The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 8, 2002

Farm science was his sole concern
Darshan Singh Maini

Dr Ram Dhan Singh A Pioneer Agricultural Scientist
by Shiva N. Malik. Shiv Laxmi Vidya Dham, Hisar.
Pages 208. Rs 300.

Dr Ram Dhan Singh A Pioneer Agricultural ScientistTHE biography as one of the oldest literary genres in the comity of letters has undergone a lot of constitutive changes, particularly since the middle of the 19th century. With Freudian factors entering the picture with some other aesthetic considerations, the art of writing biography has acquired fresh and far-reaching dimensions. Accordingly, simple, well-meaning biographies, commissioned, or the result of personal connection, find themselves out of sync with the literary taste of today. In fact, a number of highly specialised and sophisticated books and critiques have been written to describe the dialectic of modern biographies. And when Iím reminded of voluminous and powerful biographies such as the ones written by Lem Edel to capture the complex story of Henry James, Americaís foremost novelist, I am necessarily a little suspicious of run-of-the-mill volumes.

This, of course, is not to aver that Malik has not done well, being new to the job. His problem is that his parameters are so limited as to constrict the muses. There is little vertical probing, and we find the author operating on a simple, horizontal plane. He has certainly collected as much data as he could, and he describes the achievements of his hero, Dr Ram Dhan Singh, with some gusto. But he doesnít offer any fruitful peep into his personality. The "saint-scientist" who lived like a "monk" away from his wife (who continued to stay in his Haryana village, out of the line of vision), on a diet of milk drawn from his own cows, did earn a laurels as Indiaís leading plant breeder, evolving new varieties of wheat, rice and pulses. But his personal life thus remains costumed, as it were.


Dr Ram Dhan Singh, who was made "Rao Bahadur" by the British Government, it appears, had little to say on the remarkable political conditions prevailing in India at that time. Whether he was working at the Pusa Institute in New Delhi, or as Principal of the prestigious Government Agricultural College at Lyallpur, he seemed to have been passionately devoted to his research, which, however, does show a sad lack in the great man ó his unawareness of the world around. In other words, he was not weltoffen (aware of the ideological undercurrents in the world of thought) despite the fact that after his degree education in India, he had had the opportunity to earn his doctorate at Cambridge (UK). His development, therefore, appeared to be one-dimensional.

His interaction with the Nobel Laureate, Dr Norman E. Borlaug, creator of the shorter variety of wheat (which brought about the Green Revolution in Punjab) and with other agricultural scientists like Dr M. S. Randhawa, I.C.S., his numerous prizes and awards are all duly listed by the biographer, but such details, as Iíve argued all along, add little to our knowledge of the man himself. Malik quotes quite aptly T.S. Eliotís line, "Old men ought to be explorers," but great explorers have also to be explorers of other regions of reality apart from the area of their taste or choice.

The book under review carries a number of his photographs and ceremonies and models, etc., but such statistics only swell the volume. One would have liked to know something about the eminent scientistís sexual and "dream-life", something about his inner landscape. But no, thatís not within the purview of Malik. The wife remains in purdah, so to speak, and we learn little about the Rao Bahadurís other preoccupations. So, all in all, itís a lop-sided story.