Keynote Address: ‘The Role of Science in Today’s World’: Sir Venki Ramakrishnan

‘The Role of Science in Today’s World’: Nobel laureate Sir Venki Ramakrishnan

 Award-winning British poet and prose writer Ruth Padel, who has been closely associated with the festival for several years, then took over  the inauguration to start the keynote address: “Jaipur is not only a great festival and a wonderful city, it is also full of very kind people.” Padel read out a charming poem about the pink city, a piece that seamlessly interwove space with relationships. Her second poem, she described as “a little hymn to blue-green algae,” a contemplation on the genetics of the cell and how it first got here. A particularly powerful line from Padel’s work, “We are all from somewhere else,” urged us to move past our conceptions of boundaries, both spatial and psychological. “Life began with migration and migration began with life,” she emphasised.

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 for his research on ribosomal structure, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan’s keynote can be best described in his own words: “talk across the divide between humanities and sciences.” He later quipped, “The same people who proclaim their ignorance about science and math would consider me an uncivilised bore.”

Ramakrishnan stressed the need to acknowledge the role of science in creating a knowledge-rich and resource-rich society and addressing pertinent questions like climate change and digital security: “Science, with its insistence on evidence-based facts, offers a counter to some of the threats today.”

He also touched upon issues of pedagogy, expressing that the way science is taught in schools could be part of why children lose their innate curiosity for it. Both the sciences and humanities have much to learn from the other and the way forward certainly does not lie in the construed rivalry, but in lifting each other up. After all, as Ramakrishnan observed, “There is beauty in both the poet’s and the scientist’s description of the rose.” The Jaipur Literature Festival this year is going to be an eclectic and engaging mix of both, and hopefully, everyone will find the time to stop and smell the roses.

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