Far from the formidable scientist I’m expecting to meet, one rated both by Time and Newsweek as among the 100 people to watch out for, the man who greets me in San Diego where he teaches and has conducted much of his experiments extends a warm welcome. It has perhaps to do with the fact that I too am from south India and have a connection with Hyderabad where his brother Ravi retired as a police officer.
So in awe of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer is the scientist that he has a picture of him next to Charles Darwin.
It has nothing to do with prejudice. Who else but a south Indian can he speak to about that great musician Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who, he tells me, did not want his voice to be recorded because he believed people would listen to him even in bathrooms. In fact, so in awe of the maestro is he that he has a picture of Semmangudi placed next to that of Charles Darwin in his San Diego home.
Even today, he heads to Chennai every kutcheri season to see the likes of Alarmel Valli dance. Shakespeare and Picasso are alright by me, he says, but show me something that compares with Kalidasa’s Shakuntalam or the south Indian Chola bronzes. There is nothing in all of Western art, he thinks, that can compare with the dancing Nataraja.
Since the cover our magazine Housecalls did on him, I’ve seen Dr Ramachandran a few times. And each time, this scientist who has unravelled the many mysteries of the brain, who is the best in the world in the fields of behavioural neurology and visual psychophysics, who has proved that we are inclined to the arts or music only because of the chemical connection in our brain rather than any upbringing, has given me the warmest hugs, ever.
(Ratna Rao Shekar is the editor of Housecalls.)