When Singh is King of all he does not ‘see’
Dr Singh’s comments on Darwin’s theory of evolution was like dejà vu all over again to see him insisting that just because none of our ancients had “seen” man evolve from apes, evolution never happened at all.Updated: Jan 24, 2018 00:44 IST
I do not know how my good friend Dhanraj Vanjari, a Masters in chemistry, ended up as a police officer. But over a period of 30 years or more, he proved a damn fine cop, was even posted by the Indian government to the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Kosovo and India could have been saved from the 26/11 attacks if only senior IPS officers had regarded his spotting of curious activity in the sea off Sassoon docks with due alarm and not thrown his warning into the dustbin.
Even before he retired, Vanjari was a man of many parts and had published two books on Marathi poetry. He was then Reader in the office of then Joint Commissioner Javed Ahmed who was seated on the dais with poet, lyricist Javed Akhtar at the launch of his book sometime in the 2000s.
Dr Satyapal Singh, also a joint commissioner then, was seated in the audience. He asked to be invited on stage and spoke knowledgeably about poetry. Singh was also a post-graduate in science but had knowledge about other domains as well. I remember Vanjari ending his book reading with an ode to his wife with some lines from the Manusmriti.
Next day he was challenged by Singh for attributing those lines to Manu. “I have read that scripture well,” Singh said. “And nothing of the kind appears in Manusmriti.”
Vanjari was an officer from the ranks and could not have challenged such a senior officer even in a domain that had nothing to do with policing. So next day, he brought to office a dog-eared copy of his grandfather’s Manusmriti and showed Singh those very lines he had quoted at his book launch. Despite the fact that it was down in black and white, Singh refused to accept its authenticity. “I have not seen them before,” he insisted.
Vanjari pointed out that various editions of the scriptures undergo re-editing every 200 years or so and editors either concise or expand the texts to suit the times, the readers’ requirements or even social orientations of that era, as is popular with even the Ramayana and Mahabharata. So some lines could appear in a particular edition and may be missing in another. But Singh either would not or could not “see” that logic or accept that fact and Vanjari had, under the circumstances of his subordinate position, to “concede” the point to Singh - that his officer was right and his Manusmriti may have been wrong.
I recalled this story when controversy broke out over Dr Singh’s comments on Darwin’s theory of evolution. It was like dejà vu all over again to see him insisting that just because none of our ancients had “seen” man evolve from apes, evolution never happened at all. Today, Vanjari may understand his former boss’s insistence on his own theory better in this matter because of the existence of a study by another eminent scientist Jayant Narlikar of particles in the earth’s hemisphere containing human DNA. “So where did that DNA come from? There has been no answer to that and even if that negates the evolution theory, no scientist in the world has so far been able to prove Darwin wrong,” he told me. But Singh’s insistence now that the government of India should hold a great world science debate to prove Darwin wrong, is rather like his insistence all those years ago that his copy of the Manusmriti was the right one and Vanjari’s was wrong.
What frightens me about this is that the man, who is today India’s junior human resources development minister, has a superior sense of his own knowledge with a mind closed to new learning and can, in a position of authority, override or negate texts and established works just because they do not fit the gaps in his knowledge. While he was challenging a junior officer on a private issue that had no repercussions on the public, it might have been all right to cede his point - and ego - to him. But when such ignorance could have a lasting effect on young minds and meddle with their understanding of science, evolution and the world, I am afraid we might be in danger of producing a nation of nincompoops just because one man didn’t know better and had no scientific temperament despite a degree in physics. We surely do not want to become a nation of Neanderthals? But if we do end up as one given such regressive intellectualism, it might be quite appropriate to ask Singh to “see” for himself how Homo sapiens evolved and record it for posterity so that future generations are not subjected to such fatuous theories or assumptions in the future!
First Published: Jan 24, 2018 00:44 IST