Nobel laureate Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, who is passionate about cycling, tells MURALI H.R. of Ride-A-Cycle Foundation that he supports their cause
A fter Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry last year, chemistry became way cool. Another thing which became hip is of course cycling. The Nobel Laureate's candid confession of never having owned a car came as a happy surprise to all those who trying to ease our hideously choked roads of gas guzzlers and get Bangaloreans to adopt the cycle as a green means of commuting.
Ride-A-Cycle Foundation is one such trying to encourage cycling in the city. The members of the foundation spoke with Ramakrishnan when he was in Bangalore last week. The committed cyclists of Bangalore made him a part of their fraternity by gifting him with two cycle bells which he liked immensely. Excerpts from an exhaustive interview:
I have little knowledge about chemistry and biology that you are so well versed with. As cyclists, we are always looking out for someone who is passionate about cycling. Our interest in you arose not because of your love of science, but because you do not “own a car”. In fact, many of my friends were shocked to learn this. In our country you are respected only if you own a car. Cycling is perceived as a means of transport of the poorWhy did you not own a car?
Venkatraman Ramakrishnan : It is one of the worst things in India. I don't own a car for variety of reasons. I enjoy cycling and it is environmental friendly. I get to exercise everyday regardless of whether I take time out to exercise or not. . At the end of the day, when you get home, you feel relaxed. It is a great lifestyle.
When I grew up in Baroda, I cycled everywhere. Student hostels were full of bicycles. Now there is not a single bicycle. This excess traffic is destroying Indian cities.
One of the notions that discourage cycling is that it is slow and takes a lot of time. How do you manage your time, even with your tight schedule?
VR: I think it is all bogus. The same people who say that spend a lot of time in other activities. And nowadays travelling in a car in Bangalore takes a phenomenal amount of time. In Cambridge, which also has a big traffic problem, I have often agreed to meet people for dinner at a restaurant. And usually I am there before the people who take a car.
What are the facilities in Europe that encourage cycling?
VR: In European cities, there are dedicated paths for bicycles It ensures that your cycle is not right in the middle of the traffic. Such plans do not cost anything extra, even in terms of land.
India was a big cycling country. But now everybody wants a car, I think it is a silly way of progress. The whole world is running out of gasoline. There is global warming that you need to be concerned about. Cycling is enjoyable and fun but cannot co-exist with so much traffic.
To enable these facilities for cyclists, there has to be a strong political will...
VR: The people who are wealthy and have the political power don't want to cycle. They think that cycling is a poor person's occupation. It is a problem of mindset. It can be changed if young professionals, take to cycling. This will build a lot of pressure on the powers that be.
I belong to the Cambridge Cycling Club. Anytime a new road is built or an intersection is modified, the members of Cycling Club attend the planning sessions and council meetings. They make sure cyclists' interests are taken care of. You need that kind of a lobby otherwise nothing will happen.
You recently went cycling with your wife to Norfolk?
VR: (Laughs): How do you know that? I didn't realise that it was anywhere on the web. Yes, my wife and I went for a week long cycling holiday. At the end of eight days my blood pressure, which is high, was normal.
I think India has the potential to encourage cycle tourism. It is a big thing in Europe. They are packages for cycle tours.
There is a section that feels cycling does not suit our tropical climate.
VR: That is not true. You know when I was growing up in Baroda, everybody was cycling and during summer, temperature in Baroda would be 45 degrees. Even before my parents got me a cycle, I used to go to the rental shops and rent a cycle. That's what most kids did. If children grow up seeing adults cycling, he/she will not think ‘cycling is only for kids.' They think cycling is indeed a way of life.