Science Popularization efforts

by Professor J.V. Narlikar

Professor J.V. Narlikar is a Theoretical Astrophysicist by profession, but has been contributing towards the popularization of science in many different ways over a long period. His first popular article was written in the early 60s in the magazine "Discovery" in the U.K. In this artcle he described the phenomena of gravitational collapse and the new discovery of quasars. This article was greatly appreciated by readers and other U.K. Magazines; especially the "New Scientist" also carried out articles by him on topics relating to cosmology. While in the U.K. Professor Narlikar also developed into a public speaker and gave popular talks to undergraduate societies in the U.K.

In 1972 he returned to India to take up a position in the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). While at TIFR, he continued to write for popular science magazines as well as appearing in the radio and T.V. shows relating to science. The list of publications of his popular articles presently runs to over 400 and covers his contribution in English, Marathi (his mother tongue) and Hindi (the National Language of India). See the list attached. His T.V. Shows also had these three languages and were considerably appreciated by the audience.

During 1980-81 Narlikar was associated with the screening of a serial in Marathi on the Bombay T.V. called "Akashashi jadale nate". (On developing relationship to the sky). This series covered different aspects of astronomy with the help of discussions and slides. It caught the public imagination and was very popular.

In the mid 80s Narlikar compared Carl Sagan's famous serial "The Cosmos" with a Hindi introduction in the beginning. This was greatly liked by the audience since the summary of the episode in Hindi conveyed to the audience the broad scope of what was to be presented. Taking a cue from the success of this serial, Narlikar proposed to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that a serial in astronomy in Hindi should be screened on the Indian television. This suggestion was readily taken up and Narlikar was asked to devise the serial to be made by the Films Division of India. This serial in 17 parts was completed and shown in India on several occasions during 1994-95. In a simple language with the help of stories and anecdotes this serial called "Brahmand" (The Universe) describes the exciting discoveries in astronomy. Because of participation by school children, this serial has reached a large section of the younger population.

Professor Narlikar's efforts in science popularization had also extended to book writing and the attached book list includes popular science books in Hindi, Marathi and English as well as his technical writings. These books have been translated in other Indian languages also. His Marathi book `Akashashi Jadale Nate' on astronomy for the lay reader became an instant success. His popular books in English include `The Lighter Side of Gravity' and the `Seven Wonders of the Cosmos'. In addition, Narlikar has also written science fiction stories and novels in these three languages and they have generated considerable response from the Indian readership. In his science fiction writing, Narlikar has tried to depict the Indian environment and highlighted the ongoing interaction between society and science, besides projecting it into the future. His science fiction story "Dhoomaketu" (the Comet) has been made into a 2-hour film by the Children's Film Society of India.

Professor Narlikar has been in great demand as public speaker in different parts of India and has been regularly lecturing to the lay audience not only in Maharashtra (the State where he lives), but also in other parts of the country. The audiences at his lecture are very large and in some cases they have reached and crossed four figures. He managed to convey the excitement of astronomy and the importance of the scientific outlook in his talks. The lack of scientific outlook in his opinion has been a hurdle in the progress of the country towards a better and more enlightened way of living. He has been emphasising this in his various talks almost with a missionary zeal and has found several ways and means of popularizing the scientific outlook and rational behaviour.

As a novel experiment towards science dissemination, Narlikar has started the practice of asking the autograph hunting schoolchildren to send him postcard with some scientific question to which he would reply with his signature. This has generated a large number of postal questions and answers in science. A subset of this was published recently by the Marathi Vidnyan Parishad, a voluntary science dissemination organisation, as a booklet called "Postcardatun vidnyan" (Science through postcard).

Since 1997, Narlikar has been appearing in the TV cultural magazine programme `Surabhi' where he answers questions from viewers requiring scientific information for answers.

For his contributions for science popularization, Professor Narlikar was awarded the Indira Gandhi Prize by the Indian National Science Academy in 1990, and the Kalinga Prize by UNESCO in 1996.