After Narendra Modi's recent meeting with Barack Obama, there was some criticism of his wearing a suit whose stripes spelt out his own name. The criticism was not unmerited; it was a tawdry, tacky, thing to do. Yet Modi's expensive display of self-love was entirely characteristic of how powerful and successful Indian males tend to behave in public.
Consider this. India's most famous and highly decorated scientist is C.N.R. Rao, a Fellow of the world's most prestigious scientific academies, and a recipient of his country's highest honour, the Bharat Ratna. Some years ago, an admirer decided to lobby the Bangalore Municipality to name the circle outside the Indian Institute of Science (of which Rao had been director) after the great man. Now circles and roads are normally not named after living people. But here was C.N.R. Rao in the flesh, actually present when a circle named after him was being inaugurated.
Next only to Rao in the hierarchy of Indian science is R.A. Mashelkar. Mashelkar is a former director general of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and much else. He has not, so far as I know, had a circle or building named after himself. Yet his conduct in public is scarcely less boastful, as witness his editorial in a recent issue of the journal, Current Science. Entitled '"Indovation" for affordable excellence', it is mostly about the author himself. In a mere couple of pages we are told of a paper by Mashelkar in the Harvard Business Review which "provoked worldwide discussion" and was the subject of a "special session" at the World Economic Forum; that a TED lecture he gave "has received more than half a million views and has been subtitled in 23 languages"; that Mashelkar is the president of something called the Global Research Alliance; that the European Union invited him to give a talk to "an audience of around 2000"; that when he was director general of the CSIR he set up "a public-private partnership called New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative".
Mashelkar's article runs so contrary to the spirit of science that I wonder how it was accepted for publication. How did the editor of Current Science allow the essay to pass without major cuts and changes? Either the editor is plain incompetent, or, what is more likely, too intimidated by Mashelkar's reputation and influence to have asked him to revise his essay.