Americans predicted that he would be from either India or China. Amen (despite being bracketed with China)!