Some of the greatest minds that changed the world were not bogged down by technology. They were free to travel through their minds and maybe there is a lesson in their way for the people of today
21-Nov-2021 •Jay Dubashi
If you are in England any time, do go and visit Cambridge and the Cavendish Laboratory where the atom was split for the first time. The man who did it was a farmer's son from New Zealand, a man called Rutherford and he did it in a simple experiment with a few wires and mirrors and a couple of switches, which you can actually touch, nearly a century after the experiment was first performed and which heralded the atomic revolution.
Rutherford did it with virtually no technical tools. Einstein's tools, if you can call them that, were paper and pencil, the type school boys use. With that, he built up a whole new universe and turned the world upside down. Go to Berne in Switzerland and walk up a few flights of stairs near the tower and you can actually see the pencils and papers Einstein used for his famous paper on relativity. The two-room flat is still there where Einstein sat day after day going over the figures while playing with his screaming son with the other hand. And the trams he used to go to his patent office where he was employed as a clerk still ply outside his flat. Einstein did not even know that he had wrought a revolution with his scribbles. His famous paper which linked his name with relativity has no footnotes and does not mention relativity. Einstein was a mathematician, not a physicist and his scribbles were his way of rearranging the world.
If you still have time, travel to Scotland and take a ferry to a small island called Jura where George Orwell wrote his last novel, "Nineteen Eighty-four". The novel is now as famous as Einstein's relativity. Orwell was neither a physicist nor a mathematician, only a poor journalist who was dying of tuberculosis and was dead within months of the publication of the novels. He did not know it but was about to receive the Nobel Prize.
Orwell typed out page after page of "Nineteen Eighteen-four" with his fingers on a second-hand typewriter, which he repaired himself when it broke down, which was quite often. That was all the technology he used, just as paper and pencil were all Einstein used for his relativity and the precise mathematical formula, e=mc2, which encapsulated a whole new philosophy of the universe. They were people - Rutherford, Einstein, Orwell - who had never heard of something called technology, which now swamps our life. The Cavendish Laboratories, Einstein's flat in Berne and the island of Jura in Scotland, which between them changed the world as we knew it, prove, if they prove anything at all, that technology is not everything that there are ways and ways to understand the world and it all starts in the mind before it begins to move the world.
Gandhi could have lived in Bombay or Delhi or Calcutta, got for himself a five-bedroom house and a garden, fitted it telephones and have security men all around, as today's politicians do. But he did not. He cut himself off from the world and lived in a faraway ashram that had no electricity, no plumbing and of course, no mobiles. There were no canned foods either and no tin-openers. But he changed our world forever, the same way Einstein and Orwell did, Gandhi's mind was free to think about those things you and I have no time to think about because we are in a hurry to catch the 7:55 train from Churchgate or queue up at the petrol pump behind all those ears. Einstein did not use socks and used the same soap for shaving as well as baths. It made life much simpler and left more time for those scribbles.
I have never had a computer and don't have to bother with those incessant messages on the internet. Neither do I have a mobile nor, of course, a car. My only link with the outside world is the post office and my friend, the postman. My mind is free to roam about just like Orwell's. But I have still to write that novel!