His response to questions on the Gnanavani in ‘ariviyal neram’ has at times brought about a piquant situation. For instance, when he explained the deleterious effects of muscular dystrophy, a farmer approached him for help as he has been suffering from that for long. “When I told him I was not a doctor, he refused to believe me. Ultimately I had to do some liaison work for arranging a clinical trial for him. Some people have started coming to me even for counselling on listening to my explanations regarding various medical issues,” K. Mani, a doctorate in Botany and a professor in the PSG College of Arts and Science, tells G. Satyamurty.
Mr. Mani has virtually dedicated his life to popularisation of science. He was the editor of Kalaikathir (a great contribution to propagation of science in Tamil by former Vice-Chancellor of Madras University G.R. Damodaran) since 1990 till last year. The 57-year-old professor is among the handful in the horizon of Tamil Nadu, who have been trying to enlighten the masses on science through the vernacular. He has already authored seven books on various scientific topics and five more are in the pipeline.
He has written more than 7,000 scientific essays, question and answer pieces, small stories, etc. He has submitted 25 research papers and also delivered more than 150 lectures. Apart from Botany, he has qualified himself in Microbiology, Biotechnology, Bioinformatics and Chemoinformatics. Mr. Mani not only produced the content for Kalaikathir month after month, but also prepared the technical terminology, root words, new words, and also the equivalents for the Sanskrit words in Tamil. Similarly, his initiatives towards popularisation of science in Tamil are mind-boggling.
With a team of 15, he prepared technical terms in Microbiology, organised four workshops with Central Government assistance for science writers and undertook a State-wide survey with the help of the Central Government to study the inclination of the population in Tamil Nadu towards science. He did not stop with Botany or other related subjects. His canvas is so wide and varied that he could speak and write even on quantum physics, nanotechnology, archaeology, anthropology and cosmic science to linguistics.
His way of disseminating scientific knowledge includes presentation of scientific puzzles and even small stories. He is said to have introduced various emerging subjects to Tamil. They include ‘nun min anu karuvigal’ (Micro Electronic and Mechanical Systems), ‘aata kolgai’ (Game Theory), ‘kuzhappa kolgai’ (Chaos Theory) ‘parinama ulaviyal’ (Evolutionary Psychology), ‘quanta ariviyal’ (Quantum Theory) and ‘thugal ariviyal’ (Particle Physics), just to name a few.He has so far responded to more than 5,000 questions through Kalikathir, Dinamalar and also Gnanavani. He is accustomed to explaining scientific improvements through pictures and experiments as well.
“For instance, I ask my listeners to blow some smoke on a white kerchief. It turns brown because of nicotine content. I tell them that is how even the lungs will get hurt because of smoking.” One among his major contributions is the collection of the names of 8,000 herbs mentioned in Tamil books and their botanical names and also identification of phytochemicals. He has a patent for computer algorithms. He has set up even a Tamil website for scientific Tamil - http://www.arivialtamil.org/
A student of Pachayappa’s College, he was inspired by Prof. Sundaralingam and K.P.Aravanan, former Vice-Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. His interest in science grew during early 1980s. “I should have read more than 2,500 books, all related to science including science fiction of Michael Creighton, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C.Clarke, Ray Bradberry and HG Wells.”“My sources of news include the National Geography, and the Scientific American.”Apart from Tamil, English and Sanskrit, he has some knowledge of French as well. Mr. Mani sticks his neck out to assert that knowledge of Sanskrit is essential to write about science in Tamil.
“It is sheer hypocrisy to say that scientific Tamil can be written without the help of Sanskrit. After all, Sanskrit is like Latin and Greek, the fountainhead of several rootwords. And there is absolutely nothing wrong in compromising on this score. After all, the word ‘nano’ comes from Sanskrit word ‘navam’. After retirement, he plans to start an international ‘peer review journal’, which will provide open access to all the research scholars to publish their works courageously. “I am confident of achieving this with the help of my friends, students and researchers.”