India has always been known for its scientific discoveries. On the occasion of National Science Day 2021, on February 28, a one-of-a-kind book about the daring discoveries and ingenious inventions of India’s brightest scientists They Found What?/They Made What? by Shweta Taneja was released.
The book, especially for children, talks about the emotions that discoveries bring — the thrill Dr Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, who heads the Centre for Neuroscience at IISc, felt when she looked at a human brain through a microscope for the first time; and the joy that Dr Amit Agrawal at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay experienced when the microdevice he was building to split blood into plasma first started functioning, after years of work!
Shweta Taneja is a bestselling author and journalist, most known for her fantasy series, Anantya Tantrist Mysteries. Her short story The Daughter That Bleeds was a finalist in the prestigious French award Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire and the winner of the Editor’s Choice Award in Asia. Her blockbuster graphic novel Krishna Defender of Dharma and debut novel The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong remain favourite reads of kids across the country. She has been awarded an international writing fellowship by the British Council and CWIT and has given talks at WorldCon, Eurocon and the Cartoon Museum London.
Talking about her inspiration behind the book, the author says, “As a writer who studied literature and social sciences, I’ve always been awed by the wonderful inventions and discoveries scientists come out with. This sense of wonder in creating something new, in discovering a little thing about a cell or an organism that no one else in the world knows, this is what I wanted to bring out in this book.” The lockdown gave Shweta the perfect opportunity to write without distractions. Talking of the process, she says, “Research for this book was definitely a lot of work. The first step of course was choosing who to include. I decided to write about scientists who are working in India now, in top institutions of the country. I wanted to focus on their professional lives, not their personal ones.”
The aim of the book was to give children a glimpse of the laboratories these scientists work in, and help them understand how modern science functions. “That made it harder, as I had to learn about different technicalities of different fields of science every day and make sure I made these terms and definitions understandable for kids, without bogging them down in concepts,” she reveals. “Overall, building this book, and I do look at it as a production with quizzes, boxes, activities, etc, took me almost a year.”
Explaining the unusual titles of the flip books — They Made What?/They Found What?, she says, “The title is the question I asked every time I came across scientists who were doing marvellous things. Their work made me say in wonder, ‘They Made What?’ or ‘They Found What?’ It also helped me approach the stories with a childlike wonder. I think the titles helped me keep true to the idea of the book I wanted to write,” she adds.
Shweta feels India is investing a lot into technology and the start-up culture, but can do more when it comes to science and research. “While researching the book, scientists constantly told me that they wanted to see more children getting out of the ‘engineering’ mindset and into careers of basic and applied sciences, so that we have more researchers pushing the boundaries of human capability, inventing things that cater to modern challenges like climate emergency. I’m hoping this book inspires kids by giving them stories of scientists working in India, so they can aspire to a career in science,” she explains.
Discussing her upcoming projects, Shweta says, “I have two speculative fiction stories coming out in international anthologies in the coming weeks. After that, it’s back to chiselling at a draft of the science fiction book that I’ve been working on. This book is my first work of non-fiction and I quite enjoyed it. I think I might write another.”