The furore over the Institutes of Eminence status is perhaps a reasonable excuse to look into the rear-view mirror at the story of one of India's best known institutes -- the century-old Indian Institute of Science (IISc) which, ironically, found itself tagged together with a greenfield venture.
A narrative of its early history was pieced together by Prof P Balaram, former director of IISc, in an essay in 2009, the centenary year of the Institute. Morris Travers, a British chemist, was the first director. Travers, recounts Balaram, published a research paper in 1907 with the byline mentioning that he was from the Indian Institute of Science -- a paper from an Institute that hadn't been set up yet. (The IISc was formally born only in 1909).
There’s another little anecdote Balaram described in his essay. In June 1914, five years after the formal nod to set up IISc, the then Governor of Bombay Lord Willingdon (later Viceroy of India) visited the institute in Bangalore. “I had no idea that there was anything like this in India,” Willingdon is said to have remarked. To which Travers responded: “There is nothing like it in India; and nothing better in Great Britain.”
Soap nut solution
Everybody’s heard of Bellandur Lake in Bangalore, the frothing water body that dramatically catches fire periodically. Can polluted lakes make a case for soap nut (reetha), the tree whose berries have traditionally been used to make soaps because it contains natural surfactants? Yes, says the Karnataka government which in its budget last week earmarked Rs 10 crore for a scheme to encourage more farmers to grow more soap nut trees.
“In developed countries, environment-friendly dish wash soap and washing machine soaps made of soap nuts are in abundant use,” went Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s budget speech. The government is right, many agree. To be sure, ecology experts have long pointed at phosphates in detergents as the prime reason for foaming water bodies. In the 1970s, concern over high phosphate levels in the Great Lakes in North America led to regulatory control on the phosphorous content in detergents.
But will it help Bellandur Lake? We can't wait till the soap nut trees grow, say many experts. There’s much that needs to be done immediately. A Karnataka High Court bench too asked the same question this week: why is the government unable to clean up Bellandur lake?
Meme of the week:
"It’s easier to get into Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore through CAT than via Bannerghatta Road."