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.
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
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.
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.