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11 Must-Know Facts About Asima Chatterjee

Her publications are extensively cited and most of her work is included in several textbooks

Asima Chatterjee was the first Indian woman to hold a doctorate. Wikimedia Commons
Asima Chatterjee was the first Indian woman to hold a doctorate. Wikimedia Commons

Asima Chatterjee was an organic chemist noted for her work in organic chemistry and phytomedicine. She also authored a considerable volume of work on medicinal plants, also she was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Science from an Indian university. On 23rd September 2017 (her 100th birth anniversary), Google honoured her with a Google doodle. 

Here are 11 facts about Asima Chatterjee you must know: 

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1. Asima Chatterjee’s research primarily focused on the medicinal properties of Indian plants and contributed to developing drugs that treated epilepsy and malaria.

2. One of her most esteemed discoveries came in the field of vinca alkaloids which are used in chemotherapy today.

3. Her achievements won her many prestigious accolades including received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award (1961) and the Padma Bhushan (1975) – one of the highest civilian awards bestowed by the Indian government.

4. In 1944, she was appointed as an Honorary Lecturer in Chemistry, Calcutta University. In 1947, she worked with L.M. Parks University of Wisconsin, USA.

Calcutta University became her permanent address until her death in 2006. Wikimedia Commons
Calcutta University became her permanent address until her death in 2006. Wikimedia Commons

5. Asima Chatterjee was appointed Reader in the Department of Pure Chemistry, Calcutta University in 1954. It also became her permanent address until her death.

6. In 1962, Asima Chatterjee became the 10 Khaira Professor of Chemistry, one of the most prestigious and coveted Chairs of the Calcutta University which she adorned till 1982 and was the first woman scientist to adorn a chair of any
University in India.

7. In 1975, she became the first woman to be appointed the general president of the Indian Science Congress.

8. Asima Chatterjee also established a Regional Research Institute for carrying out research on Indian medicinal plants for the development of Ayurvedic drugs along with an Ayurvedic Hospital for systematic clinical trials through a unique Centre-State collaboration, under the aegis of the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha in Salt Lake City, Kolkata.

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9. Asima Chatterjee developed the anti-epileptic drug, Ayush-56 from Marsilia minuta, also the anti-malarial drug from Alstonia scholaris, Swrrtia chirata, Picrorphiza kurroa and Ceasalpinna crista. These patented drugs have been marketed by several companies.

10. Chatterjee had published 400 papers in national and international journals. Her publications are extensively cited and most of her work is included in several textbooks.

11. It is said that she developed the interest in medicinal plants because of her father, Dr Indra Narayan Mukherjee, a medical man cum amateur.

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Modern Science and India’s Universal Wisdom

What if an Indian research scholar would have become adamant by saying that “Pi” was first computed by Madhava instead of Leibniz?

Old Indian Wisdom and Modern sciences.

Salil Gewali, Shillong

  • India is a land of knowledge and culture
  • Many scientific principles of today were already discovered in ancient India
  • The modern sciences stem from the old Indian wisdom
Of course, for various reasons I was also brought up with less respect for the country. If one asks why, then it requires me to write pages after pages. The reasons are mostly absurd and unpleasantly paradoxical. This strange characteristic of India we hardly find in any other countries.

In brief, my mind had gathered a good amount of misinformation about the country which I realized not very late. Thank God, that all didn’t get tenaciously ossified which would have been very difficult later if I had to cleanse myself of or unlearn whole over again what I could have learned from various biased sources. Please kindly note, those biased sources are still held as credible. And, if ever any sane voice is raised against the biased academia then it is criticized as a vile attempt to distort the established history or as a show of insane chauvinism. You will be totally disgraced.  Therefore, many prefer to keep quiet.

Erwin Schrodinger was a great scientist.
Till a decade ago the computation of “Pi” was ascribed to a renowned German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz which was in fact wrong. What if an Indian research scholar would have become adamant by saying that “Pi” was first computed by Madhava instead of Leibniz? It would be like stirring up a hornet’s nest in India, if not in the West.  Then Dr. Srinvastava, Prof. Mehta and others would have lampooned the researcher, the next day the uproar of condemnation would have come from the media – so much so that he might have run the risk of losing all your academic carrier and position.

Incidentally, there in the west emerged a number of scholars like Marcus du Sautoy, the former President of the Mathematical Association, and others, who battled hard to establish that “Pi” was first mathematically calculated by Madhava of India in the 14th century, almost about three century earlier then by the German mathematician Leibniz. Very recently only the fact has been officially established and now known to be “Madhava–Leibniz series”. This bold step cannot be taken by any Indians within the country. Because other Indian scholars would be foaming at the mouth. Discrediting the West is quite like a blasphemy. Here people can proudly discredit their own country for which they usually find good support.  That is why they disrespect their languages, they often take delight in disrespecting their heritage, and they can snobbishly distrust their native values. I’m afraid, here in India, distrusting the nation’s glories requires no logic and trusting the foreign requires no validity!

Also Read: Science writing: A neglected form of literature that needs focus

Therefore, I must salute a few of the world-renowned westerners who awakened me. Those dispassionate scholars who flashed their spotlight towards India for “knowledge”. That flashlight was to dispel what I call it as my delusion. It was in fact destined to change my perspective to look at the country. One of the foremost among them to change my mind was an opinion/quote by Robert Julius Oppenheimer (father of atomic bomb) which I had come upon in a world-acclaimed book “The Tao of Physics” by a renowned American physicist Fritjof Capra.  This atomic scientist, who learnt Sanskrit around 1933 to go deeper into the ancient text of India, proclaims, — “What we find in Modern Physics is an exemplification, an encouragement and a refinement of old Indian wisdom”. Though it appeared quite ridiculous to me but I could not dismiss it. Rather, this bold opinion triggered my inner intellect. Of course, for a couple of months I remained skeptical of the views expressed by Oppenheimer, I persistently “reasoned” that a scientist does not utter a single word unless he/she evaluates the fact with the mathematical algorithms. In the meanwhile, I had overheard the roar of the father of Quantum Mechanic – Erwin Schrodinger, best known for his “Schrodinger Equation” — only one equation in the vast studies of Quantum Mechanic. That “roar” was in consonant with what my inner intuition vaguely held after reading the ancient text.  Of course, it did not take me very long to figure out what so marveled Schrodinger, and also other modern physicists like David Bohm and the Nobel laureate Brain David Josephson about India’s literature of wisdom.

The very fundamental essence of the Vedanta that — “apparent multiplicity is an illusion and everything in the universe is from ONE WHOLE” was thoughtfully paraphrased by Schrodinger. The grand notion of the East that‘MAKER AND THE MADE’ touched the heart of inquisitive Schrodinger.  Indeed, after the in-depth research, observation and experimentation of probably not less than a decade, Schrodinger remarked: “The UNITY and CONTINUITY of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of ‘wave mechanics’. The incredible doctrine that “All in ONE” of Upanishads perfectly dovetailed with the new experimentation of the matter or “particle” and its subtle “wave function”.

That’s why we have infinite species of flowers amazingly blooming in uncanny colors and fragrances at the same time in multiple Earth-like planets; we see endless verities of trees bearing fruits with amazing flavors and tastes; all celestial stars are rotating and revolving with perfect precision. Even one CELL/ATOM of an object is subtly as complex as a factory. Just imagine how many cells in the trillions and trillion of objects in the cosmic ocean? What is most intriguing is that everything is in perfect order, perfect harmony and at peace. Therefore, how could that be possible to “separate” the Divine from His boundless creations which are inherently divine themselves! So, the Vedantic proclamation that “Creator and Creation are ONE” makes much more sense to Schrodinger and his likes.

Sensing the grand meaning Schrodinger exclaimed in his masterpiece “What is life” : “The earliest records, to my knowledge, date back some 2500 years or more… the recognition ATMAN = BRAHMAN (the personal “self” equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal SELF) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the “HAPPENINGS” of the world. The striving of all the scholars of Vedanta was after having learnt to pronounce with their lips, really assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts.”

Schopenhauer was a great influence on Einstein.

It’s worthwhile to mention here that “The Unity and unified theory of Upanishads” was introduced to this great modern scientist by the front-ranking thinker of Germany – Arthur Schopenhauer.  Albert Einstein always held Schopenhauer as one of his masters whose portrait he had decorated his study room with.

Finally, I salute a very brilliant American historian Will Durant who, after serious studies of the history and philosophy of the East and the West, concluded: “India was the motherland of our “race”, and Sanskrit the mother of European languages. She was the Mother of our philosophy, of our mathematics, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the Mother of us all.”  Will Durant authored a world-acclaimed series ‘Story of Civilization’ in 11 volumes. But what is so weird is that this Mother Indian has given birth to some of the children who consider themselves totally orphaned unless they follow and adopt the West and find fault with the East!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.