“Chai and Why?”, an informal initiative founded by a city scientist to demystify and disseminate science, completes 10 years. A session organised in the auditorium of D G Ruparel College, Matunga Sunday, marked the 10th anniversary of the initiative.
Created by Arnab Bhattacharya, a scientist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), in 2009, the free public event was born out of the need to take science out of the lab and to the public every fortnight. The initiative borrows from the popular “Cafe Scientifique”, which began in the United Kingdom in 1998.
“In India, there is a worrying disconnect between science and society. The role of curiosity-driven, basic research is rarely appreciated. Unfortunately, the scientific community, though mainly publicly funded, hardly engages adequately with the public, with the outreach being a public relations exercise rather than a platform for discussion,” Bhattacharya says. “Even for the general public with an interest in science, there is no forum to interact with scientists and ask questions. “Science” is that difficult, boring yet unfortunately compulsory school subject where one memorises facts to answer questions in an exam,” says Bhattacharya.
This time, scientist Aniket Sule helmed a session on unscientific statements made by public figures. A speech given at IIT Bombay by Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, which incurred flak for crediting ancient Indian saints for world discoveries, was one of the examples discussed in the session, besides incidents at India Science Congress and the claim that ISRO officials sought spiritual advice before the launch of Chandrayaan 2.
Agni Sen, a 13-year-old Bandra resident, came with three of his school friends. “What I found interesting was the fact that we cannot trust messages on social media platforms, and that we must identify what fake news is,” he said. “I have been attending the sessions for a while.”
The age group of the audience ranged from children to senior citizens.
Avinash Maurya, a 29-year-old design-engineer, said, “Abstract concepts were simplified and made relatable, especially in the context of the current scenario of our country. My brother is also interested and I would, in the future, like to be associated with such initiatives.”
Many ideas developed for “Chai and Why?” sessions have been extended to develop interactive science-demos at schools, with translations in local Marathi being welcomed in rural Maharashtra.
“Chai and Why?” takes place every first Sunday at Prithvi Theatre in Vile Parle, and third Sunday in Ruparel College.