There is little that ancient Indians did not know about science, or at least that is how it would seem if one were to examine some of the papers at the 102nd edition of the Indian Science Congress in Mumbai. There is talk of flights based on sage Bharadwaja's knowledge of aviation, aircraft doubling as submarines and so on. While proof of such things is said to exist in the texts of yore, none of this seems grounded in fact. While this may be a cause for pride for some, science itself is a work in progress, always looking ahead.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his inaugural speech at the congress, was matter of fact about the whole issue and spoke of the need to push the boundaries of science. But all that seemed to have got lost in the talk about how much ancient Indians knew about surgery, submarines and aviation.
This is at best a sideshow to the real issues that we face. That is that we don't have enough scientific research or scientists that a country the size of India should have.
It is true that we have been able to send a spacecraft to Mars, but scientific research has to extend to many areas of ordinary life. From smart cities to medicine, there are gaping holes in our development of these.
The effort of a science meet should be to see where we have indigenous expertise and where we need to look outside for help. Of course, the papers will tend to be academic rather than practical in nature, but it must be questioned as to why theories that are unsubstantiated should be taken up at the meet at such length.
Scientific research in India is hampered by the lack of facilities and faculty. This explains why India falls behind when it comes to scientific patents.
There are many budding scientists across India, even in rural areas where young people have come up with remarkable innovations that have improved the quality of life in their villages. Efforts should be made to launch more nationwide science talent hunts to tap into this rich vein of human resource. More universities, instead of going in for esoteric subjects like vedic mathematics, should focus on science research with a view to monetising this as universities abroad do.
Scientific research need not be confined only to certain institutions - it should be part of the higher education curricula.
The problem with raising the issue of past glories in science as revealed in the texts is that the whole focus of the congress then shifts to those for and against these. While such papers may be interesting, it would perhaps be best if they are discussed in another forum so as not to distract from the business of focusing on science in the here and now.