Nobel laureate Amartya Sen took a leaf out of Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi's book when he extolled the glorious contributions made by Indian scientists since ancient times. He even stressed the necessity of teaching Vedic mathematics.
Sen was speaking at the plenary session of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations on Thursday. An estimated 1,500-strong congregation comprising Indian expatriates from over 20 countries cheered and clapped as Sen, and later Joshi, spoke of Aryabhatta, the Siddhantas, Indian medicine and other ancient Indian scientific achievements.
Sen surprised the audience by tracing the Sanskritic origins of the word "science". Aryabhatta, he said, had named trigonometry jiya ardha, from which the Arab word jeb is derived. Later, an Italian translated this to Sinoos from which the English word science is derived.
Sen delineated the interaction between ancient Indian, Arabic, Chinese and European scientists and urged present-day academics to "celebrate interactiveness". Otherwise, he warned, Indians would be done in by the frog-in-the-well syndrome.
Sen defended the need to study Vedic mathematics, describing it as a means to understand and simplify complex mathematical problems. Going through India's heritage in this branch of science, he said Indians made the first serious attempt to understand the rotation and revolution of the Earth.
Joshi, who unveiled his Bharat Siksha Kosh (fund) to attract the support of ordinary Indians and members of the diaspora towards the government's education programmes, urged the audience to "debrief" themselves of the myth that India was merely a home of spiritual thinkers.