Venkataraman Ramakrishnan won the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 2009 but decades ago he failed to clear entrance tests for both the IITs and a reputed medical college.
At a public lecture at the Indian Institute of Science campus here, he recalled his journey from Baroda where he went
to school and college before moving to Ohio University for his Ph.D. He shifted to Baroda from Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu when he was three.
He noted that he appeared for the IIT entrance test but "did not get a single seat in IIT".
"My parents were somewhat old-fashioned; they did not believe in coaching classes (in preparation for entrance
test)," Ramakrishnan told a packed J N Tata Auditorium, where many could not even enter because it was crowded. They (his
parents) thought coaching classes were "nonsense".
He also appeared in the entrance test for a seat in the reputed Christian Medical College in Vellore in Tamil Nadu but
was unsuccessful. Giving an explanation, he said that those days, there were only a small number of seats for men.
Ramakrishnan recalled that years later, in 1981, after his post-doctoral, he could not initially find a job even
though he had put in 50 applications in different universities (overseas) without success.
The Nobel laureate said that as a child he was not interested in science but extraordinary maths and science teachers inspired him to pursue the subject seriously. He said one should not go into science with the hope of winning a Nobel, a strategy which is bound to be disappointing and frustrating. "You should go into science to care about a (scientific) problem."
Asked by an audience member if he had plans to return to India, Ramakrishnan said, "No".
The media hype in India ever since he won the Nobel has baffled Ramakrishnan, who still cannot figure out as to why
it was needed at all.
"I don't really know the reason for it (media hype) because I don't quite understand myself. But that's a fact.
It's really an Indian phenomenon," he said. Ramakrishnan said the declining interest in students to take up basic science is not unique to India; it was a worldwide phenomenon.
"It's natural for people to go into the areas where they can make a good living, good career. So, people will go into
business or management or law or medicine. It's just natural..."
However, he said there were always people who were smart and driven by curiosity who would go into science and societies need to foster and encourage this small minority.
Asked for his advice for Indian students, Ramakrishnan was modest, saying his expertise was only in the area of ribosome and he did not think about education in broad terms and was not qualified to give one.