Reading about Rik Sengupta, the 18-year old soccer-crazy, piano-playing academic whiz from Kolkata, who was offered full scholarships by seven top U. S. universities as also the Indian Institute of Technology, I wondered why he chose Princeton over the rest. The answer comes from the boy himself: “IITs have very good science and maths courses, but I won’t be able to take a course in creative writing or music alongside these.”
For new age kids with interests ranging from nanotechnology, Julia Roberts, cross-country car racing and Amitabh Ghosh to Salsa and Carnatic music, this is almost like a ‘quality of life’ issue. They are academically brilliant but it isn’t a surprise when they declare with a shrug, “We have a life beyond the lab, don’t we?”
This brought me to think of the science and technology schools back home. How many of our schools actually help nurture the extra-curricular interests of these youngsters? I know for a fact that the University of Hyderabad is thinking of a centralised time table where science students can pursue their love for the arts — music, dance, literature — without missing classes. But that’s still on paper. There’s a similar (though not on a large scale) nurturing of ‘out of the box’ ideas at the National Centre of Biological Sciences, Bangalore, too.
So, apart from foreign tags and Nobel Laureate mentors, the young scientists’ love of the arts looks like another key area that could trigger brain drain in times to come. Do our universities and institutes plan to get equipped to arrest this trend? Or shall we, like many other things, overlook this one too and cry hoarse when it is too late?