Chapter 8 - India's Great Scientist, J.C. Bose
"Jagadis Chandra Bose's wireless inventions antedated those of Marconi."
Overhearing this provocative remark, I walked closer to a sidewalk group of professors engaged in
scientific discussion. If my motive in joining them was racial pride, I regret it. I cannot deny my
keen interest in evidence that India can play a leading part in physics, and not metaphysics alone.
"What do you mean, sir?"
The professor obligingly explained. "Bose was the first one to invent a wireless coherer and an
instrument for indicating the refraction of electric waves. But the Indian scientist did not exploit
his inventions commercially. He soon turned his attention from the inorganic to the organic world. His
revolutionary discoveries as a plant physiologist are outpacing even his radical achievements as a
I politely thanked my mentor. He added, "The great scientist is one of my brother professors at
I paid a visit the next day to the sage at his home, which was close to mine on Gurpar Road. I had long
admired him from a respectful distance. The grave and retiring botanist greeted me graciously. He was a
handsome, robust man in his fifties, with thick hair, broad forehead, and the abstracted eyes of a
dreamer. The precision in his tones revealed the lifelong scientific habit.
"I have recently returned from an expedition to scientific societies of the West. Their
members exhibited intense interest in delicate instruments of my invention which demonstrate the
indivisible unity of all life.1 The Bose crescograph has the
enormity of ten million magnifications. The microscope enlarges only a few thousand times; yet it
brought vital impetus to biological science. The crescograph opens incalculable vistas."
"You have done much, sir, to hasten the embrace of East and West in the impersonal arms of science."
"I was educated at Cambridge. How admirable is the Western method of submitting all
theory to scrupulous experimental verification! That empirical procedure has gone hand in hand with the
gift for introspection which is my Eastern heritage. Together they have enabled me to sunder the
silences of natural realms long uncommunicative. The telltale charts of my crescograph2 are evidence for the most skeptical that plants have a sensitive nervous
system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, stupor, and
countless appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals."
"The unique throb of life in all creation could seem only poetic imagery before your advent, Professor!
A saint I once knew would never pluck flowers. 'Shall I rob the rosebush of its pride in beauty? Shall
I cruelly affront its dignity by my rude divestment?' His sympathetic words are verified literally
through your discoveries!"
"The poet is intimate with truth, while the scientist approaches awkwardly. Come someday to my
laboratory and see the unequivocable testimony of the crescograph."
Gratefully I accepted the invitation, and took my departure. I heard later that the botanist had left
Presidency College, and was planning a research center in Calcutta.
When the Bose Institute was opened, I attended the dedicatory services. Enthusiastic
hundreds strolled over the premises. I was charmed with the artistry and spiritual symbolism of the new
home of science. Its front gate, I noted, was a centuried relic from a distant shrine. Behind the
lotus3 fountain, a sculptured female figure with a torch conveyed
the Indian respect for woman as the immortal light-bearer. The garden held a small temple consecrated
to the Noumenon beyond phenomena. Thought of the divine incorporeity was suggested by absence of any
Bose's speech on this great occasion might have issued from the lips of one of the inspired ancient
"I dedicate today this Institute as not merely a laboratory but a temple." His reverent solemnity stole
like an unseen cloak over the crowded auditorium. "In the pursuit of my investigations I was
unconsciously led into the border region of physics and physiology. To my amazement, I found boundary
lines vanishing, and points of contact emerging, between the realms of the living and the non-living.
Inorganic matter was perceived as anything but inert; it was athrill under the action of multitudinous
"A universal reaction seemed to bring metal, plant and animal under a common law. They all exhibited
essentially the same phenomena of fatigue and depression, with possibilities of recovery and of
exaltation, as well as the permanent irresponsiveness associated with death. Filled with awe at this
stupendous generalization, it was with great hope that I announced my results before the Royal
Societyresults demonstrated by experiments. But the physiologists present advised me to confine myself
to physical investigations, in which my success had been assured, rather than encroach on their
preserves. I had unwittingly strayed into the domain of an unfamiliar caste system and so offended its
"An unconscious theological bias was also present, which confounds ignorance with faith. It is often
forgotten that He who surrounded us with this ever-evolving mystery of creation has also implanted in
us the desire to question and understand. Through many years of miscomprehension, I came to know that
the life of a devotee of science is inevitably filled with unending struggle. It is for him to cast his
life as an ardent offeringregarding gain and loss, success and failure, as one.
"In time the leading scientific societies of the world accepted my theories and
results, and recognized the importance of the Indian contribution to science.4 Can anything small or circumscribed ever satisfy the mind of India? By a
continuous living tradition, and a vital power of rejuvenescence, this land has readjusted itself
through unnumbered transformations. Indians have always arisen who, discarding the immediate and
absorbing prize of the hour, have sought for the realization of the highest ideals in lifenot through
passive renunciation, but through active struggle. The weakling who has refused the conflict, acquiring
nothing, has had nothing to renounce. He alone who has striven and won can enrich the world by
bestowing the fruits of his victorious experience.
"The work already carried out in the Bose laboratory on the response of matter, and the unexpected
revelations in plant life, have opened out very extended regions of inquiry in physics, in physiology,
in medicine, in agriculture, and even in psychology. Problems hitherto regarded as insoluble have now
been brought within the sphere of experimental investigation.
"But high success is not to be obtained without rigid exactitude. Hence the long battery of
super-sensitive instruments and apparatus of my design, which stand before you today in their cases in
the entrance hall. They tell you of the protracted efforts to get behind the deceptive seeming into the
reality that remains unseen, of the continuous toil and persistence and resourcefulness called forth to
overcome human limitations. All creative scientists know that the true laboratory is the mind, where
behind illusions they uncover the laws of truth.
"The lectures given here will not be mere repetitions of second-hand knowledge. They will announce new
discoveries, demonstrated for the first time in these halls. Through regular publication of the work of
the Institute, these Indian contributions will reach the whole world. They will become public property.
No patents will ever be taken. The spirit of our national culture demands that we should forever be
free from the desecration of utilizing knowledge only for personal gain.
"It is my further wish that the facilities of this Institute be available, so far as possible, to
workers from all countries. In this I am attempting to carry on the traditions of my country. So far
back as twenty-five centuries, India welcomed to its ancient universities, at Nalanda and Taxila,
scholars from all parts of the world.
"Although science is neither of the East nor of the West but rather international in
its universality, yet India is specially fitted to make great contributions.5 The burning Indian imagination, which can extort new order out of a mass
of apparently contradictory facts, is held in check by the habit of concentration. This restraint
confers the power to hold the mind to the pursuit of truth with an infinite patience."
Tears stood in my eyes at the scientist's concluding words. Is "patience" not indeed a synonym of
India, confounding Time and the historians alike?
I visited the research center again, soon after the day of opening. The great botanist, mindful of his
promise, took me to his quiet laboratory.
"I will attach the crescograph to this fern; the magnification is tremendous. If a snail's crawl were
enlarged in the same proportion, the creature would appear to be traveling like an express train!"
My gaze was fixed eagerly on the screen which reflected the magnified fern-shadow. Minute
life-movements were now clearly perceptible; the plant was growing very slowly before my fascinated
eyes. The scientist touched the tip of the fern with a small metal bar. The developing pantomime came
to an abrupt halt, resuming the eloquent rhythms as soon as the rod was withdrawn.
"You saw how any slight outside interference is detrimental to the sensitive tissues," Bose remarked.
"Watch; I will now administer chloroform, and then give an antidote."
The effect of the chloroform discontinued all growth; the antidote was revivifying. The evolutionary
gestures on the screen held me more raptly than a "movie" plot. My companion (here in the role of
villain) thrust a sharp instrument through a part of the fern; pain was indicated by spasmodic
flutters. When he passed a razor partially through the stem, the shadow was violently agitated, then
stilled itself with the final punctuation of death.
"By first chloroforming a huge tree, I achieved a successful transplantation. Usually, such monarchs of
the forest die very quickly after being moved." Jagadis smiled happily as he recounted the life-saving
maneuver. "Graphs of my delicate apparatus have proved that trees possess a circulatory system; their
sap movements correspond to the blood pressure of animal bodies. The ascent of sap is not explicable on
the mechanical grounds ordinarily advanced, such as capillary attraction. The phenomenon has been
solved through the crescograph as the activity of living cells. Peristaltic waves issue from a
cylindrical tube which extends down a tree and serves as an actual heart! The more deeply we perceive,
the more striking becomes the evidence that a uniform plan links every form in manifold nature."
The great scientist pointed to another Bose instrument.
"I will show you experiments on a piece of tin. The life-force in metals responds adversely or
beneficially to stimuli. Ink markings will register the various reactions."
Deeply engrossed, I watched the graph which recorded the characteristic waves of atomic structure. When
the professor applied chloroform to the tin, the vibratory writings stopped. They recommenced as the
metal slowly regained its normal state. My companion dispensed a poisonous chemical. Simultaneous with
the quivering end of the tin, the needle dramatically wrote on the chart a death-notice.
"Bose instruments have demonstrated that metals, such as the steel used in scissors and machinery, are
subject to fatigue, and regain efficiency by periodic rest. The life-pulse in metals is seriously
harmed or even extinguished through the application of electric currents or heavy pressure."
I looked around the room at the numerous inventions, eloquent testimony of a tireless ingenuity.
"Sir, it is lamentable that mass agricultural development is not speeded by fuller use of your
marvelous mechanisms. Would it not be easily possible to employ some of them in quick laboratory
experiments to indicate the influence of various types of fertilizers on plant growth?"
"You are right. Countless uses of Bose instruments will be made by future generations. The scientist
seldom knows contemporaneous reward; it is enough to possess the joy of creative service."
With expressions of unreserved gratitude to the indefatigable sage, I took my leave. "Can the
astonishing fertility of his genius ever be exhausted?" I thought.
No diminution came with the years. Inventing an intricate instrument, the "Resonant Cardiograph," Bose
then pursued extensive researches on innumerable Indian plants. An enormous unsuspected pharmacopoeia
of useful drugs was revealed. The cardiograph is constructed with an unerring accuracy by which a
one-hundredth part of a second is indicated on a graph. Resonant records measure infinitesimal
pulsations in plant, animal and human structure. The great botanist predicted that use of his
cardiograph will lead to vivisection on plants instead of animals.
"Side by side recordings of the effects of a medicine given simultaneously to a plant and an animal
have shown astounding unanimity in result," he pointed out. "Everything in man has been foreshadowed in
the plant. Experimentation on vegetation will contribute to lessening of human suffering."
Years later Bose's pioneer plant findings were substantiated by other scientists. Work done in 1938 at
Columbia University was reported by The New York Times as follows:
It has been determined within the past few years that when the nerves transmit messages between the
brain and other parts of the body, tiny electrical impulses are being generated. These impulses have
been measured by delicate galvanometers and magnified millions of times by modern amplifying apparatus.
Until now no satisfactory method had been found to study the passages of the impulses along the nerve
fibers in living animals or man because of the great speed with which these impulses travel.
Drs. K. S. Cole and H. J. Curtis reported having discovered that the long single cells of the
fresh-water plant nitella, used frequently in goldfish bowls, are virtually identical with those of
single nerve fibers. Furthermore, they found that nitella fibers, on being excited, propagate
electrical waves that are similar in every way, except velocity, to those of the nerve fibers in
animals and man. The electrical nerve impulses in the plant were found to be much slower than those in
animals. This discovery was therefore seized upon by the Columbia workers as a means for taking slow
motion pictures of the passage of the electrical impulses in nerves.
The poet Rabindranath Tagore was a stalwart friend of India's idealistic scientist. To him, the sweet
Bengali singer addressed the following lines:6
O Hermit, call thou in the authentic words
Of that old hymn called Sama; "Rise! Awake!"
Call to the man who boasts his shastric lore
From vain pedantic wranglings profitless,
Call to that foolish braggart to come forth
Out on the face of nature, this broad earth,
Send forth this call unto thy scholar band;
Together round thy sacrifice of fire
Let them all gather. So may our India,
Our ancient land unto herself return
O once again return to steadfast work,
To duty and devotion, to her trance
Of earnest meditation; let her sit
Once more unruffled, greedless, strifeless, pure,
O once again upon her lofty seat
And platform, teacher of all lands.
Chapter1 - My Parents and Early Life
Chapter2 - My Mother's Death and the Mystic Amulet
Chapter3 - The Saint With Two Bodies
Chapter4 - My Interrupted Flight Toward the Himalayas
Chapter5 - A "Perfume Saint" Displays His Wonders
Chapter6 - The Tiger Swami
Chapter7 - The Levitating Saint
Chapter8 - India's Great Scientist, J.C. Bose
Chapter9 - The Blissful Devotee and His Cosmic Romance
Chapter10 - I Meet My Master, Sri Yukteswar
Chapter11 - Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban
Chapter12 - Years in My Master's Hermitage
Chapter13 - The Sleepless Saint
Chapter14 - An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness
Chapter15 - The Cauliflower Robbery
Chapter16 - Outwitting the Stars
Chapter17 - Sasi and the Three Sapphires
Chapter18 - A Mohammedan Wonder-Worker
Chapter19 - My Master, in Calcutta, Appears in Serampore
Chapter20 - We Do Not Visit Kashmir
Chapter21 - We Visit Kashmir
Chapter22 - The Heart of a Stone Image
Chapter23 - I Receive My University Degree
Chapter24 - I Become a Monk of the Swami Order
Chapter25 - Brother Ananta and Sister Nalini
Chapter26 - The Science of Kriya Yoga
Chapter27 - Founding a Yoga School in Ranchi
Chapter28 - Kashi, Reborn and Rediscovered
Chapter29 - Rabindranath Tagore and I Compare Schools
Chapter30 - The Law of Miracles
Chapter31 - An Interview with the Sacred Mother
Chapter32 - Rama is Raised From the Dead
Chapter33 - Babaji, the Yogi-Christ of Modern India
Chapter34 - Materializing a Palace in the Himalaya
Chapter35 - The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya
Chapter36 - Babaji's Interest in the West
Chapter37 - I Go to America
Chapter38 - Luther Burbank -- A Saint Amidst the Roses
Chapter39 - Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist
Chapter40 - I Return to India
Chapter41 - An Idyll in South India
Chapter42 - Last Days With My Guru
Chapter43 - The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
Chapter44 - With Mahatma Gandhi in Wardha
Chapter45 - The Bengali "Joy-Permeated" Mother
Chapter46 - The Woman Yogi Who Never Eats
Chapter47 - I Return to the West
Chapter48 - At Encinitas in California
Chapter49 - The Years - 1940 - 1951