26 March 2007


In some of my previous posts, I’ve written about how the amount of technology in our lives is a matter of concern and anxiety. How, from emails to artificial life, technology has encroached upon our lives in an alarming manner. However, I believe, this anxiety is really a Western phenomenon and is yet to trouble us in the East.

Although the second test-tube baby in the world was created by an Indian doctor, Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay, in Calcutta in 1978, the baby named Durga after a Hindu goddess (she is known as Kanupriya Agarwal), Eastern cultures have more or less remained unperturbed by this technophobia of the West.

Of course, I must confess, the technology behind the test-tube baby is a Western creation; and, while this creation and the technology (IVF) were celebrated around the world at that time, there was a cry of alarm as well. In fact, for his feat, Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay was ostracised by the Indian as well as the West Bengal government, and later committed suicide in his flat in Calcutta.

The Western world’s fascination with, and alarm about, the creation of life artificially is a historical one. Somehow, there has always been a sense of foreboding attached to this idea. As if the idea automatically comes with a foretelling of doom. The most well-known literary documentation of this type of thinking is represented in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, written just before World War 2, and George Orwell’s ‘1984’, written just after.

But, to my mind, the classic example of this thinking (and documentation) is represented in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ – an early 19th-century English tale of horror, and a Western-world allegory of man’s fascination with creating life artificially… and the foreboding which is built-in in this idea.

Frankenstein’s ‘creature’ (I wonder if Steve Grand chose the name of his computer game ‘Creatures’ from this story) is a composite of human body-parts and is animated by electricity. It’s a momentous event when this creation takes place. But, before the ‘creature’ can be educated about the ways of the world, it runs loose and destroys everything and everyone Frankenstein loves.

It’s a story of the creature taking revenge on its creator. There is the usual celebration of man’s ability to create life artificially, followed by the sense of doom that seems to govern this thought from its earliest days.

Perhaps ‘Frankenstein’ is a cautionary tale, warning man against trying to assume God’s role. Or, perhaps ‘Frankenstein’ is trying to tell us is that, along with the ability to create life, the creator (and his technology) has a responsibility to his creation, as well as to those likely to be affected by it.

Whatever be the moral of the story, Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay certainly paid the price for it.


Anonymous said...

did not know "ostracise" as averb, and poor doctor...

runawaysun said...

Yes, Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay was orstracised by the government at the time of his discovery. His achievement was given due recognition 25 years later.

Here's a January 2004 article from The Times of India explaining Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay's story: