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Bangalore: 12/08/2009. Kannada Writer U R Ananthmurthy, Assamee writer, Lakshmi Nandan Bora and Vice President Sahitya Acadamy, Sutinder Singh Noor during the All India Writers Meet at Central College in Bangalore on 12th, August 2009. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K

Bangalore: 12/08/2009. Kannada Writer U R Ananthmurthy, Assamee writer, Lakshmi Nandan Bora and Vice President Sahitya Acadamy, Sutinder Singh Noor during the All India Writers Meet at Central College in Bangalore on 12th, August 2009. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K

Celebrated Assamese author Lakshmi Nandan Bora is an interesting blend of science and art. His sciences are physics and agrometeorology (or agricultural meteorology), and his art is novel writing. While one discipline demands strict parameters and prefers to use words that mean only one thing at a time, the other thrives on expansiveness — the more interpretations, the better. Yet the venerable author has achieved fame in both, and comfortably at that.

Retired in 1992 as Professor and Head of the Department of Physics and Agrometeorology, Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat, he is also a highly respected novelist, having received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1986 (for “Patal Bhairavi”) and the Saraswati Samman in 2008 for “Kayakalpa: The Elixir of Everlasting Youth”. Besides, he has, after retiring, held positions as diverse as Chairman, Pollution Control Board of Assam; President, Asom Sahitya Sabha; and Member, Planning Commission of Assam.

Science and fiction

“Kayakalpa” has recently been introduced to Delhi bookstores in an English translation by Niyogi Books. Since creative writers are adept at finding stories in their everyday environment, it is not surprising the novel, translated into English by Biman Arandhara, has for its backdrop a science establishment. A brilliant scientist, Anuj Kripalani, who earns his fame and millions in the corporate world of pharmaceutical research in the U.S., returns to settle in India and set up a state-of-the-art research centre in his home country. His driving ambition is to develop a drug that will reverse the aging process, physically and mentally, and go beyond the potential offered by popular aphrodisiacs like Viagra, while also being accessible to all economic strata of society.

This theme, however, is a far cry from agrometeorology or physics. “I was inclined towards molecular biology, too,” notes the author on phone from Guwahati. “At the same time, I practised yogic asanas for 45 years. And I am also interested in ayurvedic treatment.” Thus, he says, some of his own life and interests are reflected in the novel. He adds that, like his protagonist, he too is interested in rejuvenation.

The author quotes the view that aging is a disease, not a natural process, and that “if a man is not diseased then age cannot make him old”. However, there is a definite cautionary message in the tale of Anuj Kripalani and his search for the wonder drug he names “Kayakalpa-25”. Once the world finds out about his discovery, the scientist is sure there will be chaos and a no-holds-barred race to acquire it. “According to Hindu philosophy, man should age gracefully,” says Bora. He also quotes a shloka that says “any healthy man at any age should look like a man of 45,” explaining that the unwise flings of youth are tided over by then.

And while the author believes in herbal treatments too — an invaluable specimen of which his protagonist comes across high up in the Himalayas — he, by no means, approves of a physical robustness that could be used for a permissive lifestyle. His portrayal of life in the U.S. is somewhat scathing, but he stands by his description. Having lived in Germany for short periods as a visiting professor, he says that was “enough” for him to get an idea of the culture there, since he has the observation of a novelist. His observation is that marriages don't generally last beyond two years, and “if you lose your years you lose everything.”

He adds that it is so in some pockets of Indian society too, but otherwise, Indian society offers joys at stages beyond youth too, such as being parents and grandparents. He states, “My conclusion is that India has nothing to learn (from the West) except their science and technology.”

Strong words in an age of political correctness, but perhaps an octogenarian can get away with plain speaking. The writer points out that this novel, though, is different from his others. “I am a novelist of real life,” he says, recounting his works that depict the condition of rural society and political life of Assam, exposing the nexus between “the contractors, the politicians and the officials.”

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 10:47:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/Body-of-science/article14672786.ece

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