Chandana Chakrabarti talks about the silver jubilee celebrations at Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology
Art and science belong to such seemingly disparate worlds that any hint of an intrinsic connection between the two, runs the risk of being summarily dismissed. Yet, precisely a quarter of a century ago, an infant basic research laboratory in Hyderabad, on the occasion of its dedication to the nation by the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, held a torch-bearing event. It was a no-holds-barred discussion amongst an eclectic congregation of creative minds, from scientists, painters and writers to dancers, film-makers, and musicians. The idea was to see what the relationship between art and science is: do their motivations stem from the same fountainhead?
Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, along with five other Nobel laureates, apart from the late Raja Ramanna (also a concert-grade pianist), Jayant Narlikar and Pushpa Bhargava sparred with Chandralekha, Vidya Shanker, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Ghulam Sheikh, Bhupen Khakkar, Vikram Seth and Sunil Kothari on the role aesthetics play in their respective endeavours. For the 500 who attended the day-long meet, it was an unforgettable experience. The idea of the conference as the institute itself, was the brainchild of Dr Pushpa Bhargava.
Twenty-five years later, CCMB celebrated its silver anniversary of its dedication with another similar session. This time it was to answer questions like, what are the common attributes of all creative processes? What is the relationship between creativity and beauty? Is the ability to recognise beauty built in our genes and given humans an evolutionary advantage? Does beauty have certain universal attributes? Can they be abstracted into mathematical formulations? Is aesthetic experience an emotional state with definable chemical or other markers? What are the correlates of aesthetic experience?
Prof Semir Zeki, who combines in himself, a neurobiologist of great distinction decorated with many a coveted international award, and an artist of no less acclaim with works displayed in a museum in Milan, was a delight to hear. Founder of the Institute of Neuroesthetics in London and California, Prof. Zeki’s pioneering work has been the study of the higher visual areas of the brain and the neural correlates of aesthetic and artistic experience. Representing the sciences was also our own renaissance man, Dr Pushpa Bhargava, the only connection in the temporal distance that divided the two events at CCMB. Another speaker was renowned dancer, cultural czarina and till recently Chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Academy, Sonal Mansingh. Having lived and experienced the many splendid dimensions of dance, she has been re-interpreting and relocating dance in the vortex of the contemporary world.
Representing the arts were also two eminently interesting women, Roanne Dods from UK and Anita Ratnam from Chennai. A lawyer by training, Roanne Dods found her true calling in understanding how deep connections and understanding between people can not only make good things to happen but also make the world a better human-centered place, and in discovering the place of culture in our organisations and our lives. Reading , writing, laughing, running, clothes, theatre, craft, jazz, beautiful imagery, deep stories, colour, people, music, Scotland are only some of the things that make this woman who made it to the list of ‘Cultural Leadership Programme’s Women to Watch’, happy.
If there ever was a contemporary dancer who can not only weave in the most contemporary or vexatious issues into her dance movements, but also speak on a variety of issues in sound bytes, it is Anita Ratnam. A communicator par excellence, her ability to connect through story-telling, musical theatre and gesture, as also the television series she produced and anchored in New York, has won her accolades.
Painters often speak only through their palletes. Not so for Shakti Maira, a Delhi-based artist whose works adorn the walls of National Gallery of Modern Art and many collections across the world. Shakti Maira has written extensively on aesthetics, beauty, art and culture, and has also engaged in a series of dialogues with scientists, environmentalists and philosophers.
A congregation of such brilliant and fertile minds can ignite fires of imagination anywhere. The real test though would be for it to sow the seeds of enquiry that will cross manmade barriers. Only then would CP Snow’s dream of the emergence of the third culture come true.
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